Closing Bell: Brooklyn Historical Society to Unveil Exhibit on Brooklyn Abolitionists


The Brooklyn Historical Society next month will debut an exhibit about the abolitionist movement in Brooklyn and the little-known activists behind it. “In Pursuit of Freedom” traces the roots of Brooklyn’s slaves, who made up 30 percent of the Kings County population in 1790. Even after emancipation in 1827, Brooklyn’s commercial growth, fueled by commodities like cotton, tobacco and sugar, relied heavily on products of slave labor in the South. In the early 19th century, black and white Brooklynians began to organize associations, schools and churches to fight for black civil rights and the abolition of slavery.

Visitors will learn about Brooklyn’s relatively unknown abolitionist activists, including Sylvanus Smith, one of the original land investors in the free black community of Weeksville, William Wilson (aka Ethiop), James and Elizabeth Gloucester, and James Pennington, some of whom have been the subject of Montrose Morris columns on this site. At left, a pamphlet about James Pennington in the Brooklyn Historical Society collection. The exhibition is part of a public history initiative in partnership with the Irondale Ensemble Project and the Weeksville Heritage Center.

The exhibit was designed by Matter Architecture Practice, technology firm Potion, design firm Pure+Applied and lighting designer Robert W. Henderson, Jr. The exhibit will include an online curriculum, walking tours, an original theater piece by Irondale Ensemble and a memorial to Brooklyn Abolitionists that will appear in the new Willoughby Square Park when it opens in 2015. “In Pursuit of Freedom” will open January 15 in BHS’ newly renovated building at 128 Pierrepont Street.

Photo by Brooklyn Historical Society

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