The Archive – Brooklyn

The Red Line Archive: Brooklyn

History is political and personal.  Sifting through family documents helped me to see this quite clearly.  The Brooklyn Archive is  collection of documents, artifacts (collected on my walks), a library, and objects that I created in response to my investigation of redlining and its influence on my family and community in predominantly Black and historically important neighborhoods of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights, and Fort-Greene/Clinton Hill.

 

Archive Contents

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01. Red Line Maps (1938)

View the Red Line maps for Brooklyn , Manhattan and Queens. Can you find your neighborhood?  The maps, numbered over 200 in all and their borders speak to how race is constructed in America. They tell the story of racial, economic, and political segregation in every major urban area from 1934 until today. The Legend indicates […]

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02. NEIGHBORHOOD AREA DESCRIPTION (1934-1938)

Along with the Red Line Maps, Area Descriptions tell the story of the redlining as a process. Government assessors were deployed to neighborhoods to determine risk and level of infiltration of undesirables, i.e. Negro, Eastern European, Jewish, Italian, and other explicitly “non-white” races in every urban neighborhood across the U.S. Risk assessors determined if neighborhoods […]

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03. NEIGHBORHOOD SOIL SAMPLES (2015)

As I walked along the border of the 1938 Red Line Map, I collected soil samples from neighborhoods I explored. Soil is a way of representing the land – good soil yields a plentiful harvest. Perhaps it’s also a way of memorializing the lives of people who struggle to maintain a presence in this city in […]

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04. LEVITTOWN-THE SUBURBAN UTOPIA

The Negroes in America are trying to do in sixty years what the Jews in the world have not wholly accomplished in six hundred years. As a Jew I have no room in my mind or heart for racial prejudice. But…I have come to know that if we sell one house to a Negro family, then […]

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05. EDITH AND RICHARD DIXON DEED (1953) – 177-42 URSINA ROAD

This is the deed for my grandparents’ first home in Springfield Gardens , Queens.  Notice that the officious stamps on the left that add up to $14.30. The men depicted are former United States Secretaries of Interior. My grandmother was a disciplined saver who bought her home in Queens in 1953 with her husband. The deed indicates […]

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06. RIDGEWOOD SAVINGS BANK, MORTGAGE LETTER (1953)

This is the letter my grandparents received after buying their home. Their neighborhood was not redlined a the time. I particularly like the last few sentences: One of the primary reasons that we specialize in residential mortgage loans is that we are thus doing business with the very individual whom the Savings Bank was designed to […]

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07. LEROY JOHNSON’S VETERANS ADMINISTRATION CERTIFICATE OF ELIGIBILITY (1968)

My Mom and Dad were able to afford a home in Clinton Hill. At the time, the neighborhood was a racially diverse and predominantly Black, mixed-income neighborhood. The brownstone was purchased in 1968, the first year of the Fair Housing Act, signed by President Lyndon Johnson. Ironically, 1968 was a banner year of milestones, including assassinations: Rev. Dr. […]

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08. CORE-CONGRESS FOR RACIAL EQUITY LETTER (1962)

This letter was discovered among the papers of Arnie Goldswag, a CORE member archived at the Brooklyn Historical Society.  CORE was a racially diverse collective of activists who advocated for fair housing in the city and nationwide. They serve as witnesses to the degradation and neglect that redlined neighborhoods were subjected and as testament to the idealism […]

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09. JF MCDERMOTT LETTER (1963)

As a result of declining white population because of flight to the suburbs, black and Puerto Rican students were segregated in under-resourced schools. In the 1950s and 1960s, as in many other redlined cities in the country, bussing as a remedy to integrate schools was virulently opposed. Education reform could not solve the fundamental problems of racial […]

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10. EBONY MAGAZINE AUGUST 1970 – WHICH WAY BLACK AMERICA? SEPARATION? INTEGRATION? LIBERATION?

Ebony magazine covers were hung on the wall of my grandma’s house. It was a touchstone of African American public opinion at the time. Separation, Integration, Liberation: Which Way Black America? Are these questions still valid in a post-Obama America?

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11. SHOES WITH FLOWERS

As I walked through Bedford Stuyvesant I noticed how some folks planted flowers in worn shoes. What a poetic image! It reminded me of a quote I read recently by journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates: “The fact of history is that black people have not – probably no people have ever – liberated themselves strictly through their own […]

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12. LETTER FROM TODD (2013)

When my mother passed away I immediately began to receive letters and phone calls asking if my family planned to sell the building. I got a hand scrawled letter from an “investor” stuffed into the front gate. Random calls and solicitation by hungry real estate investors are the norm now. Here is a note from Todd […]

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13. HAND AND DICE

The U.S. housing market has never been a fair and open system – Red Line Maps are evidence of this fact. Many black African Americans had to pursue their desire for home ownership outside the established banking system. Some managed to tap into other financial resources or cobble together the money in spite of the […]

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14. THE WEEKSVILLE LADY (C. 1880) – A FREE BLACK WOMAN IN BROOKLYN

These days I ask myself: What does it mean to be a free black woman in America today? In 1838, the free black community of Weeksville was founded by James Weeks, a former slave from North Carolina, and a group of black land investors and political activists. The Hunterfly Houses are what remain of the […]