Weeksville Heritage Center Historic Weeksville An Early History "In 1838, only eleven years after slavery ended in New York State, free African American James Weeks purchased a modest plot of land from Henry C. Thompson, another free African American. That land in what is now Central Brooklyn became Weeksville, a thriving, self sufficient African American community. Weeksville quickly became a safe haven for southern Blacks fleeing slavery and free northern Blacks fleeing racial hatred and violence, including the deadly Civil War draft riots in lower Manhattan. Established as a suburban enclave on the outskirts of Brooklyn, by 1850 Weeksville became the second largest known independent African American community in pre-Civil War America. Weeksville was also the only African American community whose residents were distinctive for their urban rather than rural occupations, and the only one that merged into a neighborhood of a major American city after the Civil War. Moreover, Weeksville had a higher rate of African American property ownership than 15 other U.S. cities and more job opportunities than ten other northern cities. By the 1860s, Weeksville had its own schools, churches, an orphanage, an old age home, a variety of Black-owned businesses and one of the country’s first African American newspapers, Freedman’s Torchlight. Almost 500 families headed by ministers, doctors, teachers, tradesmen and other self-reliant citizens lived in Weeksville by the 1900s. Its citizens included Alfred Cornish, a member of the 54th Regiment whose story was told in the film Glory; Dr. Susan Smith McKinney-Steward, the first female African American physician in New York State and the third in the nation, Moses P. Cobb, the first African American policeman in Brooklyn’s Ninth Ward, and Junius C. Morel, a well-known educator, journalist and activist. Weeksville covered seven blocks and was a model of African American entrepreneurial success, political freedom and intellectual creativity. Its residents participated in every major national effort against slavery and for equal rights for free people of color, including the black convention movement, voting rights campaigns, the Underground Railroad, the Civil War, resistance to the Draft Riots in New York City; Freedman’s schools and African nationalism. According to one historian, Public School 83 in Weeksville became the first public school in the nation to integrate fully its teaching staff." The community still existed through the 1930s, but by the mid-1950s, Weeksville was all but forgotten, with many of its structures and institutions replaced by new roads and buildings. In the 1960s, Weeksville was only an historical footnote that historian James Hurley and pilot Joseph Haynes set out to research—from the air. Discovering Historic Weeksville The search for historic Weeksville began in 1968 in a Pratt Neighborhood College workshop on Brooklyn neighborhoods conducted by Hurley. Because so little was known at the time, the group focused on researching Weeksville. (Interesting fragments about the community was found in Eugene L. Armbruster’s book Brooklyn’s Eastern District.) When the workshop was completed, some of its participants continued their research on old Weeksville......."