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Guide to Voices of Crown Heights oral histories 2016.027

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Voices of Crown Heights oral histories: Brooklyn Historical Society, 2016-2017

Bembry-Guet, Dorothy, 2017 May 17

Biographical note

Born in 1942 in Georgia, Dorothy Bembry-Guet moved to New York City in 1968. The Prospect Heights and Crown Heights neighborhoods of Brooklyn have largely been her places of residence, the latter for twenty-five years as of 2017. She married in 1974 and had one child. Bembry-Guet worked primarily for the New York University (NYU) Medical Center. She received a bachelor's degree in communications and political science from NYU in 1992. Bembry-Guet has devoted much of her life to activism; including work with the Brooklyn Tenants Union, Legal Hand, Crown Heights Mediation Center, two terms as chair of the political action committee in the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 1199 local, and as a member of the public safety and park committees of Community Board Eight in Crown Heights. Retired, with limited mobility, at the time of the 2017 interview, Bembry-Guet had also pursued healthcare reform as a lobbyist in Albany.

Scope and Contents

In the interview, Dorothy Bembry-Guet recalls her early experiences with moving and adjusting to New York City, and looking for housing in Brooklyn. She describes the neighborhoods of Prospect Heights and Crown Heights, their amenities and cultural landmarks, and their gentrification over decades. Throughout, Bembry-Guet refers to her varied and evolving efforts at activism, including tenants' rights, public safety and healthcare. She remembers local community leader Arthur Miller and protests over his death at the hands of the New York Police Department. Pointing out her participation in local community organizations, she talks about the work of the Mediation Center and their Save Our Streets (SOS) initiative. Interview conducted by Amaka Okechukwu.

Conditions Governing Access and Use

Access to the interview is available onsite at the Brooklyn Historical Society's Othmer Library and online on the Oral History Portal. Use of the oral histories other than for private study, scholarship, or research requires permission from BHS by contacting library@brooklynhistory.org.

Subject Names

  • Bembry-Guet, Dorothy
  • Lesold, Constance
  • Miller, Arthur, Jr.

Subject Organizations

  • Community Board No. 8 (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Crown Heights Mediation Center
  • Muse Community Museum (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • New York (N.Y.). Police Department
  • NYU Langone Medical Center

Subject Topics

  • African Americans -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community activists -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community development -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community organi-ing -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Crime -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Gentrification -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Housing -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Neighborhoods -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Police brutality -- United States
  • Police-community relations -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Politicians -- New York (State)

Subject Places

  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) |x Social conditions |y 20th century
  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)
  • Prospect Heights (New York, N.Y.)

Camara, Karim, 2017 May 18

Biographical note

Born Karim Abdur-Razzaq in Brooklyn, New York, in 1971, Karim Camara spent most of childhood and young adult life in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. His father Abdullah Abdur-Razzaq was an activist who had served as a chief aide to Malcolm X, and his mother Ora Clark Razzaq was an educator who co-founded and served as principal of Al-Karim School, an independent school in Crown Heights. The school evolved into the Cush Campus School and was in operation for 45 years. Camara attended the school up to fifth grade, and went on to attend Brooklyn Friends School from grades eight through twelve. After college he went on to attend New York Theological Seminary, and he served the congregants of the First Baptist Church of Crown Heights, first as associate and then executive pastor. In 2005, he was elected to the New York State Assembly, where he served until 2015, when he became the Executive Director of the Governor's Office of Faith-Based Community Development. He is an ordained minister, and founding and senior pastor of Abundant Life Church in Brooklyn.

Scope and Contents

In this interview, Karim Camara talks about growing up in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, and his political and spiritual journeys to government service and church leadership respectively. He describes the disciplined but also nurturing and loving environment of the independent school that his parents founded. He recalls the time he spent helping his mother with the school, and the stories his father told him about working with Malcolm X. He talks about his and his family's interactions with their Jewish and West Indian neighbors, and he fondly recalls childhood games at Brower Park. He recounts his spiritual evolution, including his decision to attend seminary, his pastoral leadership at First Baptist Church of Crown Heights, and his name change. He relates how his experiences at First Baptist inspired him to enter electoral politics, and eventually work with faith based communities on behalf of New York State. Finally, he reflects on the changes in Crown Heights over the years, and the impact of gentrification. Karim Camara was also recorded for the Listen to this: Crown Heights Oral History collection in 2010 (2010.020). His mother, Ora Clark Razzaq, was also recorded for Voices of Crown Heights oral histories: Brooklyn Historical Society. Interview conducted by Zaheer Ali.

Conditions Governing Access and Use

Access to the interview is available onsite at the Brooklyn Historical Society's Othmer Library and online on the Oral History Portal. Use of the oral histories other than for private study, scholarship, or research requires permission from BHS by contacting library@brooklynhistory.org.

Subject Names

  • Camara, Karim
  • Clark Razzaq, Ora
  • Griffith, Michael, 1963-1986
  • Miller, Arthur, Jr.
  • Norman, Clarence, Jr.
  • Weusi, Jitu, 1939-2013
  • X, Malcolm, 1925-1965

Subject Organizations

  • Al-Karim School (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Brooklyn Friends School
  • Cush Campus Schools (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • First Baptist Church (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • New York (State). Legislature. Assembly
  • Uhuru Sasa School

Subject Topics

  • African Americans -- Politics and government -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Christian life -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Education -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Gentrification -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Municipal government -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Pan-Africanism
  • Private schools -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Race identity
  • Riots -- New York (State) -- Kings County

Subject Places

  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) |x Religious life and customs
  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)

Clark, Ora, 2017 June 2

Biographical note

Ora Clark Razzaq, seventy-nine years of age at the time of the interview, is an African American woman. She began the Al-Karim School, later renamed Cush Campus Schools, in the 1970s as a way to educate her children. Informed by her participation in supporting the community schools in the Ocean Hill-Brownsville neighborhoods of Brooklyn in the wake of the teacher's strike of 1968, she began her Black independent school as an alternative to the public school system which she saw as failing Black children. She was formerly married to Abdullah Abdur-Razzaq (approximately mid 1960s to late 1970s), one of Malcolm X's close associates.

Scope and Contents

In this interview, Ora Clark (also known as Ora Clark Razzaq) recounts moving to New York City as a child from Miami, Florida. Her family lived in the Lower East Side/Greenwich Village neighborhoods of Manhattan, which was predominantly Jewish at the time. The family eventually moved to the St. Albans neighborhood of Queens. She speaks about moving to the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn as a young mother and being involved in actions in response to the teacher's strike in the nearby Ocean Hill-Brownsville neighborhood. She began Al-Karim School soon after, which was later renamed Cush Campus Schools once it began educating a larger amount of students. She first began teaching her children, then the children of others in the community. Clark speaks about the different approach that the school had from others, in valuing the children and taking them outside the classroom; students traveled abroad to places in Europe and Guyana. Throughout the interview, she speaks about neighbors who looked down on her and Al-Karim School; which began in her home on Park Place in Crown Heights, and later functioned out of 221 Kingston Avenue, the Historic First Church of God in Christ. She also speaks about organizer Arthur Miller, the 1977 blackout, and gentrification. Her son, Karim Camara, was also recorded for Voices of Crown Heights oral histories: Brooklyn Historical Society. Interview conducted by Amaka Okechukwu.

Subject Names

  • Clark Razzaq, Ora
  • Miller, Arthur, Jr.
  • Weusi, Jitu, 1939-2013

Subject Organizations

  • Al-Karim School (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Cush Campus Schools (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • East Educational and Cultural Center for People of African Descent (1969-1986) (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Uhuru Sasa School

Subject Topics

  • Activism
  • African Americans -x Education -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • African Americans -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community activists -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community development -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Electric power failures -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Gentrification -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Housing -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Police-community relations -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Private schools -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Racism -- New York (State) -- Kings County

Subject Places

  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) |x Social conditions |y 20th century
  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)
  • Eastern Parkway (New York, N.Y.)
  • Greenwich Village (New York, N.Y.)

Cohen, Eli, 2017 May 26

Biographical note

Rabbi Eli Cohen was born in Manchester, England in 1955. He moved to the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn in 1973 to study Lubavitch Hasidim in Morristown, New Jersey. He organized Mitzvah tanks, the roaming vehicles promoting and teaching the orthodox religion, in the mid-1970s. The rabbi became director of Chabad at New York University in 1985 before becoming Executive Director of Crown Heights Jewish Community Council in 2003.

Scope and Contents

In this interview, Rabbi Cohen talks about moving to the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn at the onset of the Yom Kippur War of 1973, and the sense of celebration that existed in Crown Heights throughout the war. He describes relationships between the New York Police Department and the Hasidic community at different points over his forty year history in the neighborhood and reflects on crime in Crown Heights, and the relationship between Jewish and Black communities within that context. He briefly reflects on the blackout of 1977, the summer of 1991, crime, and Kingston Avenue's appearance over decades. He describes the Hasidic community as politically involved and narrates the emergence of Community Board Nine in South Crown Heights. Interview conducted by Matthew Birkhold.

Conditions Governing Access and Use

Access to the interview is available onsite at the Brooklyn Historical Society's Othmer Library and online on the Oral History Portal. Use of the oral histories other than for private study, scholarship, or research requires permission from BHS by contacting library@brooklynhistory.org.

Subject Names

  • Cohen, Eli, Rabbi

Subject Organizations

  • Community Board No. 9 (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)

Subject Topics

  • African Americans -- Relations with Jews
  • Community development -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community organi-ing -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Crime -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Electric power failures -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Hasidim -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Jewish neighborhoods -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Police-community relations -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Race relations -- New York (State) -- Kings County

Subject Places

  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) |x Social conditions
  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)
  • Eastern Parkway (New York, N.Y.)

Cuthbert, Donna, 2017 August 25

Biographical note

Born in 1956, Donna Cuthbert was raised in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. Her family was originally from Barbados, and she is second generation American. She went to schools in Crown Heights and the Prospect Lefferts Gardens and Flatbush neighborhoods of Brooklyn-- including an unusual educational experience in the alternative school, Wingate Prep-- and went to college to become a teacher in New Rochelle, New York. Following in her father's footsteps, she became a bartender of a Crown Heights bar, the Starlite Lounge. The Starlite was one of the oldest city bars to welcome gay, as well as heterosexual, patrons. Between 2004 and 2010, Cuthbert-- known to some as "Mama Donna"-- then worked the door of the Starlite, until the building was sold and the bar was permanently closed. She is married and continues to reside in Crown Heights as of 2017.

Scope and Contents

In this interview, Donna Cuthbert talks about growing up in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn in the fifties and sixties. Her father was the manager at the Unity Bar and Grill, and she describes characters and scenes from the place. Her mother was a registered nurse at Brooklyn Hospital, and Cuthbert cites the extreme racism her mother experienced there. She mentions the politics in her household and the political meetings she attended as an adolescent. Additionally she recalls her time at Wingate Prep, a satellite of Brooklyn's Wingate High that, along with a few other schools, sought to restructure secondary education in 1970s New York City. Cuthbert remembers sneaking into the Starlite Lounge when she a young teen. She relates how she started work at the Starlite much later as an adult. She describes the different nights at the bar, and the range of clientele it attracted. She gives an overview and shares specifics on the array of characters who frequented the Starlite. She also talks about personal relationships she made with customers. She describes losing William "Butchie" King, the disc jockey who ran the Starlite for years. Finally, Cuthbert reflects on the bar's closing; how it happened, how the nightlife there had changed, the final hours, the fallout for patrons and the community, and the signaling of greater gentrification. Interview conducted by Svetlana Kitto.

Conditions Governing Access and Use

Access to the interview is available onsite at the Brooklyn Historical Society's Othmer Library and online on the Oral History Portal. Use of the oral histories other than for private study, scholarship, or research requires permission from BHS by contacting library@brooklynhistory.org.

Subject Names

  • Cuthbert, Donna
  • King, William (William "Butch" King)
  • La'Viticus, Timothy

Subject Organizations

  • George W. Wingate High School
  • Starlite Lounge (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)

Subject Topics

  • African American neighborhoods -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Bars (Drinking establishments) -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Business enterprises -x African Americans -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community activists -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community identity -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Gay culture -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Gays -- Social life and customs
  • Gentrification -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Identity politics
  • Lesbians
  • Multiculturalism
  • Nightclubs -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Public schools -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Queer culture
  • Transgender people

Subject Places

  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) |x Social conditions
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) |x Social life and customs
  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)

de Zayas, Michael, 2017 March 17

Biographical note

Forty-three at the time of the 2017 interview, Michael de Zayas is a business owner from the Miami, Florida area. His father is Cuban-born and his mother is a White woman from New York. He moved to New York in the 1990s, became a travel writer, and then a business owner; opening Neighborhoodies, which had stores across the country. After selling that business, moving to the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, and becoming a father for the first time, de Zayas opened the popular Little Zelda café. Several more businesses in the area followed, including Nagle's Bagels (also in the Bedford-Stuyvesant and Prospect Lefferts Gardens neighborhoods of Brooklyn), Hullaballo Books, Two Saints, Jewel City Yoga, Simple Syrup, and Linden Salon. He had relocated to the East Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn after five years of living in Crown Heights.

Scope and Contents

In this interview, Michael de Zayas begins with growing up in Miami and his journey to New York. He relates that he first moved to New York to attend graduate school at Sarah Lawrence College, where he received a master's degree in poetry. He became a travel writer and speaks about his experiences traveling, as well as his relationship to community while being a young man in New York City; mainly in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan. Major turning points discussed include: founding his Neighborhoodies business, becoming a father, moving to the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, and his business ventures there. He prides himself on constructing his businesses around the concept of "radical friendliness;" in order to counter much of the anti-social behavior that exists in coffee shops and other kinds of stores in New York City. He is committed to being part of and building community in Crown Heights. He is also trying to rethink how his businesses can better serve the needs of all community members, not just new arrivals, in the area. Interview conducted by Amaka Okechukwu.

Conditions Governing Access and Use

Access to the interview is available onsite at the Brooklyn Historical Society's Othmer Library and online on the Oral History Portal. Use of the oral histories other than for private study, scholarship, or research requires permission from BHS by contacting library@brooklynhistory.org.

Subject Names

  • de Zayas, Michael

Subject Organizations

  • City University of New York. School of Law at Queens College
  • Little Zelda (Restaurant)
  • Neighborhoodies, Inc. (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)

Subject Topics

  • Business enterprises -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Clothing trade -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community development, Urban -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community identity -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Economic development -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Entrepreneurship -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Gentrification -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Housing -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Neighborhoods -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Parents -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Restaurants -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Storefronts -- New York (State) -- Kings County

Subject Places

  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Clinton Hill (New York, N.Y.)
  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)
  • East Village (New York, N.Y.)
  • Fort Greene (New York, N.Y.)
  • Manhattan (New York, N.Y.)
  • Upper West Side (New York, N.Y.)

Ellenbogen, Amy, 2016 July 21

Biographical note

Born in the Bronx in 1973, Amy Ellenbogen grew up in White Plains in a Jewish family of Eastern European descent. She attended Columbia University, where she received both her Bachelor of Arts in Ethnic Studies and her Masters of Science in Social Work. Since 2002, she has been the director of the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center, developing and implementing programs as well as overseeing day-to-day operations. As director, she planned and directed the first New York State Cure Violence replication site, Save Our Streets Crown Heights, an anti-gun violence program that uses a public health approach. As of 2017, Ellenbogen is part of the planning team developing culturally competent trauma-informed programming for young men of color and Save Our Streets Bed-Stuy.*

*Source: http://crownheights.org/staff/amy-ellenbogen/

Scope and Contents

In this interview, Amy Ellenbogen describes the influences and events in her life that led up to her work at the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center, which she has led as director since 2002. She talks about the importance of her Marxist-leaning grandmother who self-identified as a "Jewish humanist atheist;" and asking questions of her parents at an early age about Jewish rituals and traditions. She recalls her first trip to the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn in the mid-1980s as a guest of a Lubavitch Hasidic host family as part of a Jewish "in-reach" program that the Crown Heights-based orthodox Jewish community conducted. She reflects on coming of age in a diverse community and school, and her early questions about differences between her peers and herself were informed by racial and class dynamics. These questions would continue to shape her outlook, leading her to found ROOTED (Respecting Ourselves and Others Through EDucation) in graduate school. She traces the evolution of her work at the Mediation Center, from an organization founded after the August 1991 unrest to address inter-cultural conflict, to one that primarily provides neighborhood services, mediates landlord-tenant issues, and works to curb gun-related violence and killings through violence prevention and violence interruption programs. Finally, she reflects on the impact that gentrification has had on Crown Heights and the kind of work the Mediation Center does. Interview conducted by Zaheer Ali.

Conditions Governing Access and Use

Access to the interview is available onsite at the Brooklyn Historical Society's Othmer Library and online on the Oral History Portal. Use of the oral histories other than for private study, scholarship, or research requires permission from BHS by contacting library@brooklynhistory.org.

Subject Names

  • Bogan, Ken
  • Camara, Karim
  • Ellenbogen, Amy
  • Golden, Howard
  • Norman, Clarence, Jr.
  • Schneerson, Menachem Mendel

Subject Organizations

  • Columbia University
  • Congregation Lubavitch (Crown Heights, New York, N.Y.)
  • Crown Heights Mediation Center

Subject Topics

  • African Americans -- Relations with Jews
  • African Americans -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Caribbean Americans -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community activists -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community centers -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community organi-ing -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Gentrification -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Jewish women
  • Jews, American -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Racism in mass media
  • Riots -- New York (State) -- Kings County

Subject Places

  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) |x Social conditions |y 21st century
  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)
  • White Plains (N.Y.)

Green, Richard, 2016 October 18

Biographical note

Richard Green was born in Tela, Honduras in 1948 and grew up in various locations in Brooklyn. He graduated from Erasmus Hall High School, served in the Marines, achieved an undergraduate degree at Marist College and attended a graduate program at the State University at New Paltz. Beginning in 1969, he was a permanent fixture of the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn and raised his children there. In 1978, Green founded the Crown Heights Youth Collective and he still served as the Chief Executive Officer as of 2016. He also co-founded the Street Outreach Program, has worked with five New York mayors as of 2016, and assisted with Project Cure, a community healing organization formed in the wake of the Crown Heights unrest of 1991. Since 1993, he has taught as an adjunct professor at Medgar Evers College. He has served on boards, as a trustee or a member, of several high-profile government and public services departments for New York City. Green has been heard on radio as a commentator and producer. He is a husband, father and grandfather. His wife, Myrah Brown Green, was interviewed for the Weeksville series of this collection.

Scope and Contents

In this interview, Richard Green recalls his early childhood in Honduras and Texas before his family moved to the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn around the time he was in sixth grade. He describes the kinds of recreational activities that were available to young people in the 1950s and early 1960s, including the informal games they played as well as more organized activities such as the Police Athletics League organized sports tournaments. He reflects on his political coming of age in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, and being inspired by the Brooklyn activities of leaders like the Reverend Milton Galamison and Malcolm X. After graduating from high school, Green joined the United States Marine Corps, and he details some of the challenges he faced, being a Black man navigating the military at the height of the anti-war and Black Power movements. He talks about the changes in the neighborhood, which he noticed after completing his tour of duty and returning to Crown Heights in 1976. He recounts how these conditions—like building abandonment and truancy— inspired him to found the Crown Heights Youth Collective in 1978, and the work it has done over the past three decades to help organize tenants, address youth education, and respond to police-community tensions. Some of the high profile incidents he discusses include reactions to the police killing of Arthur Miller, the racially motivated killing of Michael Griffith, and the 1991 Crown Heights unrest. Green was also recorded for the Listen to this: Crown Heights Oral History collection in 2010 (2010.020). Interview conducted by Zaheer Ali.

Conditions Governing Access and Use

Access to the interview is available onsite at the Brooklyn Historical Society's Othmer Library and online on the Oral History Portal. Use of the oral histories other than for private study, scholarship, or research requires permission from BHS by contacting library@brooklynhistory.org.

Subject Names

  • Chisholm, Shirley
  • Daughtry, Herbert, 1931-
  • Evers, Medgar Wiley, 1925-1963
  • Galamison, Milton A., 1923-1988 (Milton Arthur)
  • Green, Richard
  • King, Martin Luther, Jr., 1929-1968
  • Griffith, Michael, 1963-1986
  • Kennedy, John F., 1917-1963 (John Fitzgerald)
  • Koch, Ed
  • Miller, Arthur, Jr.
  • X, Malcolm, 1925-1965

Subject Organizations

  • Black Panther Party
  • Crown Heights Youth Collective (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Erasmus Hall High School
  • United States Marine Corps

Subject Topics

  • Assassination -- United States
  • Black Muslims
  • Black nationalism -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Civil rights movements -- United States -y 20th century
  • Community activists -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Gentrification -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Muslims -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Peace movements -- United States -x History
  • Police-community relations -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Racism -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Vietnam War, 1961-1975

Subject Places

  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) |x Social conditions |y 20th century
  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)
  • Franklin Avenue (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
  • Nostrand Avenue (New York, N.Y.)

Griffith, Mark Winston, 2017 July 18

Biographical note

Mark Winston Griffith grew up in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, as well as Queens, as a Black child of second generation Caribbean migrants. Born in 1963, he and his family moved from Crown Heights to Queens and he continued to visit Crown Heights regularly to visit his grandmother. He attended New York City public schools and a boarding school in New Jersey. After graduating from Brown University in 1985 he returned to Brooklyn, where he lived on Dean Street between Nostrand and New York Avenues, and has remained ever since, mainly as an activist and non-profit professional.

Scope and Contents

In this first of two interviews, a recording error results in the oral history picking up the already-in-progress telling of Mark Winston Griffith's move to Queens from the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn as a child. Although he moved to Queens in the third grade, it was due to his grandmother remaining in Crown Heights that enabled him to spend a great deal of time in the neighborhood, and he describes the part of his childhood spent there. He also shares other biographical turns in his young adulthood. Having become politically active at Brown University, Griffith recalls his desire to return to Crown Heights to work for Al Vann, but instead found an opening with Assemblyman Clarence Norman, Jr. He remembers that work, as well as being a co-founder of CHANT (Crown Heights Africans Networking Together), a local activist group. Griffith briefly mentions his English Literature studies in Ghana, then talks about working for Community Service Society and the Crown Heights Neighborhood Improvement Association; both of which put him in a position to cofound the Central Brooklyn Partnership and the Brooklyn Cooperative Federal Credit Union. This interview ends abruptly, with Griffith discussing the growth and decline of the Credit Union. Interview conducted by Matthew Birkhold.

Conditions Governing Access and Use

Access to the interview is available onsite at the Brooklyn Historical Society's Othmer Library and online on the Oral History Portal. Use of the oral histories other than for private study, scholarship, or research requires permission from BHS by contacting library@brooklynhistory.org.

Subject Names

  • Griffith, Mark Winston
  • Norman, Clarence, Jr.
  • Vann, Albert

Subject Organizations

  • Brooklyn Cooperative Federal Credit Union (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Brown University
  • Central Brooklyn Partnership (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Community Service Society of New York
  • Crown Heights Neighborhood Improvement Association (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)

Subject Topics

  • African Americans -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • African Americans -- Politics and government -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Business enterprises -x African Americans -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Caribbean Americans -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community activists -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community banks -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community development corporations -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Community identity -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community organi-ing -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Neighborhoods -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Political participation -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Social movements -- New York (State) -- Kings County

Subject Places

  • Bedford-Stuyvesant (New York, N.Y.)
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) |x Politics and government
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) |x Social conditions
  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)
  • Queens (New York, N.Y.)

Griffith, Mark Winston, 2017 July 27

Biographical note

Mark Winston Griffith grew up in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, as well as Queens, as a Black child of second generation Caribbean migrants. Born in 1963, he and his family moved from Crown Heights to Queens and he continued to visit Crown Heights regularly to visit his grandmother. He attended New York City public schools and a boarding school in New Jersey. After graduating from Brown University in 1985 he returned to Brooklyn, where he lived on Dean Street between Nostrand and New York Avenues, and has remained ever since, mainly as an activist and non-profit professional.

Scope and Contents

In this second of two interviews, Mark Winston Griffith begins by describing his first memories of the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn and the way in which the neighborhood's Black cultural and political institutions shaped his childhood and his future. Griffith then resumes his description of the Brooklyn Cooperative Federal Credit Union before discussing his career as a journalist, his run for city council in 2009-2010, and his role in founding Brooklyn Movement Center in 2012. He describes Brooklyn Movement Center as the culmination of his experiences in Crown Heights and the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. Griffith then expresses his concern over gentrification. In closing, he considers what the future of Crown Heights might look like. Interview conducted by Matthew Birkhold.

Conditions Governing Access and Use

Access to the interview is available onsite at the Brooklyn Historical Society's Othmer Library and online on the Oral History Portal. Use of the oral histories other than for private study, scholarship, or research requires permission from BHS by contacting library@brooklynhistory.org.

Subject Names

  • Griffith, Mark Winston
  • Vann, Albert

Subject Organizations

  • Brooklyn Cooperative Federal Credit Union (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Brooklyn Movement Center (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Central Brooklyn Partnership (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)

Subject Topics

  • African Americans -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • African Americans -- Politics and government -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Caribbean Americans -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community activists -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community banks -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community development corporations -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Community identity -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community organi-ing -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Gentrification -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Neighborhoods -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Political participation -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Social movements -- New York (State) -- Kings County

Subject Places

  • Bedford-Stuyvesant (New York, N.Y.)
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) |x Politics and government
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) |x Social conditions
  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)
  • Queens (New York, N.Y.)

Johnson, Albert, 2017 October 6

Biographical note

Albert Johnson grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, where his mother worked for a major newspaper. Johnson attended Cleveland public schools, graduating from Glendale High School in 1965. He moved to New York in the late sixties, where he attended the Fashion Institute of Technology, and went on to work as a designer in production in the Garment District. In 1996, he was diagnosed with HIV and became sick, spending the next few years trying several treatments. He began working at the Starlite Lounge as a bartender on September the 10th, 2001, a day before the attack on the Twin Towers. The Starlite was one of the oldest city bars to welcome gay, as well as heterosexual, patrons. He worked at the bar in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn until it closed, August 9th, 2010.

Scope and Contents

In the first session of this two session interview, Albert Johnson talks about growing up in Cleveland, Ohio in the nineteen fifties and sixties. He describes the African-American community and neighborhood he was reared by, and how unique and special an experience it was for him. He discusses the political climate and racial dynamics of this time and place by telling stories about his family, neighborhood, schoolmates, teachers, and household he grew up in. This session of the interview, conducted by Svetlana Kitto, ends abruptly.

Conditions Governing Access and Use

Access to the interview is available onsite at the Brooklyn Historical Society's Othmer Library and online on the Oral History Portal. Use of the oral histories other than for private study, scholarship, or research requires permission from BHS by contacting library@brooklynhistory.org.

Subject Names

  • Johnson, Albert

Subject Organizations

  • Starlite Lounge (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)

Subject Topics

  • African Americans -- United States
  • Bars (Drinking establishments) -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Business enterprises -- African Americans -- United States
  • Community identity
  • Multiculturalism
  • Public Schools
  • Race relations -- United States
  • Racism in education
  • Restaurants
  • Riots -- United States
  • Television -- United States -y 20th century

Subject Places

  • Cleveland (Ohio)
  • New York (N.Y.)

Johnson, Albert, 2017 October 22

Biographical note

Albert Johnson grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, where his mother worked for a major newspaper. Johnson attended Cleveland public schools, graduating from Glendale High School in 1965. He moved to New York in the late sixties, where he attended the Fashion Institute of Technology, and went on to work as a designer in production in the Garment District. In 1996, he was diagnosed with HIV and became sick, spending the next few years trying several treatments. He began working at the Starlite Lounge as a bartender on September the 10th, 2001, a day before the attack on the Twin Towers. The Starlite was one of the oldest city bars to welcome gay, as well as heterosexual, patrons. He worked at the bar in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn until it closed, August 9th, 2010.

Scope and Contents

In the second session of a two session interview, Albert Johnson intersects his childhood story with another layer of complexity: growing up gay. He tells stories about his family's reactions to his sexuality, both surprising and sad. He enumerates and describes in detail all the gay clubs in Cleveland he went to as a young adult, including two different bars run by lesbians. He moves onto talk about his move to Buffalo, New York, where he worked at a hospital and met his first true love; John, a doctor. Together, they moved to New York City, where Johnson attended the Fashion Institute of Technology, then worked in the Garment District. He tells stories about the clubs he went to, the people he loved, and the fashion business circa the 1980s. He tells of the losses to AIDS in its early years in New York, including John. Johnson was diagnosed with HIV in 1996 and relates those early experiences of trying to get medical care and treatment. He talks about meeting "Butchie" King, who was a DJ at the Starlite Lounge in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, and how it took some convincing for Johnson to come bartend there in 2001. He talks about attracting a regular clientele by being the first to make fancy mixed drinks at the bar; describing some drinks and some patrons. He compares various eras of ownership of the Starlite, and tells stories about the place and what it meant to the community. He reflects on the ways the Starlite Lounge changed his life and the meaning of it, and how once the people who made the Starlite what it was were dead and/or gone, it was time for it to end. Interview conducted by Svetlana Kitto.

Conditions Governing Access and Use

Access to the interview is available onsite at the Brooklyn Historical Society's Othmer Library and online on the Oral History Portal. Use of the oral histories other than for private study, scholarship, or research requires permission from BHS by contacting library@brooklynhistory.org.

Subject Names

  • Johnson, Albert
  • King, William (William "Butch" King)
  • Obama, Barack

Subject Organizations

  • Starlite Lounge (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)

Subject Topics

  • African American neighborhoods -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • AIDS (Disease) -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Bars (Drinking establishments) -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Business enterprises -x African Americans -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community identity -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Gay culture -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Gays -- Social life and customs
  • HIV-positive persons -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Lesbians
  • Multiculturalism
  • Nightclubs -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Presidents -- United States -x Election -y 2008
  • September 11 Terrorist Attacks, 2001
  • Transgender people

Subject Places

  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) |x Social conditions
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) |x Social life and customs
  • Buffalo (N.Y.)
  • Cleveland (Ohio)
  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)
  • Fort Greene (New York, N.Y.)
  • New York (N.Y.)

Johnson, Sophie, 2017 June 1

Biographical note

An African American woman originally from Baltimore, Maryland, Sophie Williams Johnson was age eighty-two at the time of her 2017 interview. She had lived in Brooklyn for "about fifty years," most of that time spent in the Crown Heights neighborhood. A musician and retired arts administrator, she had also served as a board member and director of programming for the New Muse, on the community programs staff at Brooklyn Museum, and as Director of Magnolia Tree Earth Center. Among her many endeavors at the New Muse, she worked with "Where We At: Black Women Artists," a Black women's art collective.

Scope and Contents

In the interview, Sophie Williams Johnson talks about growing up in Baltimore; including learning violin and becoming a musician, then meeting and marrying her husband. Of her time in Brooklyn, she recalls how she and her husband worked as musicians in churches, and organized their own youth music programs in the community. Johnson speaks about working at the New Muse cultural institution, Brooklyn Museum, and Magnolia Tree Earth Center, as well as her work with Community Board Nine and the Bergen Street Community Garden. She concludes with her observations on community change and the effects of gentrification in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. Interview conducted by Amaka Okechukwu.

Conditons Governing Access and Use

Access to the interview is available onsite at the Brooklyn Historical Society's Othmer Library and online on the Oral History Portal. Use of the oral histories other than for private study, scholarship, or research requires permission from BHS by contacting library@brooklynhistory.org.

Subject Names

  • Johnson, Sophie Williams

Subject Organizations

  • Brooklyn Museum
  • Community Board No. 9 (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Historic First Church of God in Christ (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Magnolia Tree Earth Center of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Inc. (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Muse Community Museum (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)

Subject Topics

  • African Americans -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Arts -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community activists -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community development -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community organi-ing -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Education -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Gentrification -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Housing -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Museums -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Musicians -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Neighborhoods -- New York (State) -- Kings County

Subject Places

  • Baltimore (Md.)
  • Bedford-Stuyvesant (New York, N.Y.)
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) |x Social conditions |y 20th century
  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)

Juravich, Nick, 2017 May 18

Biographical note

Thirty-three years old at the time of the 2017 interview, Nick Juravich was born in Northampton, Massachusetts. His family is White, from German, Scottish, and Polish stock. His father is a professor of Labor Studies and his mother is a local historian. They live in Amherst, Massachusetts, where Juravich also lived from the age of nine. He went to the University of Chicago as an undergraduate, majoring in Urban History. He then received a Rhodes scholarship and worked on his master's degree at Oxford. After England, Juravich moved to New York City to be with his girlfriend; they found an apartment on Dean Street in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn and, later married, they were still living there in 2017. He started the blog "I Love Franklin Ave." in 2008 and wrote it for five years. He was actively involved with the Crow Hill Community Association from 2009 to 2013. Juravich was finishing his doctorate in New York City history at Columbia when the interview occurred.

Scope and Contents

Nick Juravich begins the interview by describing his childhood homes and being raised as a "city kid" by an academic and a historian. Juravich remembers growing up in support of various forms of protests and growing into an anti-war activist while studying social and oral history as a University of Chicago undergraduate. He recalls his time at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar and returning to the States to find work and a home with his wife in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. Making a living as an after-school coordinator with the New York Road Runners, Juravich describes the footwork and encounters that gave him a deep experience of Brooklyn neighborhoods, shop owners, and residents. Settling into a reflection on life in his building, the surrounding block of brownstones on Dean Street between Franklin and Bedford, and the businesses of Crown Heights, he relates how his blog emerged and became a document of and public forum for the community. Much of the latter part of the interview is spent sharing tales of controversies amid businesses, residents, public services, and community groups, and analyzing the dramatic arc of gentrification and how and when it runs its course in Crown Heights. Interview conducted by Svetlana Kitto.

Conditions Governing Access and Use

Access to the interview is available onsite at the Brooklyn Historical Society's Othmer Library and online on the Oral History Portal. Use of the oral histories other than for private study, scholarship, or research requires permission from BHS by contacting library@brooklynhistory.org.

Subject Names

  • Esquilin, Frank
  • Juravich, Nicholas A.
  • Porter, Evangeline

Subject Organizations

  • Crow Hill Community Association (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Crown Heights Tenant Union (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • New York (N.Y.). Police Department
  • West Indian American Day Carnival Parade (Brooklyn, N.Y.)

Subject Topics

  • Activism
  • Bars (Drinking establishments) -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) -- Economic conditions -y 21st century
  • Business enterprises -x African Americans -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community activists -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community development -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Gentrification -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Historic preservation -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Housing -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Multiculturalism
  • Police brutality -- United States
  • Police-community relations -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Racism -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Restaurants -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Tenants' associations -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Zoning -- New York (State) -- Kings County

Subject Places

  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) |x Social conditions |y 21st century
  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)
  • Eastern Parkway (New York, N.Y.)
  • Franklin Avenue (Brooklyn, N.Y.)

La'Viticus, Timothy, 2017 July 13

Biographical note

Timothy La'Viticus was born in Virginia, but has lived in the Bronx most of his life. He was born Timothy Boyd, but prefers to use La'Viticus, as he is from the ballroom scene in New York Black gay culture, from the house of La'Viticus. He has worked managing gay bars and clubs in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan and in Brooklyn, and once a month he hosts a performance for young gay and drag artists. He is a retired home care worker, and has offered his services to his friends and family; the elders of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender Black and Latino scene.

Scope and Contents

In this interview, Timothy La'Viticus talks about his involvement at the tail end of the Starlite Lounge's existence in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. The Starlite was one of the oldest city bars to welcome gay, as well as heterosexual, patrons. La'Viticus recalls other gay clubs in the city which have closed, including Two Potatoes/ Chances Are on Christopher Street in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan. He relates his experiences of dealing with the new owners of the building which housed the Starlite Lounge, and the reasons why Starlite ultimately closed. La'Viticus also shares some of his biographical background. Throughout, he fondly describes the people who worked alongside him in the bars, as well as patrons; a few specifically and otherwise generally. Interview conducted by Andrew Viñales.

Conditions Governing Access and Use

Access to the interview is available onsite at the Brooklyn Historical Society's Othmer Library and online on the Oral History Portal. Use of the oral histories other than for private study, scholarship, or research requires permission from BHS by contacting library@brooklynhistory.org.

Subject Names

  • Cuthbert, Donna
  • King, William (William "Butch" King)
  • La'Viticus, Timothy

Subject Organizations

  • Starlite Lounge (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Two Potatoes (New York, N.Y.)

Subject Topics

  • Bars (Drinking establishments) -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Business enterprises -x African Americans -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community development -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community identity -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Gay culture -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Gays -- Social life and customs
  • Gentrification -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Lesbians
  • Multiculturalism
  • Nightclubs -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Queer culture
  • Transgender people

Subject Places

  • Bronx (New York, N.Y.)
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) |x Social life and customs
  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)
  • Greenwich Village (New York, N.Y.)

Law, Bob, 2016 December 21

Biographical note

Bob Law is an African American man from the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. Nationally known as a radio broadcaster in Black media, he also owns a health and wellness store (originally located in the Prospect Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn on Vanderbilt Avenue, relocated to the border of Prospect Heights/Crown Heights on Atlantic Avenue) and previously owned a restaurant on Vanderbilt Avenue in Prospect Heights. He is also an activist; having served as a prominent member of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in the 1960s, continuing in Black Nationalist and electoral politics in Brooklyn, and suing the Board of Education in the early 1990s for a White bias in teaching Black children. He grew up in the Kingsborough Houses, his parents coming from Georgia and South Carolina. At the time of the 2016 interview, he was seventy-seven years old.

Scope and Contents

In this first of two interviews, Bob Law shares his memories of growing up in the Kingsborough Houses in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. Referring to his childhood, he describes the community as racially mixed, though predominantly White, with friendships existing across racial lines. Growing up working class, he shares that— along with middle class values that Black parents instilled in their children— he and his peers had easy access to fun and entertainment, including Ebbets Field and TV personalities, and thus never wanted for anything. Along with a description of gang culture in the area, he recounts local/area sports stars who both made it to the major league and those who did not, due to racism. He describes Crown Heights as a neighborhood where some Black people aspired to improve their lives and invest in a community. Law speaks about Blacks entering electoral politics in Brooklyn; beginning with Maude Richardson and her run for state assembly, to Shirley Chisolm, to present day politicians like Leticia James. He talks about Brooklyn CORE, for which he was a central member, and their integrationist platform. Law also speaks about his shifting Black consciousness; being inspired by Malcolm X and a turning point of the church bombing in Alabama where four Black girls were killed. He also speaks about jazz venues in Brooklyn. Interview conducted by Amaka Okechukwu.

Conditions Governing Access and Use

Access to the interview is available onsite at the Brooklyn Historical Society's Othmer Library and online on the Oral History Portal. Use of the oral histories other than for private study, scholarship, or research requires permission from BHS by contacting library@brooklynhistory.org.

Subject Names

  • Chisholm, Shirley
  • King, Martin Luther, Jr., 1929-1968
  • Law, Bob
  • Richardson, Maude
  • X, Malcolm, 1925-1965

Subject Organizations

  • Congress of Racial Equality. Brooklyn Chapter
  • Dubrow's Cafeteria (New York, N.Y.)
  • Kingsborough Houses (Housing complex)

Subject Topics

  • Baseball -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Black nationalism -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Blacks -- Race identity
  • Children -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Civil rights movements -- United States -y 20th century
  • Community activists -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community centers -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Games -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Gangs -- New York (State) -- Kings Country
  • Housing -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Washington, D.C., 1963
  • Nightclubs -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Popular music -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Race relations -- United States
  • Racism -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Working class -- New York (State) -- Kings County

Subject Places

  • Bedford-Stuyvesant (New York, N.Y.)
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) |x Politics and government
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) -- Social life and customs -- 20th century
  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)
  • Harlem (New York, N.Y.)

Law, Bob, 2017 January 22

Biographical note

Bob Law is an African American man from the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. Nationally known as a radio broadcaster in Black media, he also owns a health and wellness store (originally located in the Prospect Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn on Vanderbilt Avenue, relocated to the border of Prospect Heights/Crown Heights on Atlantic Avenue) and previously owned a restaurant on Vanderbilt Avenue in Prospect Heights. He is also an activist; having served as a prominent member of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in the 1960s, continuing in Black Nationalist and electoral politics in Brooklyn, and suing the Board of Education in the early 1990s for a White bias in teaching Black children. He grew up in the Kingsborough Houses, his parents coming from Georgia and South Carolina. At the time of the 2017 interview, he was seventy-seven years old.

Scope and Contents

In the second of two interviews, Bob Law recounts his entry into radio and speaks about the role of Black radio in energizing Black political activity in Brooklyn and across the nation. He describes the emergence of the Black United Front and distinguishes between the Brooklyn CORE mobilizations in the 1960s and the police brutality protests in the late 1970s (particularly the 1978 Eastern Parkway protest of Arthur Miller's killing). He points out that the anger of the 1970s protests was a significant contrast to the "politics of respectability" in the 1960s protests. Law speaks at length about electoral politics in Brooklyn, highlighting his work on Al Vann's early campaigns and his thoughts about Shirley Chisolm's role in the community. He recalls a lawsuit that he organized against the Department of Education in 1990 and his role in organizing the Al-Karim School decades prior. Law also speaks about his experience with housing in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn and his thoughts about its future. Interview conducted by Amaka Okechukwu.

Conditions Governing Access and Use

Access to the interview is available onsite at the Brooklyn Historical Society's Othmer Library and online on the Oral History Portal. Use of the oral histories other than for private study, scholarship, or research requires permission from BHS by contacting library@brooklynhistory.org.

Subject Names

  • Chisholm, Shirley
  • Daughtry, Herbert, 1931-
  • Dinkins, David N.
  • Evans, Randolph
  • Jackson, Jesse
  • Miller, Arthur, Jr.
  • Law, Bob
  • Vann, Albert

Subject Organizations

  • Al-Karim School (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • National Black United Front
  • New York (N.Y.). Police Department
  • Uhuru Sasa School
  • WBLS (Radio Station : New York, N.Y.)
  • WWRL (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)

Subject Topics

  • African Americans -- United States
  • Civil rights movements -- United States -y 20th century
  • Community activists -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Education -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Gentrification -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Housing -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Million Man March (1995 : Washington, D.C.)
  • Police brutality -- United States
  • Police-community relations -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Race relations -- United States
  • Racism -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Radio
  • Radio talk shows -- United States
  • Television talk shows -- United States

Subject Places

  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) |x Politics and government
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) |x Social life and customs
  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)
  • New York (N.Y.)
  • Prospect Heights (New York, N.Y.)

Lesold, Constance, 2017 April 7

Biographical note

Constance "Connie" Lesold was born in North Carolina in 1938. Lesold attended the University of North Carolina, Greensboro (when it was a women's college) and moved to New York City after graduation in 1961. She first visited the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights in 1966 and had an apartment at 225 Eastern Parkway with her husband, Helmuth Lesold, by 1967. The couple had one son who was born in 1970. A social worker until retirement as well as an engaged community member and activist, she was president of the Parkway Independent Democrats and an official of Community Board Eight. Along with her husband, several Brooklyn community boards, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and a public coalition, she opposed the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's move to end service on the Franklin Avenue Shuttle. Lesold also served on boards of organizations and daycares, and in leadership in the Eastern Parkway Coalition for many years. A widow since 1994, she also volunteered with the Brooklyn Mental Hygiene Court Monitors Project.

Scope and Contents

In the interview, Constance Lesold talks about her many memories of the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. She discusses her longtime residence of thirty years at an apartment building on Eastern Parkway. She focuses on the battle to save the Franklin Avenue Shuttle from permanent closure. Throughout she names other activists, community leaders and organizations, and politicians; these include her husband, Community Boards Eight and Nine, Borough President Howard Golden, Arthur Miller, the Brooklyn Museum, New Muse, and the Children's Museum. Lesold chronicles the politics affecting social issues in Brooklyn, often referencing the Eastern Parkway Coalition Garden above the Franklin Avenue Shuttle. The gentrification of Crown Heights, tenants associations and how neighbors run their buildings, and justice for those with mental health issues are other concerns for Lesold. She concludes by contemplating Vermont, where she'll be living next. Constance Lesold was also recorded for the Listen to this: Crown Heights Oral History collection in 2010 (2010.020) and she made a gift of the Eastern Parkway Coalition records, 1952-2007 (2007.016) to BHS. Interview conducted by Amaka Okechukwu.

Conditions Governing Access and Use

Access to the interview is available onsite at the Brooklyn Historical Society's Othmer Library and online on the Oral History Portal. Use of the oral histories other than for private study, scholarship, or research requires permission from BHS by contacting library@brooklynhistory.org.

Subject Names

  • Carthan, Hattie
  • Lesold, Constance
  • Lesold, Helmuth
  • Richmond, Frederick W., 1923-

Subject Organizations

  • Brooklyn Mental Hygiene Court Monitors Project
  • Brooklyn Museum
  • Community Board No. 8 (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Eastern Parkway Coalition
  • Muse Community Museum (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • New York (N.Y.). Police Department
  • New York (State). Metropolitan Transit Authority.

Subject Topics

  • Community activists -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community development -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community gardens -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Crime -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Environmentalism -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Gangs -- New York (State) -- Kings Country
  • Gentrification -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Housing -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Local transit -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Race relations -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Social justice -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Subway stations -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Subways -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Tenants' associations -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Urban beautification -- New York (State) -- Kings County

Subject Places

  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)
  • Eastern Parkway (New York, N.Y.)
  • Franklin Avenue (Brooklyn, N.Y.)

Lewis, Sylvia Wong, 2017 June 26

Biographical note

Born Sylvia Elaine Smith in Harlem in 1952, Sylvia Wong Lewis moved to the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights when she was two years old. Her father was African American, originally from Ocean Springs, Mississippi; and her mother, whose maiden name was "Wong," was Chinese Trinidadian. Her paternal grandmother was Madame Tempy Smith, a music teacher who led Sylvia's aunts and uncles in a traveling musical and dance troop. When Lewis's family moved to Crown Heights, her grandmother already lived there, in a house located very near the Lubavitch headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway. Sylvia's own family lived on President Street, a few blocks from that part of President called "doctors row"—known for its large houses and doctor's offices. She attended St. Matthew's, a Catholic school, and then Wingate High School, from which she graduated in 1969. After high school she matriculated to Smith College. Upon graduating from college, she worked as a journalist, educator, and media professional. She has completed two films—"Healing Games" and "From Shanghai to Harlem," which documents her mother's heritage and family.

Scope and Contents

In this interview, Sylvia Wong Lewis talks about growing up as a child of blue collar Caribbean and African-American parents living on a block in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn that was middle class and racially integrated in the 1950s and 1960s. Her father worked as a baker, and her mother operated a daycare out of the family home, often caring for the children of local teachers. She describes her upbringing as multicultural: she attended St. Matthew's Catholic school, participated in the Girl Scouts troop at First African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, and often accompanied her Chinese grandmother to a Buddhist temple in Chinatown. She also talks about the neighborhood's geography, and what it was like to cross over into the northern side of Eastern Parkway— regarded by some longtime residents as the border between Crown Heights and the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. Recalling that her grandmother lived "behind" the Lubavitchers' main synagogue, Lewis recounts her interactions with both Hasidic and non-Hasidic Jews in the neighborhood. She speaks of being fearful of the Maccabees, a Hasidic security patrol, because the patrol's efforts to keep the neighborhood safe often targeted Black people. She also recalls an incident where the police stopped and frisked her two younger brothers in front of their mother, an event that traumatized her. Another key theme in the interview is Lewis's class consciousness as a working class kid encountering members of New York's Black elite that had been living in Crown Heights. She mentions meeting Jackie Robinson's wife, as well babysitting for an associate of Lena Horne. She talks about her experiences during the blackout of 1977, as well as the 1991 unrest, and the changes in the neighborhood she witnessed since growing up there. After recording, Lewis requested that some biographically related details be removed. Under two minutes near the ninety-nine minute mark have been edited from the audio. Interview conducted by Zaheer Ali.

Conditions Governing Access and Use

Access to the interview is available onsite at the Brooklyn Historical Society's Othmer Library and online on the Oral History Portal. Use of the oral histories other than for private study, scholarship, or research requires permission from BHS by contacting library@brooklynhistory.org.

Subject Names

  • Lewis, Sylvia Wong
  • Pointer, Louvenia
  • Smith, Tempy, Madame

Subject Organizations

  • Congregation Lubavitch (Crown Heights, New York, N.Y.)
  • George W. Wingate High School
  • Girl Scouts of the United States of America
  • Maccabee Security Guard Services (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • St. Matthew's School (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • United States. Model Cities Administration

Subject Topics

  • African Americans -- Relations with Jews
  • African Americans -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Caribbean Americans -- New York (State) -- Kings County -x Social life and customs
  • Demonstration Cities Program (New York, N.Y.)
  • Family life -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Games -x Street -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Gentrification -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Hasidim -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Housing -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Police-community relations -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Race relations -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • School children -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Social classes -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Trinidadian Americans -- New York (State) -- Kings County -x Social life and customs

Subject Places

  • Bedford-Stuyvesant (New York, N.Y.)
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) |x Social conditions |y 20th century
  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)
  • Harlem (New York, N.Y.)
  • United States |x Emigration and immigration

Lightstone, Mordechai, 2016 December 15

Biographical / Historical

Mordechai Lightstone was born Jonathan Samuel Lightstone in 1984 in Los Angeles, and grew up in a Jewish family that attended a Reform synagogue. As he grew in his religious observance of his faith's tradition, especially through his involvement in the Hasidic community, he identified more closely with one of his given Hebrew names—Mordechai, the name of one of his great-grandfathers. He first visited the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn in 1998 or 1999, with his uncle, as part of a trip to visit the Lubavitch Hasidic headquarters. Less than a decade later in 2007, he moved to Crown Heights to study, and became a rabbi and emissary for the Chabad community. An active writer and social media presence, he now serves as Director of Social Media and Features Editor for Lubavitch.com, the official website for Chabad-Lubavitch World Headquarters.

Scope and Contents

In this interview Mordechai Lightstone talks about the role the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn played in the evolution of his Jewish identity and deepening of his faith. He recalls the first time he ever heard of Crown Heights in a radio broadcast about the 1991 unrest, which he remembers causing his mother great sadness. He recounts being introduced to the Lubavitch community by his uncle while visiting Montreal. It was while accompanying his uncle that Lightstone first visited Crown Heights, around the age of fourteen. He describes visiting the resting place of the Rebbe, the spiritual leader of the Lubavitch; and gives his first impressions of the Chabad headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway and rituals that he found both strange at first but spiritually compelling. He reflects on his growing sense of commitment to Judaism after his return to Los Angeles, and his gradual identification with the Chabad community. He recalls some of the mentors in the community that helped guide his learning and development, and his decision to move to Crown Heights in 2007. In his remembrance of his first years in Crown Heights, he talks about studying, his training as a meat slaughterer, and courtship and marriage. He describes his family's journey to home-ownership in Crown Heights, addresses perceptions of the role of Jews in neighborhood real estate, and how gentrification and housing pressures have impacted members of the Jewish community. One of the central themes of his interview is the geography of Crown Heights—its meaning, its identity, and its boundaries; and how that geography is inextricably tied to the neighborhood's (and his) Jewish history. Interview conducted by Zaheer Ali.

Conditions Governing Access and Use

Access to the interview is available onsite at the Brooklyn Historical Society's Othmer Library and online on the Oral History Portal. Use of the oral histories other than for private study, scholarship, or research requires permission from BHS by contacting library@brooklynhistory.org.

Subject Names

  • Lightstone, Mordechai, Rabbi
  • Schneerson, Menachem Mendel

Subject Organizations

  • Congregation Lubavitch (Crown Heights, New York, N.Y.)
  • West Indian American Day Carnival Parade (Brooklyn, N.Y.)

Subject Topics

  • Antisemitism
  • Gentrification -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Hasidim -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Jewish neighborhoods -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Judaism -- Hasidic rite
  • Reformed Judaism
  • Riots -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Synagogues -- New York (State) -- Kings County

Subject Places

  • Bedford-Stuyvesant (New York, N.Y.)
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) |x Religious life and customs
  • Canada
  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)
  • Eastern Parkway (New York, N.Y.)
  • Los Angeles (Calif.)
  • Weeksville (New York, N.Y.)

Miller, Florence, 2017 July 27

Biographical note

Seventy-three years old at the time of the interview, Florence Miller is an African American woman of Bahamian descent. She is the widow of a community leader in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. Her husband, Arthur Miller, was killed by the New York Police Department in 1978. A homemaker until that point, she had to vacate the building where her husband was superintendent, find work at a bakery on the Lower East Side, resettle the family, and be the sole parent to her children in another apartment in Crown Heights. After moving back to Florida a few years after her husband's death, she supported her ailing father, and later became a nurse with a focus in oncology at a hospital. She is a mother of four children.

Scope and Contents

In this interview, Florence Miller talks about growing up in Florida, meeting Arthur Miller, eloping, and moving to New York as a late teenager. She speaks about the activities of her husband, their time in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, and his death at the hands of New York Police Department. Miller chronicles the painful period of finding a job and working to support her family as a single mother, then moving back to Florida once her father became ill, and eventually beginning a career as a nurse. She mentions Arthur's job as superintendent of 925 Prospect Place, his emerging business in construction and building renovation, his grocery store on Nostrand Avenue (Bright Night Supermarket), the activities of the 4 Star Block Association, and more. Miller explains the need for the foundation called Arthur Miller Jr. - A Daughter Never Forgets, established by her daughter LoLisa (who is present for the interview, but heard only briefly). Arthur Miller (born November 30, 1941, in Nassau Bahamas, died June 14, 1978 in Brooklyn) is memorialized on the organization's website (https://arthurmillerjradnff.org/), and Florence Miller explains the non-profit foundation's mission. Interview via telephone conducted by Amaka Okechukwu.

Conditions Governing Access and Use

Access to the interview is available onsite at the Brooklyn Historical Society's Othmer Library and online on the Oral History Portal. Use of the oral histories other than for private study, scholarship, or research requires permission from BHS by contacting library@brooklynhistory.org.

Subject Names

  • Miller, Arthur, Jr.
  • Miller, Florence

Subject Organizations

  • Bright Night Supermarket (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Four Star Block Association (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Jewish Hospital of Brooklyn
  • New York (N.Y.). Police Department
  • St. Mary's Hospital (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)

Subject Topics

  • African American neighborhoods -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • African Americans -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Business enterprises -x African Americans -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Caribbean Americans -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community activists -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community identity -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community organi-ing -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Crime -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Family life -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Police brutality -- United States
  • Police-community relations -- New York (State) -- Kings County

Subject Places

  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) |x Social conditions |y 20th century
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) -- Social life and customs -- 20th century
  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)
  • Florida

Shaffer, Bronya, 2017 June 27

Biographical note

Bronya Shaffer has been a resident of the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn since 1968. Born in 1948, she grew up in Montreal, where her parents settled after fleeing Soviet Russia. Her marriage to Rabbi Gedalia Shaffer brought her to Crown Heights, where she went on to have ten children. (Daughter Devora Shaffer was interviewed for the Crown Heights History Project in 1993.) Working as a stay at home mother, she also became a lecturer on Jewish life.

Scope and Contents

In this interview, Bronya Shaffer talks about her parents' experience of being religious Jews in Stalinist Russia. She recalls growing up in the 1960s and how the Civil Rights Movement really grabbed her attention. Shaffer remembers her college experience, courtship and marriage, moving to the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, and encountering racism in the Jewish community as well as high crime in the area. Reflecting on the emergence of feminism in America, she discusses how those ideals affected how she raised her daughters and how this fit with the teachings by the Rebbe of the Lubavitcher Hasidim. Shaffer then relates her experience and some content from her time as an emerging, traveling lecturer on Jewish values, myths that grow out of Judaism, gender roles, and marriage dynamics. Focusing on living in Crown Heights, Shaffer describes the demographic turnover known as white flight and her feelings on security in a time of a rising crime rate. Exploring her memories of the lives lost and the unrest in August of 1991, Shaffer explains that city officials and the media distorted the events into a story of civil fracture based solely on race. She shares some frustration with how cultural institutions created further distortions in how they tried to mend the fabric of the Crown Heights community. In closing, Shaffer observes gentrification's effects and how rising housing costs make it prohibitive to raise a middle-class family in the neighborhood. Interview conducted by Svetlana Kitto.

Conditions Governing Access and Use

Access to the interview is available onsite at the Brooklyn Historical Society's Othmer Library and online on the Oral History Portal. Use of the oral histories other than for private study, scholarship, or research requires permission from BHS by contacting library@brooklynhistory.org.

Subject Names

  • Cato, Gavin
  • Rosenbaum, Yankel
  • Schneerson, Menachem Mendel
  • Shaffer, Bronya
  • Shaffer, Gedalia

Subject Organizations

  • Brooklyn Children's Museum
  • Congregation Lubavitch (Crown Heights, New York, N.Y.)

Subject Topics

  • African Americans -- Relations with Jews
  • Crime -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Ethnic neighborhoods -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Family life -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Feminism -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Gentrification -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Hasidim -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Housing -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Jewish women
  • Judaism -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Multiculturalism
  • Race relations -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Religious identity
  • Riots -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Sex role

Subject Places

  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) |x Social life and customs
  • Canada
  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)
  • Russia

Simmons, Esmeralda, 2016 December 15

Biographical note

Esmeralda Simmons is a founder and executive director of the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College. She is an attorney with experience in civil rights/human rights law and has worked for New York State and the federal government in law; clerking for a federal judge, serving as the First Deputy Commissioner for Human Rights, and working as a Civil Rights Attorney for the Department of Education. She is a Black woman, with roots in St. Croix, Virgin Islands, and was born and raised in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. She has lived in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn for much of her adult life. She received her undergraduate degree from Hunter College and her law degree from Brooklyn Law School. At the time of the 2016 interview she was nearing her sixty-sixth birthday.

Scope and Contents

In this interview, Esmeralda Simmons speaks about growing up in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn in the 1950s and 1960s, describing neighborhood demographics, racial conflict, and her experience in Catholic schools: St. Matthew School, St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Academy, and St. Brendan's Diocesean High School. Also important is her description of the neighborhood, including neighborhood boundaries of Crown Heights which overlap with the present day Prospect-Lefferts Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn. She also talks about her work at the Center for Law and Social Justice, the Black United Front, "The East," and Black political activity in Brooklyn (including electoral politics in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and the era when the interview occurred). She also describes the decline of the neighborhood in the 1970s and her experience of gentrification in Crown Heights in the early twenty-first century. Interview conducted by Amaka Okechukwu.

Conditions Governing Access and Use

Access to the interview is available onsite at the Brooklyn Historical Society's Othmer Library and online on the Oral History Portal. Use of the oral histories other than for private study, scholarship, or research requires permission from BHS by contacting library@brooklynhistory.org.

Subject Names

  • Simmons, Esmeralda
  • Weusi, Jitu, 1939-2013

Subject Organizations

  • Albany Houses (Housing complex)
  • City University of New York. Medgar Evers College
  • Hunter College
  • Muse Community Museum (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • National Black United Front
  • New York (N.Y.). Police Department
  • St. Brendan Catholic Church (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • St. Francis Preparatory (New York, N.Y.)
  • St. Matthew's School (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Uhuru Sasa School

Subject Topics

  • African American neighborhoods -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • African Americans -- United States
  • Caribbean Americans -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Catholic schools -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Civil rights movements -- United States -y 20th century
  • Community activists -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Gentrification -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Police-community relations -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Race relations -- United States
  • Racism -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Riots -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • School integration -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Segregation -- New York (State) -- New York

Subject Places

  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) |x Politics and government
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) |x Social life and customs
  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)

Suggs, Rudy, 2017 March 2

Biographical note

Rudy Suggs, an African American male, was born in 1962 at Kings County Hospital. He grew up (and continues living) on Lincoln Place, between Albany and Troy Avenues in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. His parents were from North Carolina and came to Brooklyn in the 1950s. Suggs is one of seven siblings. He attended a variety of public schools as a youth in the Crown Heights, Gravesend, and Coney Island neighborhoods of Brooklyn. As a young man he was a drug dealer and spent eighteen months in prison. At the time of the 2017 interview, he worked as a cook at an elder care facility and served as a violence interrupter with Save Our Streets Crown Heights (based on Chicago's Cease Fire model), a program of the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center. He has worked with Save Our Streets Crown Heights for eight years.

Scope and Contents

In this interview, Rudy Suggs narrates his life from childhood, to life as a young adult involved in the drug trade, up to the contemporary period where he works as a violence interrupter; all centered in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. Suggs talks about the drug trade in detail and elaborates upon the 1986 New York Police Department 77th Precinct scandal. He describes his youth, being bused to schools that were predominantly attended by White students, and growing up in a large family. He also remembers the 1977 New York City blackout. He details his time spent in prison and how he moved from a life of crime to working as a cook for a senior citizen center and as a violence interrupter for the local Save Our Streets program within the Crown Heights Mediation Center. He also speaks about his experience of gentrification in the neighborhood. Interview conducted by Amaka Okechukwu.

Subject Names

  • Griffith, Michael, 1963-1986
  • Suggs, Rudolph

Subject Organizations

  • Congregation Lubavitch (Crown Heights, New York, N.Y.)
  • Crown Heights Mediation Center
  • New York (N.Y.). Police Department

Subject Topics

  • Community activists -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community centers -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Crime -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Drug dealers -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Drug traffic -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Electric power failures -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Ex-convicts -x Rehabilitation -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Family life -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Gentrification -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Hasidim -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Home ownership -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Housing -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Pillage -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Race relations -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Racism

Subject Places

  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) |x Social conditions
  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)

Todd, Greg, 2017 April 6

Biographical note

Aged sixty-eight at the time of the 2017 interview, Greg Todd is a real estate broker. He was born in Michigan and moved to New York City in the 1970s. He originally lived in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, then— still within Brooklyn— Prospect Heights, back to Park Slope, and then moved to Crown Heights in 2002. In 2017, he was staying with a friend in Park Slope as serious construction occurred on his newly purchased home in Crown Heights. He has worked in Crown Heights since 1987, first as a non-profit developer (with Brooklyn Ecumenical Cooperatives), and then eventually as a commercial real estate broker. He also is involved in urban gardening at the Imani Garden in Crown Heights. A father of two, Todd is also devoted to the permaculture movement.

Scope and Contents

In the interview, Greg Todd speaks about the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn in the 1970s and 1980s, and the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn in the 1980s, early 1990s, and 2000s. He discusses Brooklyn Ecumenical Cooperatives and the housing conditions in Brooklyn in the 1980s and 1990s. He distinguishes between non-profit housing development and commercial housing development. He describes the role of city government in housing development and argues that Giuliani's administration eliminated the availability of non-profit developers to obtain city owned housing stock, instead selling it to commercial developers. Todd also speaks about his involvement in a community garden, Imani Garden, in Crown Heights. Interview conducted by Amaka Okechukwu.

Subject Names

  • De Blasio, Bill, 1961-
  • Giuliani, Rudolph W.
  • Harmon, Richard
  • Todd, Greg

Subject Organizations

  • Brooklyn Ecumenical Cooperatives (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Community Board No. 8 (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • New York Restoration Project
  • Park Slope United Methodist Church (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)

Subject Topics

  • Churches -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community activists -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community development -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community gardens -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Crime -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Environmentalism -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Gentrification -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Housing -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Nonprofit organi-ations -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Real estate development -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Riots -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Social justice -- New York (State) -- Kings County

Subject Places

  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)
  • New York (N.Y.) |x Politics and government
  • Park Slope (New York, N.Y.)
  • Prospect Heights (New York, N.Y.)

Workman, Reggie, 2017 June 9

Biographical note

Reggie Workman, an African American man, is a well-known jazz musician who has been the member of jazz groups led by John Coltrane, Art Blakey, Pharoah Sanders, Max Roach, and more. He remained a touring musician at the time of this 2017 interview, but is also an Associate Professor of Jazz at the New School in Manhattan. He is from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania but relocated to New York City as a young artist. Workman was the Director of Music for the New Muse Community Museum in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn in the 1970s and early 1980s. He also lived in Crown Heights during this time period, on New York Avenue and Lincoln Place, Brooklyn Avenue and Dean Street, and in the Flatbush neighborhood (near Crown Heights) on Parkside Avenue, close to SUNY Downstate Hospital. He was living in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan, at age seventy-nine, in 2017.

Scope and Contents

In this interview, Reggie Workman talks about coming to New York as a young man to join the music scene; including his arrival in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, and later moving to and within the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. Workman recalls the institution that was known first as The Muse, a temporary home for Brooklyn Children's Museum. He describes the genesis and content of the New Muse; a space that offered a planetarium and menagerie for children, music lessons, programming, and more for all ages— on Bedford Avenue between Eastern Parkway and Lincoln Place— starting in the early 1970s. He speaks at length about the kinds of programing that the New Muse organized and other musicians who were involved in the music program under his direction. As a result of political factions and decreased funding, he shares how the New Muse closed its doors in the early 1980s. Workman speaks about the community organization "The East;" located in the Clinton Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn and led by Jitu Weusi. He remembers life in Crown Heights, other organizations of musicians, and the drug epidemic in Brooklyn. Workman also contemplates gentrification. Interview conducted by Amaka Okechukwu.

Conditions Governing Access and Use

Access to the interview is available onsite at the Brooklyn Historical Society's Othmer Library and online on the Oral History Portal. Use of the oral histories other than for private study, scholarship, or research requires permission from BHS by contacting library@brooklynhistory.org.

Subject Names

  • Barron, Bill, 1927-1989
  • Barron, Kenny
  • Collins, Rudy
  • White, Chris, 1936-
  • Workman, Reggie

Subject Organizations

  • Brooklyn Children's Museum
  • Collective Black Artists
  • Crown Heights Community Service Corps (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • East Educational and Cultural Center for People of African Descent (1969-1986) (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Muse Community Museum (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Professionals Unlimited (New York, N.Y.)

Subject Topics

  • African Americans -- United States
  • Community centers -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community development -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Drug traffic -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Gentrification -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Museums -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Musicians -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Performing arts -- New York (State) -- Kings County

Subject Places

  • Bedford-Stuyvesant (New York, N.Y.)
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) |x Social life and customs
  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)
  • New York (N.Y.)

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