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Guide to the Brooklyn Navy Yard oral history collection ARC.003

Brooklyn Historical Society
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Brooklyn 11201
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Brooklyn Historical Society

Collection processed by Amy Lau, Mary Mann, Aliki Caloyeras, and Margaret Fraser

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on  , September 3, 2020
Finding aid written in English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

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Oral History Interview with Wesley Fagan, March 11, 2011

Biographical / Historical

Wesley Fagan (1910- ) was born in Portsmouth, VA and has lived in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn since the 1950s. Fagan began playing the clarinet as a teenager and took up photography when his father gave him a Kodak box camera. He attended Clark College (now Clark Atlanta University), an historically black college, for two years but could not afford to continue. He moved to Buffalo, NY to play music with his uncle in the 1930s.While in Buffalo, Fagan attended a trade school and subsequently worked in the precision gauge lab of Buffalo Arms Service where he worked his way up from a porter to a machinist. He was in the Army from 1944-1946 and played in the Army band in Hawaii and Japan. After the war, he moved to Brooklyn because his sister was living there working as a nurse. Beginning as a messenger in the mailroom at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Fagan later became the official photographer in the 1950s until the Yard closed in 1966. After the Yard was decommissioned, he went to work at the photo lab of the Fort Hamilton Army base. He later worked for the Manhattan Transit Authority as a railroad clerk.

Scope and Contents

In this interview, Wesley Fagan (1910- ) talks about his youth and education, including his time at Clark College, The Julliard School, and Jermaine Photography School. Fagan goes into detail about his life as a musician, his work and colleagues at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, his family, marriages, raising four foster children, and his life in Brooklyn since the 1950s. At the Navy Yard, he photographed ships, damages and repairs, visiting dignitaries, ship christenings and launches, and the fire on the USS Constellation. During this time, he received many commendations for his work. Fagan also details the process of developing the photographs and the Navy's reluctance to catalog and store negatives and photographs, which were eventually discarded. He spent time as the lab photographer for the Materials Lab, which required a high level of clearance. Fagan often brings up ethnicity and race, including how this affected his work at the Navy Yard, and wishing that he had done more for Civil Rights. Interview conducted by Sady Sullivan.

Conditions Governing Access

This interview can be accessed onsite at Brooklyn Historical Society's Othmer Library and online at the Oral History Portal.

Subject Organizations

  • New York Naval Shipyard
  • Constellation (Aircraft carrier)

Subject Topics

  • Accidents
  • Adoption
  • African Americans
  • African Americans -- Civil rights -- History -y 20th century
  • Musical instruments -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Musicians
  • Indians of North America
  • Warships
  • Photographers -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Racism
  • Shipbuilding -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Shipyards -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Soldiers
  • World War, 1939-1945

Subject Places

  • Bedford-Stuyvesant (New York, N.Y.)
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)