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Guide to the Crown Heights History Project collection 1994.006

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Collection processed by Brett Dion

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on February 14, 2019
Finding aid written in English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Biographical / Historical

History of Crown Heights: From the late nineteenth century up to the World War I era, the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn was known for being an upper and upper middle class residential enclave. Russian Jews, Irish, and Italians moved there as a part of the boom in immigration from 1880 to 1940. Smaller migrations to Crown Heights occurred as well, with Caribbean migrants among these. Seeing an opportunity for first-time home ownership, some of Harlem's African American residents moved to the neighborhood in the 1930s. A great wave of Caribbean immigration occurred in the 1960s and 1970s, and with many White residents removing to the suburbs, those immigrants along with Caribbean Americans and African Americans made up a great majority of the population from the 1960s to the 1990s. The Lubavitcher Hasidim, a Judaic movement that established its headquarters in Crown Heights in 1940, accounted for about eight percent of the population, according to early 1990s figures.*

In 1991, long simmering tensions between members of the Lubavitch Hasidim community and Black community erupted in neighborhood unrest and violence. That August, a car driven by Yosef Lifish of the Lubavitch Hasidim, struck Gavin Cato, a Guyanese American boy, along with his cousin. Cato died at the scene. Within hours and a few blocks away, a mob attack and stabbing of Yankel Rosenbaum, an Australian rabbinical student, was instigated by an African American man, Charles Price, and committed by a Carribbean American teen, Lemrick Nelson. Rosenbaum later succumbed to his wounds, and the resulting three days of strife was encapsulated as the "Crown Heights Riot" by the news media.

The Crown Heights History Project at Brooklyn Historical Society: Two years after the Crown Heights Riot, Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS), Brooklyn Children's Museum, and the Society for the Preservation of Weeksville and Bedford-Stuyvesant History started a collaborative project to examine the subtle community disconnects prior to August of 1991, the feelings and meanings of the flashpoint events, and the existential unease and healing movements in the communities afterwards. "Bridging Eastern Parkway" was the tentative title for the mounting of exhibitions at all three institutions. Cultural anthropologist Jill Vexler and historian Craig Wilder conducted research and interviews with the Crown Heights neighborhood residents and then curated the exhibitions. Collectively retitled the "Crown Heights History Project" in late 1993, BHS went on to present "Crown Heights: Perceptions and Realities" in 1994. Brooklyn Children's Museum presented "Crown Heights: The Inside Scoop" and the Society for the Preservation of Weeksville presented "Crown Heights: The African Diaspora." Oral history interviews, conducted by Vexler and Wilder, with assistance from Aviva Segall, made up a substantial component of the exhibition preparation and exhibited materials.

*Rule, Sheila. "The Voices and Faces of Crown Heights." New York Times (New York, NY), April 15, 1994.