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Guide to the Listen to This: Crown Heights Oral History collection 2010.020

Brooklyn Historical Society
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Brooklyn Historical Society

Collection processed by Brett Dion

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on May 22, 2017
Finding aid written in English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

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Caldwell, James E., 2010 April 8

Biographical / Historical

James Caldwell was born in Newbury County, South Carolina in 1951, the son of teenage sharecroppers. During his early years Caldwell was raised by an aunt in a rural setting while his parents tried to carve out a new life for the family in New York. While attending high school in Park Slope, Brooklyn, he worked as a grocery bagger as well as a bike messenger. After spending three years in Germany while in the Army, Caldwell began working as a car salesman - first in Texas and then back in Brooklyn, on Bensonhurst's 86th Street. After developing a reputation for being active in his home neighborhood of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, he was elected president of the 77th Precinct Community Council. A consistent presence in local politics, he also served as president of the non-profit Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development (BUILD), which played a pivotal role in the construction of the Barclay's Center by endorsing builder Bruce Ratner's controversial development of Atlantic Yards.

Scope and Contents

James Caldwell reminisces about an idyllic rural upbringing filled with tradition and superstition, as well as his first awed glimpse at the grand skyscrapers of New York. He recounts learning local geography and acquiring valuable social expertise during after-school jobs. Caldwell discusses his time in the Army, his youthful marriage to a member of the Women's Army Corps, as well as his triumphs and tribulations as a car salesman - including the different experiences of working as an outspoken young Black man in Texas and New York. He describes his career as a community activist - both as president of Crown Heights' 77th Precinct Council - as well as the president of Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development (BUILD). He briefly touches on the controversy over BUILD's support for the construction of the Barclay's Center before offering some advice about focusing on one's goals. Interview conducted by Monica Parfait, Ansie Montilus and Alex Kelly.

Conditions Governing Access and Use

Access to the interview is available onsite at the Brooklyn Historical Society's Othmer Library. Use of the oral histories other than for private study, scholarship, or research requires the permission of BHS. For assistance, contact

Subject Names

  • Caldwell, James E.

Subject Organizations

  • Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • United States. Army

Subject Topics

  • African American neighborhoods -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Barclays Center (New York, N.Y.)
  • Community activists -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community development -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Farms
  • Gentrification -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Urban renewal -- New York (State) -- Kings County

Subject Places

  • Bensonhurst (New York, N.Y.)
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) -- Social life and customs -- 20th century
  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)
  • New York (N.Y.)
  • Park Slope (New York, N.Y.)
  • South Carolina
  • Texas