Prospect Park Alliance Welcomes Juneteenth Way
June 18, 2021
Today Prospect Park Alliance kicked off the restoration of Lefferts Historic House with a celebratory event led by Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver, Prospect Park Alliance President Sue Donoghue, Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo and Council Member Mathieu Eugene, who joined civic leaders and community members. The occasion was marked with two unveilings: the designation of the path across from Lefferts as “Juneteenth Way,” and a site-specific installation produced in partnership with Photoville, “Jamel Shabazz: Prospect Park, My Brooklyn Oasis.”
Prospect Park Alliance is restoring Lefferts Historic House through $2.5 million in funding from the Speaker and the Brooklyn Delegation of the New York City Council. The restoration will enable the Alliance to replace the roof, restore the exterior of the building, and repair paths and drainage surrounding the house. The restoration is slated to conclude by Fall 2022.
In timing with Juneteenth and in partnership with NYC Parks, the pathway across from Lefferts Historic House is being designated as “Juneteenth Way.” The stretch of benches along this shaded walkway were painted the colors of the pan-African flag, and interpretive signage was installed as part of this designation. The Alliance and NYC Parks will look to officially rename the area after a celebrated Black community member next year via the public nomination and voting process of the NYC Parks Renaming Project.
In partnership with the non-profit Photoville and acclaimed Brooklyn-based photographer Jamel Shabazz, the Alliance unveiled “Prospect Park: My Oasis in Brooklyn,” a site-specific installation of works on the Lefferts Historic House construction fencing. For the past 41 years, Shabazz has documented the people and places that truly make the park Brooklyn’s Backyard. His work is exhibited worldwide, and featured in the collections of The Whitney Museum, The Studio Museum in Harlem, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The installation is on view through December 1, 2021.
“Lefferts Historic House is located at the nexus of Prospect Park and the Flatbush community, and our vision in terms of its restoration is to rethink its mission and vision to make it better reflect the history and culture of our community,” said Sue Donoghue, President, Prospect Park Alliance. “In strengthening the bones of this historic structure, the Alliance is committed to recognizing the role the house played as a site of slavery, and telling the stories of enslaved Africans and Native Americans who lived and worked the land. We are so thrilled to be marking this moment by unveiling ‘Juneteenth Way’, and also celebrating the work and career of the preeminent photographer Jamel Shabazz.”
“We are elated to celebrate the start of Lefferts Historic House’s restoration and the unveiling of Prospect Park’s Juneteenth Way. It is fitting that this momentous occasion would fall on the eve of Juneteenth,” said NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver, FAICP. “We hope that collectively we can reflect and acknowledge the history of this site as a former slave property. Thanks to the Prospect Park Alliance and the Brooklyn Delegation of the New York City Council, the Lefferts Historic House will be restored and renewed to serve as a living testament to the hurdles we have overcome in the quest for equality and as a reminder of the harsh realities of slavery.”
“These dual projects to honor the end of slavery on which the Prospect Park Alliance is partnering are right on time,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. “The unveiling of “Juneteenth Way” as restoration of Lefferts Historic House commences, and the rotating art exhibit surrounding it, first featuring the photography of Jamel Shabazz, acknowledge the profound cultural contributions that continue to be made by people of African descent in this country, and the long overdue homage being made to those formerly enslaved who learned late in1865 that they were finally free. I thank Prospect Park Alliance and my colleagues in government for their work to begin this recognition process.”
“Lefferts Historic House in Prospect Park is one of many cultural milestones in my district,” said Council Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo. “I know my neighbors and many residents cherish the local history of Brooklyn and their neighborhoods, and I cannot wait to see how Jamel Shabazz’s installation will depict the Park as the oasis it truly was, and always will be, for Brooklyners.”
“The restoration of Lefferts Historic House and the unveiling of Juneteenth Way is not only a beautiful addition to our beloved Prospect Park but a step in making sure all New Yorkers’ history is represented. As well as celebrating the career of photographer Jamel Shabazz,” said Council Member Brad Lander. “This is a critical moment to make sure our collective histories are shared and not to gloss over some parts of it we don’t want to share. I hope that when it reopens, the Lefferts Historic House will be able to teach all who come to visit it the stories of the enslaved people who lived and worked there, and that we continue to make New York City historical sites more inclusive.”
“It is a great honor for me to join my colleagues from the Brooklyn Delegation in funding the $2.5 million restoration of Lefferts Historic House,” said Council Member Mathieu Eugene. “This project represents a very important long-term investment in our community that is preserving history for future generations of New Yorkers. By restoring this historic landmark, once home to prominent slaveholder Pieter Lefferts, we are preserving a part of our city’s rich history and recognizing the struggle that our enslaved ancestors went through on their journey to freedom. The dedication of Juneteenth Way in the very place that housed slaves so many years ago is indeed a powerful statement to the progress we have made as a society towards equality.”
Background on Lefferts Historic House
Lefferts Historic House is an 18th-century historic house museum jointly operated by Prospect Park Alliance and the Historic House Trust. Its programming focuses on the lives of the people that lived and worked the land, including the Lenape, Dutch colonists and enslaved Africans. The museum features a working garden and farm plots, historic artifacts, period rooms and indoor and outdoor exhibits.
The Dutch colonist Lefferts family resided in the town of Flatbush starting in the 1600s. Their wealth was the result of the labor of enslaved Africans, who worked the land to produce staple crops. The original home burned down in August 1776 during the Battle of Brooklyn, and was rebuilt circa 1783. Although it is not known for certain how many enslaved Africans lived at the homestead, the 1800 census showed 12 enslaved African residents, a high number for a single family farm. By some estimates, one third of the people living in what is now Brooklyn in the early 19th century were enslaved. In 1824, the Lefferts family began to free enslaved Africans, and after the abolition of slavery in New York State in 1827, most of the Lefferts farmland was rented to tenant farmers. At the end of the 1800s, the Lefferts family sold the farmland to developers. Originally located four blocks south at 563 Flatbush Avenue near Maple Street, the house was moved to the park after its presentation to the City in 1917.
While the house is closed for restoration, Prospect Park Alliance is undertaking a re-envisioning of the museum’s mission and programming to strengthen its focus on the history and culture of the Flatbush community. This includes a stronger emphasis on the homestead as a historic site of slavery, and how the museum tells the story of the enslaved Africans and Native Americans who lived and worked the land. The Alliance will be partnering with leading researchers, community leaders and cultural organizations to identify and create innovative programming for the restored museum.