Slave Dwelling Project Comes to Lefferts

October 16, 2023

Prospect Park Alliance’s ReImagine Lefferts Initiative is re-envisioning the mission and programming of the Lefferts Historic House museum in Prospect Park to focus its interpretation and programming on exploring the lives, resistance and resilience of the Indigenous people of Lenapehoking, whose unceded ancestral lands the park and house rests upon, and the Africans enslaved by the Lefferts family.

As part of this initiative, the Alliance is engaging the public in thoughtful dialogue about the legacy of slavery in Brooklyn and beyond. In September, the Alliance had the honor of hosting Joseph McGill Jr., founder of the Slave Dwelling Project, and Herb Frazier, co-author with McGill of Sleeping with the Ancestors: How I Followed the Footprints of Slavery, for a book discussion and community conversation. McGill spends the night in former slave dwellings across the nation to draw attention to the often otherwise obscured and distorted history of slavery. He and Frazier stayed overnight at Lefferts Historic House as part of this event.

ReImagine Lefferts Community Conversation

Community members engage in a ReImagine Lefferts Community Conversation and book signing with McGill and Frazier following the authors’ stay at the Lefferts Historic House. c. k. kennedy Whiters

“I was able to touch the wooden beams that hold up the ceiling on the second floor space where enslaved people likely slept,” shared McGill following his stay at the house. “I could feel the cuts that an enslaved man made with an ax to craft that beam. I found what I think could be a fingerprint in one of the bricks in the chimney in the attic. Enslaved people were the ones who formed the bricks with their hands, so that fingerprint connects us to history.”

A focal point of the ReImagine Lefferts initiative is the Alliance’s collaboration with descendant and neighboring communities, culture bearers, scholars, artists, civic leaders and more to create content that will support the museum’s new focus and deepen our relationships with these communities through active conversation and collaboration.

“It takes power from within to want to tell the real story so that we can combat the things that have gotten us to a place where our history has been made irrelevant. Because that spirit is there, I think [the Alliance] will be successful in what you’re trying to do,” said McGill at the event.

Frazier reflected on the ongoing research as a core element of the ReImagine Lefferts initiative, and the importance of continuing to delve deeper. “As a storyteller, I like the idea that you have identified the 25 names of the people who were enslaved here. There obviously needs to be more research to find a more full understanding of who they were as individuals and maybe unearth additional people who worked on this site and lived at this house. And, of course, additional research to confirm where they slept. Nevertheless, Joseph and I will both leave with the satisfaction that we were close to where they slept and that we were able to connect with them.”

Learn more about the ReImagine Lefferts Initiative and events at Lefferts Historic House, including an upcoming behind-the-scenes tour with Open House New York.

ReImagine Lefferts is funded through a Humanities in Place grant from the Mellon Foundation.

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