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.
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.”
“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.”
ReImagine Lefferts is funded through a Humanities in Place grant from the Mellon Foundation.
c. Prospect Park Alliance
An Inside Look: J’ouvert Comes to Life at Lefferts
August 17, 2023
Kick off your J’ouvert celebration in Brooklyn’s Backyard! Prospect Park Alliance, JouvayFest Collective and City Lore have opened the J’ouvert Genesis Immersive Experience at the Lefferts Historic House. The exhibit is part of ReImagine Lefferts, the Alliance’s initiative to re-envision the mission and programming at Lefferts Historic House to focus programming on the lives, resistance and resilience of the Indigenous people of Lenapehoking and the Africans enslaved by the Lefferts family. The multimedia exhibit offers an exploration of the rich and colorful history of J’ouvert in Trinidad and Tobago and its important role in Brooklyn today.
The inaugural exhibit of the ReImagine Lefferts initiative, through funding from the Mellon Foundation, J’ouvert Genesis Immersive Experience is reflective of the community that surrounds Prospect Park. “Prospect Park borders the largest Caribbean community in the world outside of the Caribbean,” shares Maria Carrasco, Prospect Park Alliance Vice President of Public Programs. “We want Brooklyn’s Caribbean community to see themselves represented in the park, as well as at Lefferts Historic House.” J’ouvert (pronounced jou-vay) translates to “opening of the day or I open” in French, and marks the beginning of the official two days of Carnival before Ash Wednesday in the Francophone Atlantic. J’ouvert Genesis Immersive Experience sheds light on the often-misunderstood aspects of J’ouvert, allowing viewers to better understand this essential Caribbean cultural tradition, right in the heart of Brooklyn.
Alongside immersive video and traditional steelpan instruments, “Dame Lorraine,” the character costume pictured above in red, is one of the traditional J’ouvert costumes on view in the exhibit. Originally created by enslaved Africans as a mockery of plantation owners, the satirical character exaggerates the features of a French madame. c. Prospect Park Alliance
“Many people don’t know the historic connections and significance of J’ouvert celebrations. J’ouvert is a living tradition. It has a big story to tell. It’s a story of resistance and resilience,” says JouvayFest Co-Founder and Exhibit Curator, Sandra A.M. Bell. Formerly enslaved Africans in predominantly French-speaking Caribbean colonies created J’ouvert as part of their bitter battles with the authorities to participate in the pre-Lenten festivities of the ruling class. The tradition was made official in Trinidad and Tobago in 1881 when communities fought for their freedom during the famous Canboulay (burnt-cane in French) riots, when they destroyed valuable sugarcane fields to protest British attempts to suppress their way of life. This struggle secured the J’ouvert celebration from colonial interference. J’ouvert has flourished into a potent living tradition and symbol of the power of resistance and resilience in the Caribbean, Brooklyn and beyond.
The exhibit immerses the community in the J’ouvert experience through life-sized J’ouvert costumes, signature percussive instruments, large-format photography of traditional Mas (masquerade) Carnival costumes and celebrations, plus virtual reality. “Put on those goggles and you’ll be immediately transported to a J’ouvert celebration. You’ll have the experience of being inside a J’ouvert band on a J’ouvert morning and gain a taste of this centuries-old tradition,” says Bell.
Large scale J’ouvert character costumes at J’ouvert Genesis Immersive Experience. c. Prospect Park Alliance
This vibrant cultural exhibit at the newly reopened Lefferts Historic House will also include workshops and discussions on the food, dance and music of the classic Trinidad and Tobago style of J’ouvert on select dates while it is on view at the house through October 29.
In 1765, a young woman named Flora came to live on the Lefferts family farm in what is now the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn. Skilled in treating illnesses with medicinal herbs and in preparing and preserving food, she took charge of the farmhouse’s kitchen, planning daily meals on the 250-acre property.
But Flora was property, too. Her record of enslavement is one of 25 personal histories recently unearthed by ReImagine Lefferts, an initiative dedicated to redefining the identity of the Lefferts Historic House in Prospect Park. This Brooklyn institution, which consists of the homestead where Flora worked — it was burned during the American Revolution, rebuilt in 1783 and relocated to the park’s east side in 1917 — was originally a monument to the Lefferts family, prosperous Dutch immigrants who arrived in the 1660s…
Drawing from primary sources that include the New York City Municipal Archives and the Lefferts family papers, ReImagine Lefferts has been constructing biographies of previously unacknowledged residents like Flora, who is believed to have died on the farm in 1817, and Grace, who was born into slavery there in 1802. (New York State did not abolish slavery until 1827.) Through the initiative’s continuing work, the museum will feature contemporary art, historical exhibits and public programs that are inspired not only by enslaved Africans but also by the Lenape, the region’s Indigenous inhabitants.
“It’s a new definition of what a museum should or could entail,” said Morgan Monaco, the park administrator and president of the Prospect Park Alliance, which operates the Lefferts museum with the Historic House Trust.
The Alliance is now welcoming the public to the Lefferts Historic House Thursdays—Sundays. Visit and lend your voice to the future of the museum. Share your ideas with museum staff and fellow visitors and contribute to future programming through interactive brainstorming activities suitable for all ages.
c. Obed Obwoge
Lefferts Ribbon Cutting
June 6, 2023
Prospect Park Alliance President Morgan Monaco and NYC Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue joined elected officials, civic leaders and other community members to celebrate the restoration and reopening of Lefferts Historic House, Prospect Park’s 18th-century Flatbush farmhouse museum, which is jointly operated by the Alliance, the nonprofit that sustains the park, and the Historic House Trust.
Through $2.5 million in funding from the Speaker and Brooklyn Delegation of the New York City Council, Prospect Park Alliance undertook a major restoration of Lefferts Historic House. In timing with the restoration, the Alliance launched ReImagine Lefferts, an initiative funded through a Humanities in Place grant from the Mellon Foundation that is re-envisioning the mission and programming of the museum to explore the stories of resistance and resilience by the Indigenous people of Lenapehoking, whose unceded ancestral lands the park and house rests upon, and the Africans who were enslaved by the Lefferts family.
Lefferts Historic House is one of the most visited historic house museums in New York City, and features a working garden, historic artifacts, and indoor and outdoor exhibits.
Pinkster Celebration in Prospect Park at the Lefferts Historic House. c. Obed Obwoge
“Prospect Park Alliance is grateful to the City and the Mellon Foundation for providing us with the funding to restore and reinvent our historic house museum,” said Morgan Monaco, Prospect Park Alliance President and Park Administrator. “Through ReImagine Lefferts, we are engaging the public around the ongoing legacies of dispossession and enslavement in Brooklyn and beyond, and I’m honored to be ushering in this new era of recognition and celebration of the narratives and histories that have been ignored for centuries. I am looking forward to working with our partners to make the museum a place for healing and a forum for thoughtful dialogue for our community.”
“By exploring the realities of expropriation and enslavement, the restoration of the Lefferts Historic House opens up avenues for dialogue, reflection, and a deeper understanding of the uncomfortable truths embedded within this site’s history. Prospect Park Alliance and the Historic House Trust’s unwavering dedication to the restoration and revitalization of this iconic landmark strengthens our connection to the past, enriches our present, and shapes a more inclusive and culturally vibrant future for Prospect Park and beyond,” said Comptroller Brad Lander, who helped to advocate for funding for the restoration while serving in the New York City Council.
“Thanks to our partners at Prospect Park Alliance and Historic House Trust, Lefferts Historic House has undergone a tremendous renovation, while honoring its historic past,” said NYC Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue. “New Yorkers will benefit immensely from this preserved site and its greater mission, which through ReImagine Lefferts, places the stories of those previously untold on center stage. Visitors have so much to learn from our historic sites and how their legacies continue to impact and resonate with our world today.”
“In order to meaningfully address the legacy of slavery, and its indelible impact on our society, we must invest in opportunities to learn about our history,” said New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams. “I’m proud to have secured significant funding to restore the Lefferts Historic House in Prospect Park. New Yorkers will now be able to visit the historic house museum to learn about the history of the Indigenous people of Lenapehoking, whose ancestral land Prospect Park is sited on, and the people who were enslaved by the Lefferts family. Our progress as a society is contingent upon us knowing our history, and I look forward to our continued work with the Prospect Park Alliance and NYC Parks to create more educational opportunities for all.”
“As one of the most visited historic house museums in our City, the story Lefferts Historic House tells is important. Now, the museum will tell the full story of our borough’s ugly and painful underbelly. This truth-telling begins the process of restoring dignity to the communities our city has long glazed over— our Indigenous and Black sisters and brothers who have never received proper acknowledgement or apology for the deep injustices inflicted upon them,” said Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso. “I’m happy that the Lefferts Historic House is beginning this retelling of history and hope it will spark conversation over how we as a borough can continue to account for our past. Thank you to the Prospect Park Alliance and NYC Parks for making this reimagining possible.”
“Today, as we gather beneath the historic roof of Lefferts House, we celebrate the power of preservation and community,” said Council Member Rita Joseph. In this moment of restoration’s completion, let us honor the rich heritage of our past, embrace the beauty of our present, and build a future that cherishes our shared history and diverse traditions. Together, we create a tapestry of unity, resilience, and joy that will continue to inspire generations to come.”
“As Executive Director of the Historic House Trust of New York City and Director of Historic Houses at NYC Parks, I have the great privilege of working with community partners like Prospect Park Alliance who are doing groundbreaking work to shed light on previously undertold stories and accurately reflect the history and culture of our diverse city,” said Meredith Sorin Horsford, Executive Director, Historic House Trust. “The Historic House Trust and our 23 partner historic sites have an opportunity to focus on deepening our collective understanding of history. ReImagine Lefferts is an initiative that exemplifies the strength of community dialogue, and the impact of listening, engaging, and responding.”
Background on Restoration
Lefferts Historic House, which is almost 250 years old, was originally located just blocks from the Prospect Park on Flatbush Avenue (near Maple Street), and moved to its current site in 1918. After three centuries, and much wear and tear, the 1783 Dutch-American-style house was in need of critical restoration. Peeling paint and poor drainage had contributed to damage of the exterior wood shingles, windows, trim, columns and ornamental details. Gutters and rainwater leaders were displaced and not functionally draining. The cedar shingle roof was damaged and covered in moss, and the house’s three chimneys were crumbling. Structural elements of the porch and first floor were no longer able to support the load of visitors. Restoration included replacing the historic cedar-shingled roof, a meticulous process of craftsmanship due to the steep eaves of the roof (Lefferts is one of last remaining examples of an h-frame house with a gambrel roof); renovating the wood-shingled exterior, making structural improvements to the interior, replacing the house’s mechanical systems, and improving surrounding lighting and paths. The Alliance was recognized with a 2023 Lucy G. Moses Preservation Award for this restoration project, the New York Landmarks Conservancy’s highest honor for outstanding preservation.
“I want to congratulate Prospect Park Alliance on their work to restore the Lefferts Historic House not only as a point of important history, but also to ensure we tell the stories of Brooklyn’s – and America’s – indigenous and enslaved people more accurately and more completely,” said Congressman Dan Goldman. “Black and Indigenous history is American history, and they are Brooklyn’s history as well. I was excited to get a preview of this historic restoration last month and I look forward to visiting the site now that it is fully open to the public. Prospect Park is a national treasure and I am grateful for the important work of the Prospect Park Alliance.”
“The reopening of Lefferts Historic House marks a significant milestone and paves the way for dialogue, reflection, and a more inclusive future for Prospect Park and beyond,” said Senator Zellnor Y. Myrie. “The restoration efforts, coupled with the ReImagine Lefferts initiative, demonstrate Prospect Park Alliance’s commitment to honoring the stories of resistance and resilience of the Indigenous people and the enslaved Africans who called this part of Brooklyn home. I’m honored to represent Brooklyn’s Backyard in Albany and am proud of this collaboration that reflects the diversity and strength of our community.”
Work will continue on the house in the coming years thanks to Assembly Members Bobby Carroll and Brian Cunningham, who have allocated funding to restore the Lefferts grounds and make critical structural improvements to the house’s second floor.
“I am proud to dedicate $500,000 in capital funding from the New York State Assembly to help complete the restoration of the grounds at Lefferts Historic House Museum,” said Assembly Member Robert Carroll. “This vital restoration is critical to preserving an important part of Brooklyn’s history and to help tell the complete story of the Lefferts Historic House. That story unfortunately includes previously untold stories of dispossession and enslavement.”
“Prospect Park is the premiere outdoor space of Brooklyn, and the Lefferts Historic House is one of its defining features,” said Assembly Member Brian A. Cunningham. “The re-opening of this historical landmark in partnership with the launch of ReImagine Lefferts ensures a more accurate historical accounting of the Lefferts family legacy and illuminates untold stories of the relationship between the Lenapehoking people and early European Settlers. This project is a testament to the power of public-private partnerships that not only restore a piece of American history, but ensure it tells a more truthful, accurate story about our past, so that we may all learn how to create a more just, equitable future.”
Prospect Park Alliance has launched ReImagine Lefferts through a prestigious Humanities in Place grant from the Mellon Foundation. ReImagine Lefferts will re-envision the mission and programming of the museum to explore the stories of resistance and resilience by the Indigenous people of Lenapehoking, whose unceded ancestral lands the park and house rests upon, and the Africans who were enslaved by the Lefferts family. Through this initiative, the Alliance seeks to engage the public in thoughtful dialogue about the ongoing legacies of dispossession and enslavement in Brooklyn and beyond.
Caribpolitan, Andrea Pippins for I AM CARIBBEING
Juneteenth + One Love Little Caribbean Day
May 18, 2023
Prospect Park Alliance invites you to pull up to Juneteenth, I AM CARIBBEING style, with DJ sets and games presented by Fun With Friends and Little Caribbean artisans.
I AM CaribBEING is supported by NYC Department of Small Business Services, NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, New York State Council for the Arts, Con Edison, TD Bank and KeySpan.
Illustration: Caribpolitan, Andrea Pippins for I AM CARIBBEING
Rise in Spirit: Emancipation Celebration
Join Prospect Park Alliance for a Rise in Spirit: Emancipation Celebration produced by the Brooklyn-based Asase Yaa Cultural Arts Foundation. The family-friendly event will take visitors on a journey of the African Diaspora that celebrates the rich cultural heritage of the people of Africa and African descendant cultures. The theme for this celebration at Lefferts Historic House is “Rise in Spirit.”
Enjoy performances by African dancers and drummers from the Asase Yaa Youth Ensemble, IET Band jazz quartet, tap dancer Joseph Webb, the St. Paul’s Baptist Church gospel choir and theatrical readings by Sharon Gordon. Alliance educators will also provide cooking demonstrations, historic games and more.
The Asase Yaa Cultural Arts Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to its core tenets to enrich, educate and entertain. They aspire to empower and strengthen youth by offering them an opportunity to learn, study and experience the history, movement and beauty of African Diaspora dance, music and culture at its highest level. They are entering their third decade, and oversee a School of the Arts, the Asase Yaa African American Dance Theater, an award-winning professional dance ensemble, a Children’s Summer Art Camps, and an Arts Outreach program that services public and charter schools throughout the greater New York area. Asase Yaa Cultural Arts Foundation also curates original programming and produces an array of special events and concerts
The Juneteenth celebration is part of ReImagine Lefferts, an initiative funded through a Humanities in Place grant from the Mellon Foundation that is re-envisioning the mission and programming of the museum to explore the stories of resistance and resilience by the Indigenous people of Lenapehoking, whose unceded ancestral lands the park and house rests upon, and the Africans who were enslaved by the Lefferts family. The event is also funded in part through support by NYU Brooklyn.
c. Prospect Park Alliance Archives/Bob Levine Collection
Black History Spotlight: Flatbush Connections
February 8, 2023
As we celebrate Black History Month, Prospect Park Alliance is engaging the public around ReImagine Lefferts, an initiative to re-envision the mission and programming of the Lefferts Historic House museum to further focus on the stories of the Indigenous people of Lenapehoking whose unceded ancestral lands the park and house rest upon and the Africans who were enslaved by the Lefferts family. The initiative recently received a prestigious Humanities in Place grant from the Mellon Foundation.
On Saturday, February 11, Prospect Park Alliance is hosting a ReImagine Lefferts Community Conversation to share ongoing research and seek public guidance and feedback to inform our planning. To date, we have identified 25 people enslaved by the Lefferts family at the house between 1776 and 1827, including a man named Isaac.
This research would not have been possible without the support of civic leaders in Flatbush and beyond, such as Shanna Sabio, co-founder of GrowHouse Community Design + Development Group and trustee of the Flatbush African Burial Ground Coalition, a Black-led, multiracial coalition that works to preserve the Flatbush African Burial Ground from further desecration. Sabio developed a walking tour of Flatbush that explores Isaac’s story. Sabio shared her insight on the many connections between Prospect Park Alliance’s ReImagine Lefferts Initiative and the Flatbush African Burial Ground Coalition’s ongoing dedication to sharing the stories of the resistance and resilience of those enslaved in Brooklyn.
A 1905 postcard of the Lefferts Historic House in its original location on Flatbush Avenue before it was moved to Prospect Park in 1918. Photo courtesy of Prospect Park Archives/Bob Levine Collection.
“It’s fairly likely that people who were enslaved at the Lefferts Homestead also interred their loved ones at the Flatbush African Burial Ground,” shares Sabio. “Just as the Lefferts House is undergoing a revitalization and will become a site where people can learn about the complex and often painful history of Brooklyn, the Flatbush African Burial Ground should be a site of pilgrimage and remembrance.”
Isaac was sold by Jacob Bergen in Red Hook to John Lefferts for $250 in March of 1818. The high price suggests that Issac was extremely skilled and that Lefferts may have purchased Isaac to run his 250-acre farm in Flatbush. However, less than three months after his purchase, Isaac escaped enslavement along with his wife Betsey and her three sons Harry, Stephen, and Joshua, who were enslaved by the Martense family across the street from the Lefferts’ farm.
The Bill of Isaac’s Sale for $250 as documented between Jacob Bergen and John Lefferts.
[Isaac] Bill of Sale, Jacob Bergen and John Lefferts, March 10, 1818; Lefferts Family papers, ARC.145, Box 1, Folder 9; Brooklyn Public Library, Center for Brooklyn History.
Both ReImagine Lefferts and the Flatbush African Burial Ground Coalition seek to engage the public in a thoughtful dialogue about the legacy of enslavement and exploitation. On the necessity to share the stories of those enslaved on this land, Sabio says “Isaac’s story is a great example of the ways that enslaved people resisted their oppression. His labor, along with the labor of all those enslaved at the Lefferts House and throughout Flatbush, helped to cement the power and influence of their enslavers, and yet their stories are generally left untold. Unearthing, preserving, and sharing these important histories helps make sure that we learn the lessons of the past so we’re not doomed to keep repeating the same mistakes.”
The Flatbush African Burial Ground Coalition’s walking tours delve further into Isaac’s story and its profound significance. Learn more about the historic connections between the burial ground and the Flatbush community at the Coalition’s upcoming Community Day of Action and Remembrance on Saturday, February 25. Attendees will clean up the perimeter of the burial ground and have the chance to join the first walking tour of the year to learn more about the lives and stories of those enslaved in the area.
Prospect Park Alliance, the non-profit that sustains the park in partnership with the City, has received a prestigious $275,000 Humanities in Place grant from the Mellon Foundation to advance its ReImagine Lefferts initiative, which seeks to re-envision the mission and programming at the park’s historic house museum to recognize its role as a site of dispossession and enslavement, and explore the stories of the Indigenous people of Lenapehoking whose unceded ancestral lands the house rests upon and the Africans who were enslaved by the Lefferts family.
The Alliance will engage the public around this initiative with a Community Conversation on Saturday, February 11, 2023, from 1-4 pm, at the Prospect Park Boathouse.
“ReImagine Lefferts is a critical initiative for the Alliance, and we are greatly appreciative of the Mellon Foundation for recognizing the importance of this work, and providing the funding to bring this project to fruition,” said Morgan Monaco, Prospect Park Alliance President. “This project is an important step of many to help to heal deep-seated wounds from our nation’s past, and help anchor the narratives of those who have traditionally been silenced. The work we are undertaking at the museum would not be possible without those who came before us, and we look forward to partnering with and supporting the many civic leaders and organizations who have led the way in the Brooklyn community over the past many years.”
Lefferts Historic House is an 18th-century Flatbush farmhouse and New York City landmark, jointly operated by Prospect Park Alliance and the Historic House Trust. The farmhouse was originally located just blocks from the park (563 Flatbush Avenue near Maple Street) and moved in 1918 to its current site in the park’s Children’s Corner, home of the Prospect Park Zoo and Carousel. The museum features period rooms, indoor and outdoor exhibits, historic artifacts, historical object reproductions and working farm plots. Through hands-on experiences, cultural performances and imaginative play, visitors learn about the rich history of Brooklyn and also celebrate the diversity of our community today.
The Alliance is currently restoring the museum through $2.5 million in funding from the Brooklyn Delegation of the New York City Council to make vital capital upgrades essential to maintaining this historic structure, which is more than 200 years old. The project has enabled the Alliance to replace the roof, restore the exterior of the building, and repair paths and drainage around the house.
When the museum reopens in mid-2023, the Alliance will present free pilot exhibits and programs that engage with the legacies of Indigenous dispossession and African enslavement in Brooklyn. By centering the interpretation on these foundational narratives, which are often underrepresented in the telling of American history, the Alliance seeks to create opportunities for civic engagement and open dialogues about contemporary issues around race and human rights.
The one-year, $275,000 Mellon grant will support the planning, development and execution of pilot exhibits and program materials for the museum’s new focus, and enable the Alliance to engage culture bearers, scholars, community leaders, educators, artists and museum professionals.
The grant builds upon work the Alliance has conducted over the past two years to research the history of enslavement at the Lefferts house and farm, develop partnerships with Indigenous groups, cultural and local history organizations, and pilot new programming on site. To date, the Alliance has identified the names of 25 people enslaved at the site between 1783 and 1827: some inherited, some born at the house, and some purchased by the Lefferts family. The Mellon Foundation’s support will enable the Alliance to further its research about the lives of these people and their descendants.
ReImagine Lefferts programming and partnerships to date include: the creation of Juneteenth Way, a partnership with NYC Parks; two exhibitions with the renowned photographer Jamel Shabazz and the non-profit Photoville; Writing the Land, a collaboration between poets and land trusts, that commissioned Black and Indigenous poets to produce work about Prospect Park; and other projects.
About Prospect Park Alliance
Prospect Park Alliance is the non-profit organization that sustains, restores and advances Prospect Park, “Brooklyn’s Backyard,” in partnership with the City of New York. The Alliance provides critical staff and resources that keep the Park green and vibrant for the diverse communities that call Brooklyn home. The Alliance cares for the woodlands and natural areas; restores the park’s buildings and landscapes; creates innovative park destinations; and provides free or low-cost volunteer, education and recreation programs. Today, Prospect Park is an international model for the care of urban parks, and one of the premier green spaces in the United States. Learn more at prospectpark.org.
About the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is the nation’s largest supporter of the arts and humanities. Since 1969, the Foundation has been guided by its core belief that the humanities and arts are essential to human understanding. The Foundation believes that the arts and humanities are where we express our complex humanity, and that everyone deserves the beauty, transcendence, and freedom that can be found there. Through our grants, we seek to build just communities enriched by meaning and empowered by critical thinking, where ideas and imagination can thrive. Learn more at mellon.org.
Reimagining a Historic House: A Community Conversation
October 12, 2021
Prospect Park Alliance hosted a Community Conversation with Meredith Sorin-Horsford, Director of the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum, as part of its Re-Imagine Lefferts Historic Houseinitiative to re-envision the mission and programming of this historic house museum while it undergoes restoration, recognize the role the house played as a site of slavery, and tell the stories of enslaved Africans and Native Americans who lived and worked the land.
In the lead up to the event, we asked Meredith a few questions about Dyckman DISCOVERED and her team’s approach to sensitive historical research.
Can you tell us a bit about your Dyckman DISCOVERED Initiative?
The Dyckman DISCOVERED initiative investigates the stories of the enslaved and free people that lived and worked on the Dyckman Farm and the community that is now called Inwood in Upper Manhattan. This initiative brings an inclusive history to the community, fosters a sense of transparency and, we hope, engages visitors who have not seen themselves represented in the current narrative.
Where did you find information about the enslaved Africans and others who lived and worked the land apart from the Dyckman family?
We utilized the Dyckman papers at the New-York Historical Society as well as runaway slave ads, bills of sale and papers that relate to families that the Dyckmans did business with.
If you don’t have a lot of information about an enslaved person who lived in the house, how do you give visitors a sense of their lives?
Every piece of information that we find gives us an inkling into their lives, the languages they spoke, the skills they possessed, the food they ate, the spaces they would have occupied, etc. Additionally, information about the lives of enslaved people in the region might also help us to learn more about their lives.
How did you engage your community in your project?
We held community conversations during which we talked about the research that we found and used that as an opportunity to find out more from our neighbors about what they would like to learn more about. We have also held numerous public programs that relate to the Dyckman DISCOVERED initiative, including a lecture series and site-specific contemporary art installations.
Why is it important to preserve authentic and meaningful documents, artifacts, images, stories and places?
Authentic historic documents, images, stories, and places are so important to preserve because they tell us where we have been and how we ended up where we are now. Utilizing historic artifacts and stories are also a great way to engage our present-day community in conversation about the past and how it is connected with the present.
What kinds of programs help participants to see how their experiences in life are related to the interpretation of slavery?
I think that our lecture series, Talking About Race Matters: Join the Conversation, illustrates this best. This series, which we have hosted three times since August 2020, features professionals in the fields of history, archeology, anthropology, Africana and Latinx studies, women and gender studies, music and dance to talk about race from different perspectives. Through these community conversations, attendees are able to learn about, discuss, and ask questions about how the institution of slavery has shaped the history of this nation and the evolution of who and where we are today.
The restoration of Lefferts Historic House is made possible through $2.5 million in funding from the Brooklyn Delegation of the New York City Council, and includes replacing the roof, restoring the exterior of the building, and repairing paths and drainage surrounding the house. The restoration is currently underway, and slated to be completed in 2022.
In celebration of the start of restoration of Lefferts Historic House in Prospect Park, Prospect Park Alliance is proud to partner with Photoville to present a site-specific photo exhibition celebrating the work of legendary photographer Jamel Shabazz: Prospect Park: My Oasis in Brooklyn. Opening in timing with Juneteenth, the exhibit will bring the work of Shabazz to the Brooklyn community. The photographer, whose work is housed within the permanent collections of The Whitney Museum, The Studio Museum in Harlem, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture, is best known for his iconic photographs of New York City in the 1980s.
Best Friends, Jamel Shabazz, 2006.
“At the early stage of my photographic development, I wanted to improve my skills as a photographer, and Prospect Park with its five hundred and eighty-five acres, became the ideal place for me to practice” Shabazz says. Forty-one years and thousands of Prospect Park photos later, Shabazz has captured reunion picnics, musicians, races, dog walks, and so much more in the beloved park he calls his “oasis in Brooklyn.” Exhibited along the construction fence surrounding Lefferts Historic House, the community of Brooklyn will be able to discover new stories and recognize old friends in Shabazz’s work.
“I have photographed a number of locations during my career as a photographer, but I can honestly say that my work centered on Prospect Park is both my largest and one of my very favorite series” says Shabazz.
The Art of Love, Jamel Shabazz, 1988.
Prospect Park: My Oasis in Brooklyn will be on display outside Lefferts Historic House in Prospect Park through Spring 2022.
Header Image: We Are One, Jamel Shabazz, 1998
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