Photo Credit: Photo by Red Morley Hewitt
The History of Weeksville, The First, Free Black Community in Brooklyn, New York
Most of us have heard of Black Wall Street; a thriving community in Tulsa that an angry white mob burned to the ground in 1921. But have you heard of the Weeksville section of Brooklyn, which was basically an earlier version of Black Wall Street?
Black people faced an uphill battle trying to carve a future for themselves after New York abolished slavery in 1827. The only way they could make that a reality was to invest in themselves. Brooklynites of means put their pennies together and established one of the nation’s first free Black communities.
This new community was christened ‘Weeksville’. It got its name thanks to longshoreman James Weeks, who purchased land from Henry C Thompson, another Black professional. According to 6SQFT, “over 500 free African-Americans lived in Weeksville, including some of the leading activists in the abolitionist and equal suffrage movements.”
For Black people living and working in Weeksville, it was a Utopia where they could “forget” about racial injustice. It birthed one of the earliest Black newspapers, The Freedman’s Torchlight. Professionals across industries from doctors to ministers tended to their people’s needs. Weeksville became self-sufficient thanks to the building of schools, churches, orphanages and homes for the elderly.
As alluded to before, Weeksville wasn’t just concerned with entrepreneurial growth, but activism as well. According to Black Past, “community members participated in a wide range of anti-slavery action and promoted equal rights for free Blacks, including voting rights campaigns, the Black convention movement, and resistance to the 1863 New York City Draft Riots. By the post-Civil War era, Weeksville became an emblem of community empowerment and racial pride.”
Weeksville as it appeared years ago is no more, but it didn’t meet the same end as the Greenwood district of Tulsa. Its demise came about due to urbanization efforts starting in the 1930s, and they picked up steam in subsequent decades. After years of replacing old architecture with new, four homes from the Weeksville era remained- the Hunterfly Road Houses. If the community hadn’t rallied together to save them, these houses would have been demolished.