Photo of the Week: Beach

[View of beach at Coney Island], 1958, V1974.4.528; John D. Morrell photographs, ARC.005; Brooklyn Historical Society.

[View of beach at Coney Island], 1958, V1974.4.528; John D. Morrell photographs, ARC.005; Brooklyn Historical Society.

There’s nothing quite like a beach day at Coney Island. Personally, I love that the proximity to Coney Island allows New Yorkers and tourists alike to experience the beach without leaving the city. This photo was taken in July 1958, but in some ways, it doesn’t look much different than a Saturday scene today—crowds, families, umbrellas, sprawled all along the coast line. This year, Coney Island is open one week longer (until September 13), so there’s even more time to take full advantage of a Brooklyn summer.

In the mid-19th century, Coney Island was a seaside getaway for the upper middle class. By the turn of the century, Coney Island was the most popular amusement park in the world, thanks in part to popular attractions and accessibility. Coney Island has changed and evolved over time, but it still remains an extremely popular destination. According to NYC Parks, there were roughly 11,453,890 visitors to Coney Island last summer. If you’re interested in learning more about the vast and fascinating history of Coney Island, Brooklyn Historical Society has extensive resources to get you started.

This photograph comes from the John D. Morrell collection.  Morrell was a photographer and Assistant Librarian at BHS, and donated over 2,000 photographs to the photography collection. The subject matter is primarily of Brooklyn neighborhoods taken between 1957 and 1963. To see more images from this collection, take a look at this gallery.

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our Brooklyn Visual Heritage website here. To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m. library@brooklynhistory.org

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Recent Changing Demographics Challenge Racial Categories in America

On Wednesday, June 17th, we welcomed internationally recognized demographer and author of Diversity Explosion: How New Racial Demographic are Remaking America, William Frey, to talk about how multiracial marriages and internal migration patterns are changing American demographics. The event was programmed in connection with our Crossing Borders, Bridging Generations (CBBG) program, an initiative to collect oral histories from multicultural and mixed race Brooklynites and create public programs that provide an open space for engaging conversations on the dynamics of race.  In his talk, Frey discussed the fascinating data behind his prediction that the United States will be a no racial majority nation by 2040.

Frey discusses the neighborhood racial makeup of average White, Black, Hispanic, and Asian residents across the United States.

Frey discusses the neighborhood racial makeup of the average White, Black, Hispanic, and Asian resident across the United States.

Frey’s motivation to begin writing Diversity Explosion was inspired by the most recent census which indicated that the country was “in the midst of a huge demographic change” from a majority white nation to one with no racial majority. The population trends indicate particularly rapid growth of what Frey calls “new minorities,” meaning the recent increases in Hispanic, Asian, and multi-race populations.

Frey showed that this shift is a result of the diminished growth and rapid aging rate of the white population in the U.S., a factor that is frequently overlooked when thinking about the future racial make-up of the United States.

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Courtesy of William Frey

 

As shown in the above chart, Frey pointed out that a majority of the white population is aging while the younger populations of minority groups are increasing. Birth rates among minority populations are increasing, while birth rates among the already declining white population are decreasing. Due to these concurrent trends, the shift towards a no racial majority nation will only continue into the next census.

Frey also discussed what he calls the segregation index. A demography insider’s term, the segregation index, also called the similarity index, is a number that measures the integration of a neighborhood.

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Courtesy of William Frey

 

As shown above, 80 indicates complete separation, while 0 indicates full integration. Frey noted that the segregation index number is still high in 2015, but that part of what is pulling the index number down are the amounts of interracial marriages present today. Frey said, “interracial marriages back in the 1960s were less than half of 1% of total marriages, meanwhile around 2010, 15% of all new marriages were interracial.”

This increase in interracial marriages simultaneously increases the population of multicultural people in the U.S. Frey commented that, “the children of these marriages are going to have a different way of identifying themselves then we’ve seen in the past.” This is precisely what the CBBG program explores through oral histories and research into the experiences of mixed heritage people in Brooklyn. We encourage you to browse the website to learn more about cultural hybridity and racial categories, including Ann Morning’s article: What Is ‘Race’? Academics Disagree,

After the discussion, we opened the conversation up to audience members who were concerned about how people are being placed in predetermined racial categories at the Census Bureau’s discretion. As Ann Morning explores in her article about race, racial categorization is a construct that is dependent on the society “doing the categorizing,” meaning that the U.S. Census Bureau’s choices are powerful in shaping our country’s understanding of race. For example, the Bureau’s popular decision to allow people to check multiple boxes in the race category on the census in 2010 suddenly revealed that multiracial Americans are the fastest growing demographic group in the country. Learn more about this decision in Sady Sullivan’s article, U.S. Census: Rationalizing Race, on the CBBG website.

The categories chosen by the U.S. Census Bureau are frequently challenged, particularly when they are not nearly nuanced enough, such as the use of the terms Hispanic or Asian. Frey suggested that in reality, “Hispanic and Asian are a different kind of category than race,” and that the U.S. Census Bureau decision-makers are likely to be “changing their mind about that in the 2020 Census.”

The event ended on a light note: “I’ve been accused of writing a good news book about race, and I think there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic. We are a multicultural nation, many people, even my age understand this.”

We encourage you to attend future public programs and invite you to engage in dialogue on the dynamics of race.

 

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Photo of the Week: Brooklyn Sewers

[Boy standing on dirt mound, Flatbush sewer site], circa 1880, V1974.7.63; Adrian Vanderveer Martense collection,                                  ARC.191; Brooklyn Historical Society.

[Boy standing on dirt mound, Flatbush sewer site], circa 1880, V1974.7.63; Adrian Vanderveer Martense collection, ARC.191; Brooklyn Historical Society.

The photo of the week depicts a young boy standing on a dirt mound at a Flatbush sewer site, sometime around 1880. In the mid-19th century, there were no underground sewage systems in Brooklyn. The city was facing a rapidly increasing population and the outbreak of infectious diseases. To address the sewage and waste problems, the Board of Sewer Commissioners was established in 1857. By the last quarter of the 19th century, construction of the underground sewage system began and continued into the 20th century. I love that this photograph is a tiny glimpse into this noteworthy period of Brooklyn history.

To learn more about the history of Brooklyn sewers, check out Brooklyn Historical Society’s new exhibit titled “Brooklyn Sewers: What’s up down there?”  The exhibit explores the Brooklyn Sewer system through the historical lens of the Flatbush, Bushwick, Coney Island, and Fort Greene neighborhoods of Brooklyn. The exhibit was curated by Brooklyn teens through BHS’s after-school museum studies program, Exhibition Lab. The exhibit is on display until May 29, 2016. Don’t miss it!

The photo of the week is from the Adrian Vanderveer Martense collection. Adrian Vanderveer Martense (1852-1898) was an amateur photographer and longtime resident of the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn. Flatbush became a subject for his photography. Martense documented houses, streets, and his friends and neighbors in Flatbush, as well as momentous events such as the Blizzard of 1888.To see more photographs from this collection, check out this gallery.

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our Brooklyn Visual Heritage website here. To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m. library@brooklynhistory.org

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Photo of the Week: Summer

Summer [Prospect Park West], circa 1908, V1981.15.208; Ralph Irving Lloyd lantern slides, V1981.15, Brooklyn Historical Society.

Summer [Prospect Park West], circa 1908, V1981.15.208; Ralph Irving Lloyd lantern slides, V1981.15, Brooklyn Historical Society.

Sunday is the first day of summer, so it seems appropriate to highlight a photograph in our collection titled “Summer.” This photograph is by Ralph Irving Lloyd and depicts Prospect Park West around 1908. I love the small details in this photograph that give clues to an earlier time in Brooklyn, including the clothing style, the awnings on the buildings, and the vehicles in the background. With the shaded sidewalk and near-empty street, the photograph evokes a lovely feeling of a peaceful summer stroll.

Dr. Ralph Irving Lloyd was a Brooklyn ophthalmologist and an avid amateur photographer. The collection consists of roughly 400 black-and-white lantern slides, created by Lloyd, that depict 17th, 18th, and 19th century historic houses, homesteads, churches, storefronts, cemeteries and gravestones, and schools in Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan; and 19th and early 20th century street scenes of Brooklyn. He lived at 14 8th Avenue (near Flatbush Avenue) in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn. To view more photographs from this collection, check out the online image gallery.

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our Brooklyn Visual Heritage website here. To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m. library@brooklynhistory.org

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Our 4th Annual: What Are You? Sparked Dialogue on Identity and Mixed Heritage

On Monday, June 8th, we hosted our 4th Annual: What Are You?, an event initiated by our Crossing Borders, Bridging Generations (CBBG) program. From 2011 to 2014, CBBG collected oral histories of mixed-heritage Brooklynites and created public programs that provided an open space for engaging conversations on the dynamics of race, ethnicity, identity, culture, class, and sexuality.

The What Are You? public program series in particular tackles the question that so often plagues people of mixed heritage – “What are you really?” – and highlights the personal stories and voices of people of color that are oftentimes neglected under the guise of “colorblindness.” CBBG brings together mixed and culturally diverse Brooklynites in this program and encourages discussion and the sharing of personal histories.

Lacey Schwartz and Lise Funderburg engage in conversation on race, family, and truth after a screening of Schwart’z autobiographical documentary, Little White Lie.

For the 4th Annual What Are You? we invited Lacey Schwartz, director and producer of Little White Lie, an autobiographical documentary about uncovering the truth about her heritage as a biracial woman, to sit down with Lise Funderburg, author of the groundbreaking book of mixed race oral histories, Black, White, Other, to discuss questions of identity and mixed-heritage culture as biracial women in America.

The evening began with a screening of Schwartz’s provocative film, which follows her journey from being part of a typical upper class white Jewish family in Woodstock, NY to the eventual discovery that she was indeed biracial and not just taking after her darker-skinned Sicilian grandfather. Not surprisingly, Schwartz had trouble coming to terms with her newfound identity and reconciling the two worlds she inhabited, stating “I was out and about with dealing with my identity one way, and then I’d go home to my family and be a different way.”

The screening was followed by a talkback between Funderburg and Schwartz, during which both women shared their experiences of grappling with questions about having mixed heritage identities and how they managed to deal with the push and pull of two opposing identities. Both Funderburg and Schwartz characterized this clash as integral to their identities. Funderburg asked Schwartz how she identified personally, to which she answered, “I identify as being biracial, and it’s subjective, but to me that’s a category of being black.”

In choosing to embrace her identity as a black woman, Funderburg asked Lacey, “What did you have to let go of?” Lacey responded, “When you are defaulted into the black student union, even though you have black pigment in your skin, there is also a white privilege that you have to let go of. I’m aware of it and I definitely certainly embody it.”

The event concluded with an invitation to audience members to share their own stories, particularly their families’ secrets that they uncovered or have yet to share with family members. Through the film’s website, anyone can share family secrets on the “Share Your Little White Lie” page, and you can read the little white lies that other people have shared, from familial histories of mental illness to unknown adoption stories.

To learn more about Crossing Borders, Bridging Generations, visit our website and browse the collection of oral history interviews. We encourage you to attend future public programs on the questions of mixed heritage and cultural diversity.

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