Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation oral history open to researchers in January, 2017!

Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS) and Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation (Restoration) partnered on the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation Oral History project in 2007-2008 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Restoration’s founding as the first community development corporation (CDC) in the United States. Fifty-six interviews were conducted with founding board members, supporters, activists, artists, tenants, and other community members. Audio clips from these oral history interviews were included in the exhibition Reflections on Community Development: Stories from Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation (BHS 2008, Restoration 2009). Having completed the processing of this collection in early 2017, Restoration’s 50th anniversary year, BHS is pleased to share these interviews with improved access.

Access to Brooklyn Historical Society’s oral history collections is now made possible through a generous grant by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) for Voices of Generations: Investigating Brooklyn’s Cultural Identity, a project to digitize, process, catalog, and make accessible nearly 500 interviews from BHS’s earliest oral history collections that document the histories of Brooklyn’s diverse ethnic and cultural communities. With a goal of improved accessibility via thorough description, Oral History Project Archivist Brett Dion assists and supervises an intern team processing the collections, with project management by Oral Historian Zaheer Ali and Managing Director of the Library and Archives Julie I. May. Today we hand over oral history blogging duty to our dedicated, long-time intern Maria Santiago. Take it away, Maria!

As a whole, the oral history collection records voices, stories, and reflections from across Restoration’s historic organization, and chart its many eras, beginning prior to its founding and up to 2008.

In this three-minute clip, urban planner Ron Shiffman describes the legendary 1966 walking tour through the economically struggling Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn taken by United States Senator Robert F. Kennedy (D-NY). Other local luminaries joined them; including Central Brooklyn Coordinating Council (CBCC) co-founder Elsie Richardson and U.S. Senator Jacob Javits (R-NY). The walk, arranged by the CBCC, aimed at garnering Kennedy’s support for what would become the nation’s first-ever community development corporation, the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation. The informed, guided tour revealed the strengths of Bed-Stuy for Kennedy. In listening to this clip, it’s easy to understand why he green-lit the CBCC’s long-pitched plans.

This clip is a small segment of Shiffman’s uncut 2-hour interview, of interest to local historians and community activists — and a tiny fraction of the extensive collection of interviews. Other noted narrators of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation Oral History Project include Elsie Richardson, co-founder of the Central Brooklyn Coordinating Committee (CBCC); the educator Dr. Regent Adelaide Sanford; Franklin Thomas, Restoration’s first president and later president of the Ford Foundation; Dr. Josephine English, social activist and one of New York’s first female African American doctors; New York City Assemblyman and Councilman Al Vann; Colvin Grannum, former president of Restoration; Jazz Master Randy Weston; actor Ralph Carter; artist Che Baraka; educator and Associate Commissioner of the New York State Education Department Dr. Lester Young, Jr., and Peggy Alston, director of Restoration’s Youth Arts Academy.

In February, BHS will launch the Oral History Portal, an online access website that combines the detailed interview descriptions and the Oral History Metadata Synchronizer player to seamlessly intertwine a descriptive index with the listening experience.  The portal was funded by the New York Community Trust.  For an overview of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation oral history and descriptions of narrators and interview content, please see our guide, available online via our finding aid portal in later January. You can also visit the Othmer Library to listen to oral history interviews during research hours Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m. library@brooklynhistory.org. I encourage you to visit!

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