Oral histories of the West Indian Carnival Documentation Project records now open to researchers!

Brooklyn Historical Society launched The West Indian Carnival Documentation Project in 1994 to supplement existing photographs and histories of the event with personal narratives and life histories of Carnival participants. In cooperation with the West Indian American Day Carnival Association and the Brooklyn Museum, the project attempted to document different viewpoints from within the Carnival organization and the diverse participants. Since their creation in 1994 and 1995, recordings had not been fully processed and have been inaccessible to researchers, that is… until now!

The oral histories, photographs, and resources that make up this collection were compiled by a team including two community researchers, photographers from local Caribbean publications, graduate student assistants, scholarly advisors, and a community advisory committee primarily made up of WIADCA members. Staff for this project included Dwandalyn Reece King (Chief Curator), Michael Roberts (Interviewer), Joyce Quamina (Research Assistant), Megan McShea (Project Assistant), Maureen Mahon (Project Fieldworker) and Kristen Elmquist (Project Fieldworker).

A Carnival participant on Eastern Parkway in 1994. Photographer: Dwan Reece King.

A Carnival participant on Eastern Parkway in 1994.
Photographer: Dwan Reece King.

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.

While New York City’s Carnival events take place along Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn and center around the Labor Day weekend every year, other Carnivals in cities and countries around the globe have staked out their own special dates on the calendar. Among a few having celebrations that coincide with Christmas and New Year’s Day are the islands of St. Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean.

One narrator in this series of oral histories was interviewed mainly because of her experiences as a vendor at Brooklyn’s Carnival. However, Jay Thompson also grew up in St. Kitts and, as an adult, worked in government there for a few years. A Bronx resident at the time of the interview, Thompson told interviewer Maureen Mahon about Carnival as it unfurls in St. Kitts each holiday season.

The Last Lap event that Thompson references stretches this season’s celebration to January 3, 2017. So if duration is any indicator, they might be having one of the best festive seasons in the new year. As I am back to work today, I’m just a little envious.

Many other interviews in the collection feature a narrator discussing the parallels and differences between Carnivals around the globe; like Thompson, some have the experiences of dual Carnivals between that of Brooklyn and the one of their birthplace. Others are Carnival tourists or professionals, who can reel off several locales where they participate year-in and year out. From thirty-four archived interviews in the West Indian Documentation Project records, twenty-eight—including Thompson’s—will be available to researchers through an online Oral History Portal. Three others can be heard onsite at the Othmer Library. A remaining three are restricted by the donor.

In January 2017, 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 as part of Voices of Crown Heights, a multi-year oral history project at BHS.  For an overview of the West Indian Carnival Documentation Project records and descriptions of narrators and oral history content, please see our guide which is available online via our finding aid portal. 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.

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Photo of the Week: Happy New Year

[Winter sunset, Coney Island], 1968/01/21, v1988.12.85; Otto Dreschmeyer Brooklyn slides, v1988.012; Brooklyn Historical Society.

[Winter sunset, Coney Island], 1968/01/21, v1988.12.85; Otto Dreschmeyer Brooklyn slides, v1988.012; Brooklyn Historical Society.

There’s something beautiful and peaceful about the beach during the winter. I love this photograph by Otto Dreschmeyer depicting a Coney Island sunset in January 1968. I hope to experience at least a few of these in person during the New Year. What are you resolving to do in the coming year? Whatever it may be, we wish you a healthy, happy, and abundant 2017!

This photograph comes from the Otto Dreschmeyer Brooklyn slides collection that comprises 157 color slides dating from 1965 to 1968. Dreschmeyer was an amateur photographer and lifelong resident of the Ridgewood neighborhood of Queens. We know little else about his life, but his photographs display a snapshot of some of his experiences throughout Brooklyn including images from the annual Brooklyn Memorial Day parade, Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, and beach scenes throughout Sheepshead Bay to Coney Island and Rockaway Point in Queens. 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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Listen to This: Crown Heights Oral History collection now open to researchers

Titled Listen to This by the donor Alexandra Kelly, this oral history collection includes interview audio and summaries created and collected within the context of a community project undertaken by project director Kelly and Paul J. Robeson High School interns Treverlyn Dehaarte, Ansie Montilus, Monica Parfait, Quanaisha Phillips and Floyya Richardson. These interviewers recorded conversations with forty-three narrators. In addition to the educational experience for the student interns, the oral histories were conducted as life history and community anthropology interviews. Topics of discussion include family and parenting, migration, cultural and racial relations, occupations and business, education and religion, housing and gentrification, civil unrest and reconciliation, and community activism. Since their creation in 2010, the recordings had not been fully processed and have been inaccessible to researchers until now.

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.

In January 2010, StoryCorps alum and Crown Heights resident Alex Kelly met with the aforementioned five interns from Paul Robeson High School as placed by the Brooklyn College Community Partnership. Narrators were gathered primarily through contact with the Crow Hill Community Association and recorded in their homes or at LaunchPad, a community center on Franklin Avenue in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights. New York City Grassroots Media Coalition sponsored the project. A blog tracking the progress of the project was created by the interviewers.

 

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The team of intern interviewers, 2010; courtesy of Listen to This

One narrator spoke of her and her husband’s experiences as community activists in Crown Heights as the neighborhood was about to have its public transportation options severely curtailed. As New York City eagerly anticipates the opening of a new subway line on Second Avenue in Manhattan in the new year, after over a half-century of false starts and slow, incremental progress, I am reminded of that late 1970s to mid-1990s period when parts of the subway system were in an operational crisis and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) saw shuttering a shuttle line as a necessary cost-cutting measure. Much as the citizenry and merchants of Second Avenue had to raise their collective voice with regard to subway construction disrupting their daily routine, community groups and institutions in Crown Heights banded together when faced with the potential loss of the Franklin Avenue Shuttle. As narrator Constance Lesold told Alex Kelly in 2010, not only did they convince politicians and the MTA to keep the shuttle open, they also gained improved connectivity to the subway system.

Many other interviews in the collection feature a narrator discussing his or her efforts in community groups and activism, and a few narrators share their recollections of early twentieth century public transit in Brooklyn; when trolleys and elevated railroads were as widely used as the subway. From forty-three archived interviews in Listen to This, nine—including Lesold’s—will be available to researchers through an online Oral History Portal. Thirty-three others can be heard onsite at the Othmer Library. A remaining one is restricted by the donor. Constance Lesold, her husband Helmuth Lesold, and their accomplishments are also documented in the Eastern Parkway Coalition records at BHS (2007.016), a gift from Ms. Lesold in 2007.

In January 2017, 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 Listen to This: Crown Heights Oral History collection and descriptions of narrators and oral history content, please see our guide which is available online via our finding aid portal. Additionally, these interviews are part of the growing Voices of Crown Heights, a multi-year oral history project at BHS. 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.

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Photo of the Week: Happy Holidays!

[Holidays view 19], ca 1965, 2006.001.1.129; Williamsburgh Savings Bank Building photographs and architectural drawings, ARC.116; Brooklyn Historical Society.

[Holidays view 19], ca 1965, 2006.001.1.129; Williamsburgh Savings Bank Building photographs and architectural drawings, ARC.116; Brooklyn Historical Society.

It’s the most festive time of year in Brooklyn. Christmas-related festiveness is just one of the many forms of celebrations taking place this time of year. This includes pop-up holiday markets, Christmas tree stands, and festive home decorations galore. However you choose to celebrate, we wish you a happy and healthy holiday season!

With that in mind, the photo of the week depicts a pageant of schoolchildren singing around a piano, many wearing costumes, around 1965. The banner reads “Ye Olde Carolers of P.S.9.” The photograph comes from the Williamsburgh Savings Bank photographs and architectural drawings collection that comprises photographs, architectural drawings, and ephemera related to the Williamsburgh Savings Bank, with the bulk of the collection from 1927 to 1929. The Williamsburgh Savings Bank building originally opened in 1851 in a rented basement located in the Town of Williamsburgh (now the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn). In 1926, a new property was purchased in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn, and the 34-story Williamsburgh Savings Bank building was built at 1 Hanson Place. The skyscraper is 512 feet tall and was considered the tallest building in Brooklyn until 2009, when The Brooklyner condominiums surpassed it. 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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Crown Heights History Project Oral Histories now open to researchers:

Also known as “Bridging Eastern Parkway,” the Crown Heights History Project produced oral histories in audiotapes and transcripts within the context of an exhibition project undertaken in part by Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS) in 1993 and 1994. Three interviewers recorded conversations with over forty narrators. In addition to exhibition product value, the oral histories were conducted as life history and community anthropology interviews; topics of discussion include family and heritage, immigration and relocation, cultural and racial relations, occupations and professions, education and religion, housing and gentrification, civil unrest and reconciliation, media representation and portrayal, and activism. For many years since the exhibition closed, the tapes had not been fully processed or digitized.

Cover of the exhibitions' program, 1994

Cover of the exhibitions’ program, 1994

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.

In August 1991, long simmering tensions between members of the Lubavitch Hasidim community and Black community of the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn erupted in unrest and violence. Two years later, BHS, Brooklyn Children’s Museum, and the Society for the Preservation of Weeksville and Bedford-Stuyvesant History (now Weeksville Heritage Center) started a collaborative project to examine the subtle community disconnects prior to that August, the feelings and meanings of the flashpoint events, and the existential unease and healing movements in the communities afterwards. For the mounting of exhibitions at all three institutions, cultural anthropologist Jill Vexler and historian Craig Wilder produced research and interviews with the Crown Heights neighborhood residents and then curated the exhibitions. Oral history interviews, conducted by Vexler and Wilder, with assistance from Aviva Segall, made up a substantial component of the exhibition preparation and exhibited materials.

From those interviews, I wanted to share the stories of two insightful, longtime residents of the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. Both Louvenia Pointer (1916 – 2009) and her son William D. Pointer Jr. (1952 – ) were interviewed separately in 1993 for the project. Heard in succession, I got a sense of the fabric of their community and the common strengths of each of their characters. I was struck by how their memories of their community center on the way neighborhood kids bonded in the Baby Boomer generation.

In her interview, Louvenia Pointer tells interviewer Craig Wilder about how her charismatic daughter, Olive, was making a name for the Pointer family by announcing herself and her family to seemingly any neighbor that gave her an audience. What’s more, both oral histories point out the relationships formed between sons Noel and Billy Pointer and their neighbor Larry Levkowitz. These bonds were so strong, according to Mrs. Pointer, that the adult Levkowitz returned to the Pointer home with his wife just to show her where he spent most of his free time as a child.

Billy became Reverend William D. Pointer Jr. In his interview with Wilder, he reflects on his friendship with Levkowitz into their high school years. In this clip, Pointer makes the case that the Levkowitz was his best friend and nothing would get in the way of that friendship.

Mother and son note a sense of missing elements from childhood as they defined it in 1993. Reverend Pointer remembers the old neighborhood itself acting as surrogate parent and he sees a dearth of that affecting children, families and communities. Louvenia Pointer goes further, remarking on the pressures placed on kids. “Now, the children seem to be so adult. You know, even the little ones seem to be so adult, she says, “They are forced to grow up, and they are forced to be so guarded. They can’t be free to be children anymore, it seems.”

From thirty-three archived interviews in the Crown Heights History Project oral histories, twenty-three will be available to researchers through an online Oral History Portal. Five others can be heard onsite at the Othmer Library. A remaining five are restricted by the donors.

In January 2017, 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 the transcript with the listening experience. The portal was funded by the New York Community Trust. For an overview of the Crown Heights History Project oral histories and descriptions of narrators and oral history content, please see our guide which is available online via our finding aid portal. You can also visit the Othmer Library to listen to oral history interviews during research hours Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m. Email library@brooklynhistory.org for more details.

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