Photo of the Week: West Indian Carnival

[Performers at West Indian Carnival], 1994, 2010.019, West Indian Carnival Documentation Project records; Brooklyn Historical Society.

[Performers at West Indian Carnival], 1994, 2010.019, West Indian Carnival Documentation Project records; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Now in its 50th year, the West Indian Carnival in Brooklyn is one of the largest outdoor street festivals in North America. The West Indian Carnival tradition in New York City stems from private gatherings and parties held in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan in the 1920s, typically in February. In the 1940s, an outdoor street festival began taking place on 7th Avenue in Harlem, organized by Trinidadian Jessie Wattle. In the mid-1960s, organizers moved the Carnival to Brooklyn; and in 1967, they founded West Indian American Day Carnival Association (WIADCA) and held the Carnival on Eastern Parkway in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn.

Activities begin on the Thursday before Labor Day and conclude on Monday with the parade on Eastern Parkway. The parade includes colorful and elaborate costumes, music, food vendors, and crowds gathered to celebrate pan-Caribbean culture in Brooklyn.

The photo of the week depicts performers at the 1994 West Indian Carnival. This photograph by Dwan Reece King is part of the West Indian Carnival Documentation Project records comprised of photographs, oral histories, publications, and ephemera related to the Carnival and project. In 1994, Brooklyn Historical Society launched the West Indian Carnival Documentation project to gather personal narratives and life histories of Carnival participants. The project culminated in an exhibition at BHS. The oral histories from this collection are digitized and available at our Oral History Portal.

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

Posted in Brooklyn Past & Present, Hidden Collections, Library & Archives | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Flatbush + Main Episode 17: Brooklyn’s West Indian Carnival

In Episode 17 of Brooklyn Historical Society’s podcast Flatbush + Main, co-hosts Zaheer Ali and Julie Golia examine the meanings and global roots of a time-honored tradition in Brooklyn, the West Indian Carnival.

Index

02:57 – Histories and Ideas
23:08 – Into the Archives
41:32 – Voices of Brooklyn

For complete show notes, go to brooklynhistory.org/flatbush-main.

We hope you’re enjoying our podcast! Please subscribe, rate, and review us at brooklynhistory.org/fm-itunes. And share the news of Flatbush + Main far and wide using the hashtag #FlatbushandMain.

Segment 1: Histories and Ideas

In segment 1, Zaheer and Julie trace the global history of Carnival, and discuss its meaning and evolution here in Brooklyn.

We hope to see you at Carnival 2017! Learn more from the West Indian American Day Carnival Association website.

Segment 2: Into the Archives

Here are images of the 1981 West Indian Carnival souvenir book that we discuss in segment 2. It was a fantastic document, so we’re giving you lots of photos!

The souvenir book is from the Eastern Parkway Coalition records (2007.016). Explore the finding aid here.

Segment 3: Voices of Brooklyn

Zaheer and Julie listen to excerpts from two oral histories from the West Indian Carnival Project Records, 1994-1995, a project undertaken by Brooklyn Historical Society in the mid-1990s to document the West Indian Carnival, its creators, and its participants. The first narrator we listen to is Jeffrey Adolphus, who was instrumental in getting New York City’s Belizean community officially involved in the Carnival. Then, we hear from Angela Dublin, a member of a steel band and Carnival participant.

You can listen to these interviews and many more on BHS’s Oral History Portal.

Segment 4: Endorsements

Zaheer endorsed “Tales from the Vault: Agricultural Brooklyn.” On Monday, September 11, join our colleagues Tess Colwell and Regina Carra, who explore amazing images of the borough’s agricultural past from the Eugene L. Armbruster collection. Event starts at 6:30pm at BHS’s Brooklyn Heights building.. Get tickets here.

Julie endorsed Heather Ann Thompson’s upcoming talk about her Pulitzer-prize winning book, “Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971.” Thompson shares the complicated and gripping tale of the five-day prison uprising, as well as the muddied investigations, lawsuits, and untold stories that followed. Event takes place on September 28 at 6:30pm at BHS’s Brooklyn Heights building. Get tickets here.

Posted in Flatbush + Main Podcast | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Caribbean Immigrants in Brooklyn: an American story

Brooklyn Historical Society has partnered with over a dozen Brooklyn schools in the past decade to implement Cultural Afterschool Adventures (CASA) programs in partnership with NYC Council Members. In the Young Scholars program, our educators meet with a group of upper elementary school students over the course of the spring semester, culminating in the creation of a book on a pre-selected theme. These books are then distributed to students, their families, and their schools. A copy of the student work is added to the Othmer Library & Archives, memorializing the student work for generations to come. If you’re interested in viewing the book discussed below, you can visit the Othmer Library during its public hours.

Here, the Program Educator Jessica Rose reflects on the process:

Jessica Rose with the Young Scholars of PS 233K looking at primary sources in BHS's Othmer Library.

Jessica Rose with the Young Scholars of PS 233K looking at primary sources in BHS’s Othmer Library.

What happens when ten 4th grade students and one educator come together to write a book tracing the history of Caribbean immigration to Brooklyn in the early 20th century? Now that I’ve completed Brooklyn Historical Society’s eighteen-week program with the Young Scholars of PS 233, I can say—without a doubt—that amazing things happen.

In the days leading up to my first meeting with the Young Scholars of PS 233, I was worried. The topic we were given was incredibly complex and there was a limited selection of secondary reading available. Examining Caribbean immigration meant looking at the factors that caused people to leave their homes and the process through which they created new homes in a new land, but also the intersections of race and class in the immigrant experience. These are themes that many adults find abstract, so how would a group of nine- and ten-year-olds respond?

I am pleased to report that the Young Scholars were ready for their assignment. When I met the students, I learned that many were first generation Caribbean Americans or were themselves Caribbean immigrants who recently arrived with their families. We talked about where they were from, why their families came to America and what it means to be Caribbean. The scholars were fiercely proud of their cultures and histories. They understood that they were writing a history of a group of people who are either disregarded or reduced to poorly executed accents on the few occasions they are deemed relevant. It was a privilege to watch the students grapple with these complex topics and help them, as one of the students declared, “write our history.”

The Young Scholars of PS 233 with program educator Jessica Rose and BHS Manager of Teaching & Learning, Grades P-5, Shirley Brown-Alleyne, on their trip to Ellis Island.

The Young Scholars of PS 233 with program educator Jessica Rose and BHS Manager of Teaching & Learning, Grades P-5, Shirley Brown-Alleyne, on their trip to Ellis Island.

Of course, we found time for fun too. Amidst our weighty discussion, we talked about the best ways to make slime, who was and was not a fart instigator, and who could drink the most milk in a single sitting. Even when the students were engrossed in their work, they found time to laugh. In preparation for our trip to Ellis Island, I taped off a small section of the classroom. I asked seven students to stand inside in an exercise meant to simulate traveling in steerage on a steam ship. All but one of the students in the designated area were adamant that they would not want to travel this way because it was uncomfortable but one student was convinced that he didn’t have a problem with steerage. When prompted, he conceded that he enjoyed being surrounded by so many girls.

You can see the completed book by visiting the Othmer Library during open hours.

You can see the completed book by visiting the Othmer Library during open hours.

While we always made time for fun, the Young Scholars undoubtedly earned their title over the course of the program. They demonstrated a deep understanding of the power that comes with writing history. They demonstrated that, when given the opportunity, children are capable of remarkable things and Caribbean Immigrants in Brooklyn: An American Story is proof.

Jessica Rose
Brooklyn Historical Society
PS 233 Young Scholars Program Educator

If you’d like to bring the Young Scholar’s program to your school in Brooklyn, e-mail us at education@brooklynhistory.org with “Young Scholars” in the subject line.

Posted in Brooklyn Past & Present, Education, Library & Archives | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stories of Our Brooklyn Firefighters

Brooklyn Historical Society has partnered with over a dozen Brooklyn schools in the past decade to implement Cultural Afterschool Adventures (CASA) programs in partnership with NYC Council Members. In the Young Scholars program, our educators meet with a group of upper elementary school students over the course of the spring semester, culminating in the creation of a book on a pre-selected theme. These books are then distributed to students, their families, and their schools. A copy of the student work is added to the Othmer Library & Archives, memorializing the student work for generations to come. If you’re interested in viewing the book discussed below, you can visit the Othmer Library during its public hours.

Here, Program Educator Nick Hubbard reflects on the process:

A PS 158 Young Scholar researching the fire department.

A PS 158 Young Scholar researching the fire department.

The goal was to work with students to write a history of the Brooklyn Fire Department (BFD).  When I stepped into Ms. Carla Jennings’ classroom at Public School 158 Warwick on Ashford Street, I came equipped with my own understanding of the BFD’s history, but I was unsure how to share it with this group of eager third and fourth grade students. Would they care about tales of “the old fire laddies”?  I had no idea what would interest them about this past that permeated their neighborhood, but wasn’t obvious on the surface (the well-respected foreman of Engine Co. 25, Michael Murray, lived a block away from the school in the mid-1800s.  Today, a new family calls Michael Murray’s house their home, and you can only find him in the pages of archival newspapers and histories).

The first time a few firefighters organized themselves in Brooklyn was 1772.  Over the next century, Brooklyn firefighting underwent a rapid transition, from ragtag groups of community volunteers, to dedicated companies of men that still maintained other jobs, to professionalization as an official city department.  On April 16, 1823, the State of New York passed an “Act to Incorporate the Firemen of the Village of Brooklyn.”  This was the beginning of an official, all-volunteer firefighting force.  About forty years later, on September 15, 1869, the state established a paid organization, The Brooklyn Fire Department (BFD).  It lasted as a Brooklyn-specific entity until 1898 when Brooklyn, the third largest city in America at the time, consolidated with Manhattan. Consolidation brought many things, including the formation of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY), which protects all five boroughs today.

P.S. 158’s Young Scholars’ voracious appetite for historical knowledge steamrolled any concerns of mine about the relevance of the topic to contemporary students. They couldn’t get their hands on their notebooks fast enough and never stopped jotting down details about what they learned.

The Young Scholars of PS 158 at a research visit to the Othmer Library.

The Young Scholars of PS 158 at a research visit to the Othmer Library.

It was clear from the start that we would need to focus on the practical aspects of the life of firefighters. What exactly was it like to be a firefighter in the 19th century? We would also need to focus on the personal stories of the people who were doing this work. The Young Scholars at PS 158 Warwick dug into all the primary and secondary sources I could gather with ongoing excitement.  We examined many: newspaper articles, interviews with veteran firefighters, excerpts from histories written at the time, ledgers and roll books that listed the daily comings and goings of every single department member, and census records which showed a broader context for the life and work of the firefighters.

Writing this book was truly a community effort. Journalists and historians provided generous support to our project. Also, I was able to connect with descendants of some of the firefighters we were reading about. They were all enthusiastic and willing to share their family histories with us.  We had the special honor of visits from Vivian Nicholson-Mueller, the great-granddaughter of the Brooklyn Fire Department’s first and only black firefighter, William Henry Nicholson, and from Jackie-Michelle Martinez and Melissa Bennett, two firefighters of color in the FDNY.

You can view the Young Scholars of PS 158's work by visiting the Othmer Library during public hours.

You can view the Young Scholars of PS 158’s work by visiting the Othmer Library during public hours.

I’m so proud, and lucky, to have worked alongside these students as they composed Stories of Our Brooklyn Firefighters: Tales from Long Ago.  It is a distinct pleasure to share their story with you and I encourage you to read the book.

Nick Hubbard
Brooklyn Historical Society
PS 158 Young Scholars Program Educator

If you’d like to bring the Young Scholars program to your school in Brooklyn, e-mail us at education@brooklynhistory.org with “Young Scholars” in the subject line.

Posted in Brooklyn Past & Present, Education, Library & Archives | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Photo of the Week: Anders Goldfarb Photographs of Coney Island

[Person reading on boardwalk], 1989, v1992.48.59; Anders Goldfarb photographs of Coney Island, v1974.031; Brooklyn Historical Society.

[Person reading on boardwalk], 1989, v1992.48.59; Anders Goldfarb photographs of Coney Island, v1974.031; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Anders Goldfarb is a Brooklyn-born documentary photographer. After receiving his MFA from the State University of New York at New Paltz in 1986, he moved to Greenpoint and turned his lens on his neighborhood. His work includes many scenes from the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn, but also scenes from other Brooklyn neighborhoods. Brooklyn Historical Society has a collection of 68 black-and-white photographs taken at Coney Island by Anders Goldfarb in the 1980s. The photographs document Coney Island’s beaches, boardwalk, and amusements (including the Wonder Wheel and the Cyclone). It includes portraits of Coney Island residents and visitors.

The photo of the week depicts a person reading on the boardwalk in Coney Island in the 1980s. Without the crowds of people and umbrellas in the sand, it’s hard to believe this is Coney Island! To view more photographs of Coney Island from this collection, check out this gallery. To learn more about the Anders Goldfarb Photographs of Coney Island collection, check out the finding aid here.

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

Posted in Brooklyn Past & Present, Hidden Collections, Library & Archives | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment