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Williamsburg families

By Nalleli Guillen

Posted on February 19, 2020

Lucille Fornasieri Gold, Williamsburg families, 1980-1985; V2008.013.73, Brooklyn Historical Society
Lucille Fornasieri Gold, Williamsburg families, 1980-1985; V2008.013.73, Brooklyn Historical Society

Brooklyn-born photographer Lucille Fornasieri Gold said of her photographs, “I engage the social and moral questions, but I don’t try to answer them.” Through her photographs, Fornasieri Gold documented everyday life in Brooklyn, her portraits and street scenes encouraging viewers to consider the stories captured on camera. This image of a quiet moment shared by two families in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood in the 1980s unlocks a complex local history.

Fueled by waterfront industry, Williamsburgh (with an “h”!) was an independent city until 1855, when it was absorbed into the city of Brooklyn (and lost its “h”). Transportation advancements including steam ferries and the eventual construction of the Williamsburg Bridge in 1903 swelled and diversified the local population. This continued into the twentieth century, as new diverse communities including African American, Puerto Rican, and Jewish residents settled in the neighborhood and found themselves living side by side.

When Fornasieri Gold took this photograph, decades of racially-biased real estate practices had concentrated African Americans and other ethnic groups into congested northern Brooklyn neighborhoods, particularly Bedford-Stuyvesant, East New York, and Williamsburg. This occurred in large part because of the practices of the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC), a New Deal program founded in 1933 to provide government financial support to the mortgage market. Following its assessment of the borough, HOLC directed its loans primarily to Brooklyn’s outer neighborhoods, judging North Brooklyn as “too risky” an investment due in large part to its diverse racial composition.

This practice was nicknamed “redlining” after HOLC’s color-coded neighborhood maps (neighborhoods “too risky” for new investment were colored red). During Black History Month, this photograph is a reminder of the invisible “social and moral” questions that have shaped Brooklyn today, and the resiliency of Brooklynites who have carved out their lives in the borough despite them.

This image comes from the Lucille Fornasieri Gold photograph collection. For more information please see our finding aid here and for more photographs from this collection please visit our image gallery 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. [email protected]

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