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Flatbush + Main Episode 05: Whose Crown Heights?

By Julie Golia

Posted on August 24, 2016

In episode 05 of Brooklyn Historical Society’s podcast Flatbush + Main, co-hosts Zaheer Ali and Julie Golia do a deep dive into the history and future of Crown Heights, a neighborhood in central Brooklyn, on the 25th anniversary of the 1991 Crown Heights Riot. Throughout Crown Heights’ history, its many diverse residents have debated the boundaries, ownership, and meaning of this ever-evolving neighborhood. Julie and Zaheer consider how the question “Whose Crown Heights?” has shaped the neighborhood’s history from the 18th century to the present, they crack open the “Crown Heights” folder from the Vertical File in BHS’s Library and Archives, and they listen to residents Rabbi Simon Jacobson and Iyedun Ince reflect on their relationship with and observations about Crown Heights. For complete show notes, go to


03:38 – Histories and Ideas: Whose Crown Heights?
17:15 – Into the Archives: BHS’s Crown Heights Vertical File
26:53 – Voices of Brooklyn: Rabbi Simon Jacobson and Iyedun Ince

Interested in more on Crown Heights? Brooklyn Historical Society recently launched “Voices of Crown Heights,” a multi-year oral history and documentary project exploring themes of identity, community, social justice, ethnic relations, gentrification, and displacement. Learn more about the project here.

Segment 1: Histories and Ideas

Want to learn more about the history of Weeksville, one of the earliest and most significant independent free black communities in America? Plan a trip to Weeksville Heritage Center in Crown Heights. Weeksville hosts amazing events, community projects, exhibitions, and tours of houses that date back to the early 19th century.

The Brooklyn Movement Center works with local communities on issues related to education, environmental justice, food sovereignty, police accountability, and more. Their podcast, “Third Rail,” explores issues of politics, culture, and history and their impact on communities in Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights.

Both Weeksville Heritage Center and the Brooklyn Movement Center are partners in BHS’s “Voices of Crown Heights” project.

Historian Judith Wellman’s 2014 book, Brooklyn’s Promised Land: The Free Black Community of Weeksville, New York, gives a terrific and readable overview of the neighborhood’s 19th-century origins and 20th century transformation.

Segment 2: Into the Archives

Here are images of some of the hundreds of documents in the “Crown Heights” folder from BHS’s Vertical File.


You can find a collection-level description of BHS’s Vertical Files on Emma, BHS’s catablog.

Interested in learning more about the origins of Vertical Files? Take a look at this description from a turn-of-the-century library catalog.

Segment 3: Voices of Brooklyn

The oral histories featured in this episode of Flatbush + Main are from the Crown Heights History Project collection. The Crown Heights History Project, also known as “Bridging Eastern Parkway,” was a joint project by BHS with Brooklyn Children’s Museum and Weeksville Heritage Center (then known as the Society for the Preservation of Weeksville and Bedford-Stuyvesant History), undertaken in 1993, two years after the Crown Heights riot. The project included exhibitions at each partner institution, and the oral history interviews were a substantial component of the exhibition preparation and exhibited materials. The interviews are being made available for the first time in a digital format, thanks to a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) of the National Archives and Records Administration.

Below is the full interview with Rabbi Simon Jacobson:

And, here is the full interview with Iyedun Ince:

During the segment, we mention the Eastern Parkway Coalition papers, a manuscript collection in BHS’s Archives. Explore the finding aid here.

Segment 4: Endorsements

Zaheer endorsed “Are We There Yet? The Illusion of a Post-Sexist Society,” an event held at BHS on Thursday, September 8 at 7pm. Moderated by Teresa Younger of the Ms. Foundation, the panel includes some pretty amazing speakers, including Marcia Gillespie (Ms. and Essence), Anna Holmes (Jezebel), Muthoni Wambu Kraal (Emily’s List), and Rebecca Traister (author of All the Single Ladies). Tickets are $10 ($5 for members) and can be purchased here.

Julie endorsed BHS’s next Free Friday event, which will be held on September 16 from 5 to 9pm. One Friday each month, BHS stays open late and offers free admission, live music, activities, and access to our exhibition galleries. The theme for September is, of course, Back to School! Learn more here.

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1 comment

  • EssDot323

    Posted on August 25, 2016

    Rabbi Jacobson is disgustingly arrogant and bigoted for gaslighting "arbitrary" Black residents of Crown Heights. So Black people don't have roots in Crown Heights? Only the Hasidic community has legitimate roots because of their rabbi? Leaving notes at my rent-stabilized apartment building that says "We can take this trouble off of your hands" isn't gentrification? It's just an effort for the Jewish community to stay in their community per their rabbi's demands? Three buildings on my block have been gentrified and the rents range from $3,500 to $4,200 per month. None of the residents in those buildings are orthodox Jews as very few of them live south of The Parkway. And there's another building that has been gentrified that will surely have above-market rents for Crown Heights. How does sky-high rents foster anything but ethnic cleansing of the Black community that already lives there? Living peaceably with one another isn't tangible?

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