African American Legends; Joan Maynard, Weeksville Society
The following program is made possible in part by the generous support of Harry Belafonte, Brooklyn Union, and New York National Bank. The African American legend series highlights the accomplishments of blacks and areas as varied as politics, sports, aviation, business, literature, and the arts.
We will explore how African Americans who have been previously excluded because of segregation, racism, and lack of opportunity have succeeded. I'm your host, Dr. Roscoe C. Brown, Jr., and today with Joan Maynard, who is the founder, executive director emeritus of the Society for the Preservation of Weeksville. That's a mouthful, tell us about Weeksville, tell us about the society and how you get involved in this. I think the weeks for the Society, of course, is the most wonderful thing in the world. I'm highly biased, but it's a great movement. I think that the weeks for the Society is one of the products, many products of the civil rights movement of the 60s. This was a time when people were seeing what was happening in other parts of the country in the South, in particular, and the questions were raised, and it was this kind of exposure by the media, thank God for the media, that children said why, and that was really the beginning of life. It was not about heritage, who are we, because Ralph Ellison said blacks had been invisible man for so many literally centuries, from 1619 to 1964, almost 300 years, over 300 years.
So how does Weeksville fit into the, how did you get involved in it and introduce yourself? Well, I got interested, I started all my life, but my parents were marvelous people who told me about the fact that Africa didn't begin, Africans didn't begin being people in 1619 when they reached these shores as enslaved people, that was the first thing. And one of my ambitions was, of course, to go to the motherland, which is Africa, and I managed to save my money, and I managed to get to Ghana in West Africa in 1965, and Dr. Kwame and crew was still alive at that time, and he had taken over the responsibility of producing encyclopedia africana, that Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois had started, and I had a background in art, I had worked in commercial art, and I felt that I had, after I had been there in October, I was going to go back and work.
In some area, if it was sweet people, I was making layoffs, doing whatever to be a part of this great publication. And then in February of 1966, there was the coup d'etat in Ghana, which overthrew the encruma government, and then that was the end of that, so I couldn't go back. And then I, just by chance, I ran into these people in Brooklyn, New York, who had just found out some information about this place called Weeksville, and the fact that it was a 19th century African-American community that was, in many ways, very self-sufficient. And then realizing that slavery had only ended in New York State in 1827, and Herod is his James Weeks, he's coming from Virginia, and he manages to get himself a job at the South Street seaport, you know, it was not big fun times, it was hard work, dirty, dirty, he was a long shaman, a stevador, those words have even passed from our language. But as far as we can tell, James Weeks, this African-American, from Virginia, gave his
name to this little settlement of people trying to make their way in this world. Now, with these free blacks who had been free before the emancipation, or with these blacks removed from the South, or moved from the islands, or what kind of people would it? I think it was probably a combination of all of these people. The research is still in progress, one of the things is that every time you turn a door, open a door, you find out more, this is what we need to grow, our little research that we need kids to want to be historians, to want to be archivists. This is one of the things that we realize that children, the things they need, they don't know they exist, they don't know to aspire to those things. Hopefully, Weeksville will make them want to know more and do more. Well, where is Weeksville located geographically, so that the Arctic can get some feeling of us, because we know the Brooklyn Bridge, we know the many, many apartment houses and the ocean parkway and the drives and so on, we know Bedford Stuyves, and where is Weeksville,
specific? Well, if you can imagine, if you sort of generally know where Bedford Stuyves is, and if you know where Crown Heights is, it's the cost per way they meet, really is. But very specifically, the historic site that we've been involved with these 30 years is on Bergen Street between Buffalo and Rochester Avenue. People may know the humongous set of buildings known as the Kingsborough Housing Authority, which is owned by the New York City Housing Authority, and that in itself is a city all by itself. It's got about 5,000 people living across the street, but that's your biggest landmark there, and then just south of the historic houses is the St. Mary's Hospital, which is part of the St. Vincent County Medical Center. Now, the Weeksville houses themselves are, what, 4 number 5 and number 6 and number, how many were in that village and how many survived? It's a little cul-de-sac, it's four buildings, they range between 1830 and 1883, and I'm
so glad you said the Brooklyn Bridge before, because in 1983, when we had the 100th birthday of the Brooklyn Bridge, we were so glad that the last house was built in 1883, so that we had a lot of television coverage people wanted to see houses, which was when the Brooklyn Bridge was there. Brooklyn is very much a part of, I like to say, just not just New York history, it's a part of African American history in this entire hemisphere, because it is poor city. People come in here. A number of people don't realize that the Battle of Long Island, the Revolution was really the Battle of Brooklyn, and Washington troops escaped from the area, which is right under the Brooklyn Bridge now, across the Hudson River up to Kip's Bay with black oarsmen paddling those boats, and guiding those boats against that stream, that save Washington
troops from being eliminated and allowed them to escape through Manhattan, up into Westchester, and as you know, New York City was totally controlled by the British during the Revolutionary War, but that's how far African Americans go into that. So now we have James Weeks working by a house encouraging people to build houses there. By the way, do they build their own houses or were the houses built for them? Well, I think that many of the original houses that were in the area, there were modest houses, they may not exist, but we do know that James Weeks did manage to buy a piece of property with a house on it in 1838, which is it's connected in Pacific for anybody knows, Brooklyn, of course the house is not there anymore, but that is the beauty of history in archives, because what we do know and we're able to authenticate and present to people is because people have learned how to use archives, and that's why it's a very important
topic. I just wish we could get more kids to know about this and to, because what you do know about yourself enables you to be a more confident person. Well, that's true, but let's say I'm a 12-year-old youngster from Brooklyn and I'm surrounded by all these big girls, people hustling back and forth, why should I know about Weeksville? What's that going to do for me? I'm a 12-year-old now. Oh, and I have to now change myself and go back in time. I remember when I was 12 years old, I took a whole lot of things for granted as I got a little older, I realized that I couldn't do that, and I think, but now I think it's much harder for a child, because I remember when we got our first radio, that's how old I am. Okay. There was no thought of television at the time, but now children have many more things to deal with when they're 12 years old, not just the everyday thing of getting up, going
to school, coming home, doing homework. They're surrounded by an incredible world that's bombarding them with information. It's even more important now, I think, for them to have a sense of where they are in history, in a place in time. Very important. That's very important. I guess everybody's humanity is determined by where they are and what place in time, we look at events of tragedy like Kennedy's assassination, King's assassination, the 9-Eleven bombing, so that puts everybody in a place in time. And because African-Americans in the past centuries who were not highly regarded, we were told, as Schomburg was told, blacks have no history, which led him to form the Schomburg Library. So now you were in a sense of Schomburg Brooklyn. You were bringing the life of African-Americans in the 19th century to light. Speaking of that, how large were these houses where they were?
Large, other where small houses did they have two stories, did they have a basement? What are some of the things that were coming out of the house? Yeah, small children, but I got a practice in here because you asked me about the 12-year kids. I wanted to tell you that it was children who, in the third grade, at P.S. 243, the Wixville School, which had to reclaim its name, who, when they heard, and they had looked at television in the 60s, they went to one who said, let's save these, beat up all houses, and make a black history museum. And they were the ones who went to City Hall in the Old Board of Estimate Room, and they gave testimony in front of the New York City Landmarks Commission as to why these houses should be made in New York City Landmarks. So kids, given information, are given power, you know? We have to empower our children. So I'm glad for the 12-year-old boys. We start even earlier. Well, I'm sure that you led those kids there. I was a mother. I was a mother. I was a mother. I was a mother. We were the other people who participated in it.
Oh, we had, but certainly I want to mention James Hurley, who was the original researcher, who was an Irish guy from Boston, who was still right now interested in what is going on in Ireland and so forth. And here he found himself living in Brooklyn, New York, and he was doing volunteer work for the Museum of the City of New York. And when he was finding out about neighborhoods of Brooklyn, one of the places he found out about was weeks filled. And then he met an African-American pilot named Joe Haines, who had a plane and who had a license to teach flying and put him in his plane. They went over to see the bar airport and Joe put Jim in his plane. They flew over the area using all archival maps. And that's how the houses were found. And interestingly enough... I said, the houses were found. I thought you said they were there and they wanted to restore it. But no one knew there. There was just no... as the old houses on the alley, nobody understood that the alley was part of a pre-colonial roadway that was actually a Native American roadway going down
to Kanaasi. And then of course the first settlers were the Dutch, it was then it was New Amsterdam. So then when they had various wars in Europe and the thing became New York, the name for the Duke of York. Then the old Dutch Andavli, on the way to the Maasi Place, or Kanaasi became Hunt of Light, the angle causation of the word the place. So that's why right now our houses are New York City landmarks known as the houses on Hunt of Fly Road. That's the landmark name. But you could imagine all these Native Americans since the end of the ice age walking down this road. And even before English people got to this thing we known as New York, there were Africans here in New York. So we... Our little scientists couldn't talk. There were Africans before the European continent. Before the British.
Before the British. Before the British. Yeah. Okay. And one of the things that I learned from Cheryl Wilson was over the African burial ground is how many of those Africans acted as interpreters. They had been on many ships because this slave trade was very yomongous thing. And many of these Africans had learned how to speak different languages. So they acted as interpreters and very early New York. And some of them lived in the weeks ago. Yes, they did. And we do know from early records that what is now Bushwick, one of the founders of Bushwick, which is in Brooklyn, was a man named Francisco. And he was one of the patentees, that was the term, which one of the founders of the town there in Bushwick. There is so much we need to know, but all of this helps us as New York is, and it helps all of our children, especially children of color, to understand that they report and parcel
of the whole foundation of this country. Well, let's talk about that. Thanks, Phil. I didn't think the last house was built in 1883. What happened between 1883 and let's say 1933 did the people who vowed that the community expand? Was it replaced by Europeans? How did that work? Well, you had a reconstruction going on for starters in the latter part of the 19th century. You had the Irish potato famine. You had a lot of people coming over who had come in horrendous conditions. I mean, people were literally starving and they came to this country, and it's about labor, it's about money, and even the draft riots that occurred during the Civil War, because the poor people, many of them, were Irish people, they paid to fight, and they didn't want to do it. Well, they didn't want, and I can understand. They did not want to go and fight a war to help free black people.
But wealthy white people didn't have to go to war, they could pay, and so that they didn't have to go to war. So that was a very inequitable kind of a situation. It's about survival. So these poor Irish people started to view these black people as the enemy, but they certainly couldn't go and beat up on rich white people, so that many, many black people lost their lives in Manhattan, and many of those same people fleeing from this. They fled to Brooklyn, some of them fled to, I understand, to pay on. But we don't, we do know from the Christian Science Monitor, from that newspaper, that during that the Civil Rights Padme, the, the riots in 1863, many people fled from persecution and came to Wixville. They went to now from, let's say, from the late 19th century to the early 20th, what happened
to Wixville? Did people move, continue to live there? Did they move out? Were they replaced by other people? I think that they, I think, I don't think anybody moved that because there wasn't any many, many places to go to, but you, you also had migrations coming up from the south. And then when Brooklyn Bridge was built, this meant that people could go to work in, in, in Manhattan and live in Brooklyn. So you had people moving about an awful lot, and by 18, I think I'm going to talk about the Brooklyn directories, not census figures, but the Brooklyn directories is 18, 50. People had started to say, some of them were born in the West Indies, Mr. James Wixville has come from Virginia, so you, you had this kind of people coming together in this place, it's, it's not Manhattan, it's Brooklyn, everything was cheaper even then in Brooklyn than it was in Manhattan.
So it became a place, a refuge, it became a place where people would write to their relatives and say, just like they did in every city across this country, come, there's a place for you, will help you find a job, it's about jobs and money, it still is about jobs in money. Well, now we've gotten us into the 20th century, and these communities still exist and these buildings still exist, what caused them to fall apart and fall into disrepair? Well, one of the things they had no central heating, their wood frame buildings, these particular houses, their wood frame buildings, they had no central heating, they actually did not conform to the city grid pattern, they actually, because the hunt of light road actually came right through a city block, so here these little houses sitting in the middle of a city block, that's the only reason that there was, was spared because if they had been on the grid pattern and been on the streets, they would have been mashed down to make
way for the street cars, which came after that, and the regular traffic of the city. So here they were sort of like stuck in the middle of the city block, and they were just on an alley, and the alley was a part of a larger road, which no longer existed, so just known as the houses on the alley, and when we interviewed some of the early people who lived there, they didn't want to say they lived, because they were shamed to live in houses, they didn't have central heating, they had to reheated by fireplaces, and then little later on, by kerosene stoves, which were illegal and highly flammable, so that you didn't want people to know that you live, but oh God, we wish we didn't know more about the way these people, because these people survive, they're survivors. Well, I think you have artifacts and pictures, and one of your projects is to restore the buildings to their pre-1900 state, like they were in 1850, 1860, and so on. What progress are you making with that? Well, I think we've been very fortunate over
the years we've been supported by so many people, very first money to start, this came from the children of the week school school, who raised nearly a thousand dollars, and that was really the mandate for the society. But since then, the state, federal, city, private sources, and people given little dollars in whatever they could, and a great boost came from the Brooklyn Borough President in 1997, that's Howard Golden, who gave us a grant of $3.15 million, which we over the years since then, have boosted to about $12 million. And the purpose of that grant is to do what? Oh, well, we are working not only to completely restore the houses, so that for visitation, but to build an adjacent, on-city, on-land, an adjacent reception center, which will be state of the art, so that all the things that we do know, we have to present them in
an orderly manner, to the public, especially children. Right now, we serve more than 6,000 school children each year. We have other people of all ages who come, but our particular mission is to serve the fourth grade, according to New York State Law and many other states, in the fourth grade, you're supposed to learn about local history. So we want to be a resource for the teachers, it's tough to be a teacher these days, you know, you know, it's very hard to be a teacher. You're required to do much more than teach. You have to know so much, and children need so much. But that's the future. The whole thing is about kids, but we got to make sure our kids know who they are, so they can light themselves. Because again, we'll do stuff for themselves. With $15 million, you're going to do this reception center, you're going to restore the homes, et cetera, and I know there was an article in the Times a few weeks ago. Yeah.
It was very delighted that. For another $5 million, you're going to develop educational materials in the light. We do have some more ready prepared, yes. You haven't. I know that because you've been working on this for years. I understand you have a benefit coming up on December the 3rd to help bring the weeks fell into the public's attention, out of beautiful picture. This is a lady of weeks fell. That's a lady of weeks, huh? We call her that because we don't know who she is, but we give her honor. We have came from a tin type that was found doing an archaeological dig. When we give her honor, we do believe the Brooklyn Museum custom department, which was then functioning in those days, said they believed that it was from the 1990s and you think about this lady. She lived through reconstruction. I wish she could tell us some stories. But we give her honor because she represents so many people who we will never know whose perseverance has allowed us to be here to reach this point, we can even have this conversation.
So even though we don't know her name and we have tried to find her name, specific name, she represents all those whose names we will never know, but who will incredibly grateful to them. And this benefit on the 3rd at the Brooklyn Museum is to raise funds to help expand the educational program. To expand it because you can have information, but you have to have programs and you have to have people who are prepared and qualified to present this to the most diverse crowd of people because we have people who are round of school people. We have people from graduate programs. We have people coming from all around the world, not just around the country, who somehow rather find their way to our door. So we want to be able that when people come here and New York is a great tourist city, we want people when they come to New York City to think about coming to Brooklyn, of course, and to come to Wixville because we got a great story there.
You have a great story. You have a great story. Tell her, you have been the executive director. You have been a member of the Board of Trustees of the City University. You provided leadership for a lot of the arts groups. And now you are a emeritus, which means you haven't passed the energy on, but you passed the mantle of official responsibility on, and we're so fortunate to have her. We are so fortunate to have her. This is a tough job, but we want to be a supportive of her because she's very talented, and she's brave, and I am so grateful that she has taken this on because this is a great thing, but it's tough, and it's never, when it was it never tough, right? But we are survivors, and I think that we can learn from those ancestors who have allowed us to survive. Now, in the Brooklyn community, you have a number of support from the borough president and from the various assembly people.
What about the indigenous African American community in Brooklyn? To what extent have they been supportive? Oh, I think they've been very supportive, again speaking with the small children and the particularly churches, many of the organizations, talk about like the deltas, the links. I want to speak about the independence community bank. I want to tell you about goodness, so many others who have helped us here, I'm trying to go for a name. Oh, my goodness, my brain. I must do this, I want to tell you. One of the things we want to do is to ask our listeners what they can do, because you've really stimulated a lot of interest, you've got the energy, you've got the story. Now, what can the average listener view to help we spell other than you go there? Okay, at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, and our principal supporters will be Goldman Sachs and
it will be Emery Choice and Richard Lowe, who is the president of the National Trust Historic Preservation. These are the people who are our honorary chairs, and one of the honorary co-chairs is Franklin A. Thomas, who was one of the only godfathers of Wicksville, when he was at the president of the Bedford-Stuyves Restoration Corporation. They're later went to the Port Foundation, which means that you can count on support from a lot of folks. So, I'll be trying to repeat the voices, but the fact is that we do know this is a very tight economy, we do know that all of the arts agencies all over the country, but certainly in New York, all of the arts agencies are undefunded, and because of the recent tragedy, we understand what has happened, but I think it's even more important, because it was the arts that took us through depression, and I'm old enough to remember depression, and to remember the marvelous art that came through the WPA, which the country is still
enjoying in many, many public sites. So I do urge all of the elected officials and people to speak to their legislators and tell them that art and music and drama and dance and poetry is the stuff of the people, who knew what happened in Rome or Greece, except if we didn't have the artists. Nobody would know. Two thousand years later. I think it's very clear, and I think with the energy that somebody likes you, brings to it, it makes it almost imperative that viewers, politicians, listeners pick up and do something about this. Yeah, because everybody's children, it's all of our children. It's not only everybody's children, but it's our society, and our society is based on our heritage, some of which we may or may not be proud of, but some of which we survive and live through, and hopefully tomorrow will be a greater and a better day. It can be for North. It must not be for North, all that pain and suffering.
Well, now that you've taken us through this trip, through the weeksville, and it motivated us to go there and to be like this, because it would be a fabulous evening. It is the moment of my marvelous evening. John, I just want to thank you for spending the time with us on African American legends because you are an African American legend just like we felt. Thank you very much. Thank you.
- African American Legends
- Joan Maynard, Weeksville Society
- Contributing Organization
- CUNY TV (New York, New York)
- AAPB ID
- NOLA Code
- AAL 021007
- Series Description
- African-American Legends profiles prominent African-Americans in the arts, in politics, the social sciences, sports, community service, and business. The program is hosted by Dr. Roscoe C. Brown, Jr., Director of the Center for Urban Education Policy at the CUNY Graduate Center, and a former President of Bronx Community College.
- On this episode of African American Legends, Host Dr. Roscoe C. Brown Jr. profiles Joan Maynard, who is the CEO and Founder of the Weeksville Society. The Weeksville Society is a product of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, and is responsible for preserving and interpreting African American history within Weeksville, Brooklynn. It also aims to offer African Americans financial and cultural opportunities. Taped November 20, 2001.
- Taped November 20, 2001
- Created Date
- Media type
- Moving Image
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
Identifier: 15753 (li_serial)
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- Chicago: “African American Legends; Joan Maynard, Weeksville Society,” 2001-11-20, CUNY TV, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed March 2, 2024, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-522-183416tv25.
- MLA: “African American Legends; Joan Maynard, Weeksville Society.” 2001-11-20. CUNY TV, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. March 2, 2024. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-522-183416tv25>.
- APA: African American Legends; Joan Maynard, Weeksville Society. Boston, MA: CUNY TV, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-522-183416tv25