Weeksville is an amazing reminder of the need in America for life liberty, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This village, historically, served as an early hub of black culture in New York City. Moreover, it was a haven for the less fortunate who needed an escape from the lethal pressures of America's political and economic pressures.
In this present day it symbolizes the vital necessity for collectivism, self determination and social entrepreneurship amongst oppressed peoples.
What Weeksville Meant for New York's blacks "back then"
Brooklyn seems to be a land of discovery these days. New neighborhoods, with over a century of history, have been "discovered" by bloggers, rebranded by real estate agents and developers, and populated by new residents.
As rents climb and various neighborhoods within the Borough begin to change, Weeksville is a symbolic anachronism and social fossil. The few structures which have been purposely preserved are a way of reminding Brooklyn residents and visitors alike of the history of New York City and the United States.
You see, there was this economic system of chattel slavery in the United States, even in the early liberal colonies such as New Amsterdam (later New York City).
Within this system, Africans worked for free and in bondage, having to either earn or be granted their freedom. However, once free, these dark-skinned Africans and their American offspring faced widespread social prejudice and systemic oppression through policies of the US federal and local government(s).
Drawing above is from NYC Draft Riots of 1863 as African Americans were attacked by angry European American mobs who did not want to, involuntarily, be enlisted in the Union Army during the Civil War. (Courtesy of NY Times).
In such an environment, the difficult but logical task for freed Africans in late 1830s to sequester themselves from the mainstream and build their own communities.
This was the objective of James Weeks, as well as the other women and men of his community, after he purchased a plot of land from another free Black New Yorker, Henry C. Thompson (near 158 Buffalo Ave today).
In a few ways, the community of Weeksville was stronger economically than it is today.
According to Wikipedia sources, 1 in 3 men in the community owned property, whereas today, that number is down to around 25% for both black men and women in Brooklyn. The community, was also self-sufficient, possessing its own shops, churches, a newspaper and civic organizations.
By sacrificing to build a community of their own, Weeksville residents simultaneously provided a haven for other African Americans and African-born immigrants, whether they were fleeing slavery in the southern states or violence in Manhattan during the Draft Riots of 1863.
By being self-sufficient, Weeksville was empowered to rescue Africans from the social and economic ills that threatened blacks/oppressed peoples of all skin colors and phenotypes.
You can visit the Weeksvile Heritage Center at 158 Buffalo Avenue in Brooklyn, NY. Events and Tours are planned regularly through "Weeksville Weekends" every second Saturday of the month (Except January and August)
Weeksville as a Symbol and Template
Weeksville, today stands primarily as a historical symbol, relic and, through the heritage center, as a space for public learning and information.
As Brooklyn grew in population and New York City expanded out from Manhattan, the neighborhood was joined with the greater Bedford-Stuyvesant community and the identity of the area was changed via shifting demographics.
However, let us take even this mere relic and remember how blacks in America, of all skin colors and cultures, can prosper and protect.
Self-love, enterprise, ownership and acceptance of others- yes, those are the qualities that can lead us forward and upwards.
Medvis Jackson is a web designer at Hindsite, curator at Kulchah and avid cricket fan. You can follow him @medvisjackson for his random thoughts.