The quiet voice of Ms. Joan Maynard, the artist-archaeologist-preservationist who devoted nearly four decades before her death in 2006 to preserving four wood-frame cottages, would be raised in delight yesterday when The Weeksville Heritage Center celebrated the completion of its 19,000 square-foot Education and Cultural Arts Building on Bergen Street in Brooklyn with a ribbon cutting attended by students of the Weeksville School/P.S.243, community leaders, government officials and supporters.
The center, located at the east side of Weeksville’s landscape, on Buffalo, St. Marks and Bergen corners, embraces an extraordinary history of triumph and perseverance in the form of four buildings and 1.5 acres of outdoor landscape (on the west), the remnants of the largest and perhaps oldest self-sufficient pre-Civil War village — formed nearly two hundreds years ago.
The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, the City Council and the Brooklyn Borough President’s office provided funding for the $34 million dollar project.
“Today, we celebrate not only the completion of this beautiful new building, but the fulfillment of a vision for Weeksville Heritage Center as a nationally-significant center for African American history and culture,” said Timothy Simons, chair of the Weeksville board of directors.
“Weeksville is a unique and essential part of the story of the African Diaspora, and this new facility will not only preserve that history, but also activate it,” Mr. Simons’ remarks reminded some of us of the pennies collected by children 45 years ago to keep Weeksville moving along to its renaissance of today.
According to the press release, the “light-filled building features state of the art exhibition, performance and educational facilities. The main lobby leads to a 700-square foot gallery, a lecture and performance space for 200 visitors, classrooms for community education and a resource center for visiting scholars. Administrative offices are to be located on the second floor, and the cellar will include archival storage space as well as a studio for recording oral histories.”
Pamela Green, WHC’s former executive director, says in the press release: “inspired by Joan Maynard and the founders of Weeksville, we knew that we had to not only preserve this historical treasure, but continue to tell the story of the African American experience and write entirely new chapters with the help of the next generation.”
It was Maynard who saw the value in the remnants of the 19th century thriving Brooklyn settlement of early African Americans. She helped launch the serious effort to transform them into a museum for public education. The Weeksville Society, which Ms. Maynard directed, continuous to mount exhibits, and offer educational programs and tours. In celebration of this 175th anniversary year of the founding of Weeksville by James Weeks, a free African American from Virginia, Our Time Press will run recurring Weeksville-legacy stories from our archives ongoing through the official opening of the Center to the public in Spring 2014.
Students of The Weeksville School/P.S. 243, enlisted on the site with the permission of Principal Karen Hambright-Glover as student field reporters for Our Time Press, will launch the series. They will report on yesterday’s events in next week’s paper.
Of note: After the abolition of slavery in New York State in 1827, James Weeks, a free African American from Virginia, purchased land in the area now known as Bedford Stuyvesant. By mid-century the area was officially known as “Weeksville.” Institutions anchored the residential settlement, too, such as the Bethel Tabernacle AME Church, the Berean Missionary Baptist Church, and “Colored School #2 of Weeksville.” The four cottages at 1698-1708 Bergen Street are New York City landmarks and are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
For more information and to donate to Weeksville: www.weeksvillesociety.org