COLLECTIONS

5th of July Resource Center for
Self-Determination & Freedom

 

The 5th of July Resource Center for Self-Determination & Freedom is dedicated to the production & dissemination of knowledge concerning histories of post-emancipation, freedom, and its promise. In addition to serving as a repository of information, the Resource Center generates knowledge and expertise on historic understandings of 19th century and 20th century African American, Caribbean, and African history, and sponsors intellectual activities to further these understandings.

Inspired by the self-determination of Weeksville’s historic free black community, the Center’s expansion of knowledge is grounded on existing intellectual and material resources of Weeksville’s history—research, documentation, and the archival, and object collection, including Weeksville’s invaluable architectural resources, the Hunterfly Road Houses. With the opening of the 5th of July Resource Center, Weeksville Heritage Center (WHC) will for the first-time in its history be able to make its collections, archives, and oral histories available to the community at large including the scholarly community, teachers, students, and the general public.

Weeksville Heritage Center is a significant historic American site, with a well-documented, rare extant example of an independent African American community organized by African American entrepreneurs and land investors. Weeksville became the second largest known independent African American community in pre-Civil War America. A deeply engaged community, Weeksville residents sustained one of the first African American newspapers, advocated for abolition, and provided safe haven during the violent draft riots of the Civil War era. In the late 1960s, Weeksville was all but forgotten until a small group of community activists rediscovered four dilapidated houses that were rare residential remnants of historic Weeksville. The Historic Hunterfly Road Houses, as they are known today, are New York City landmarks, and are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.


 Weeksville Genealogy Workshop, 1980. 

Weeksville Genealogy Workshop, 1980. 

The Oral History Collection

The Weeksville Society emerged from a workshop called Project Weeksville: an archaeological survey of the Weeksville community by local college students, neighborhood youth and volunteers, which began in 1968 under the direction of Pratt Institute professor, James Hurley. With the assistance of the New York City Landmarks Commission and a grant from the New York City Model Cities Policy Committee, Project Weeksville participants searched for items of historic value beneath the surface of the ground. Since 1968, several archaeological excavations have been conducted as part of an ongoing study of Weeksville’s transition from a 19th century farming community, to a complex urban center for African American culture.

Medgar Evers College eventually became the home of Project Weeksville where Rodney Toney and Mary Ann Brown served as Project Directors.  Ms. Brown developed the oral history program's narrative & methodology. The purpose of the program was to further scholarly research into records and papers that document Black history in the Bedford Stuyvesant area.  In the first year of the project, titled "Oral History and Educational Unit at the Society for the Preservation of  Weeksville and Bedford Stuyvesant," over twenty oral histories were collected. 

 

In December 2006, Weeksville Heritage Center partnered with StoryCorps to collect and record the stories of New Yorkers and Brooklyn residents.  The Collection chronicles the beginnings of a  reemerging interest in the preservation of Weeksville history, and the people that were involved in the efforts including parents, professors, students, and neighborhood youth.  A StoryCorps recording studio was stationed in front of the historic Hunterfly Road Houses; it was StoryCorps first oral history intake in Brooklyn, NY.  Another StoryCorps oral history intake occurred in 2007/2008. Since then, Weeksville Heritage Center has collected over 120 oral histories.

Clips from our oral histories can be found on our online digital archive.


Historic Hunterfly Road House

Learn more about the 1930s house from the Williams Family that called it home for three generations.

David Williams' Attic: 1970-1973 Medgar Evers Oral History Series

David Williams' Pantry:  1970-1973 Medgar Evers Oral History Series