From 1851 until 1921, the property belonged to Harriet and Thomas Truesdell, a couple that was involved in the abolitionist movement in Brooklyn. They were acquaintances of William Lloyd Garrison, a leading abolitionist and journalist who helped found the American Anti-Slavery Society.
As advocates have repeatedly noted, Downtown Brooklyn was a hub of abolitionist activity. The area became a stop for freedom seekers who hid on ships to escape slavery in the south. Many fled north to upstate New York, New England and Canada.
Longtime activists like “Mama Joy” Chatel, who passed away six years ago, have asserted that homes like 227 Duffield Street were stops on the Underground Railroad network due to tunnels beneath them.
That kind of history is worth preserving, especially as our country is in the midst of a movement for racial justice that will hopefully force everyone to contend with the legacy of slavery.
The current owners of 227 Duffield Street, which is now on a block co-named “Abolitionist Place,” have another plan for the property. They want to erect a 13-story building on the site, with a museum in the basement that would pay tribute to the Truesdell’s abolitionist legacy.
At the LPC’s virtual hearing on the site earlier last week, an attorney for the property owners argued that a museum would be a more fitting memorial than leaving the old building intact.
Advocates and local elected officials disagree, and apparently many others do as well. An online petition calling for landmark status for the site has collected nearly 17,000 signatures.
The house on Abolitionist Place, with so much history to share with future generations, needs to be preserved in its current form. The Landmarks Preservation Commission should vote to make it a landmark as soon as possible.