Demonstrators rally to oppose demolition of historic Downtown abolition house

Demonstrators rally to oppose demolition of historic Downtown abolition house
Photo by Caroline Ourso

Protesters rallied last week in opposition to a developer’s scheme to raze a historic Downtown townhouse formerly owned by prominent abolitionists.

The June 25 gathering drew attention to an effort to topple 227 Duffield St. — located between Willoughby and Fulton streets — after owners filed for permits to demolish the mid-19th century home to anti-slavery activists, which may have served escaped slaves as a stop along the Underground Railroad, according to one demonstrator.

“This was America’s first civil rights movement. This was blacks and whites working together to end slavery — and in Brooklyn,” said the Jacob Morris, director of the Harlem Historical Society who came from the distant isle of Manhattan to join the demonstration. “It’s very important to have this consciousness. It’s so easy for people to forget and for history to get lost.”

Abolitionists Thomas and Harriet Lee-Truesdell lived at the three-story townhouse, which sits atop a network of tunnels that once likely hid black families fleeing southern slave catchers, according to Morris.

“Personally, I’m absolutely positive there was an underground railroad there,” said the historian, who got the city to co-name two blocks between Willoughby and Fulton streets “Abolition Place” in 2007.

Current owner Samiel Hanasab bought the property piecemeal from the late Joy Chatel and her family, known locally as “Mama Joy,” who got the city to back down from its plan to raze the structure in 2007.

A contractor for the landlord filed for permits to demolish the building on June 5, and the owner has been busy issuing eviction notices to three tenants, but activists and historians are holding to hope that a review by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission will result in a special landmarking designation that would prevent its destruction, and do-gooder group Circle for Justice Innovations is asking locals to sign an online petition supporting the preservation effort.

A lawyer for Hanasab did not return a request for comment by press time.

A lot adjacent to the historic house recently became home to a temporary “pop-up” park being managed by the Economic Development Corporation, which the organization plans to transform into a fully fledged park over the coming years.

The agency is also hosting a competition to erect some sort of abolitionist artwork to accompany the new green space.

Reach reporter Kevin Duggan at (718) 260–2511 or by e-mail at kduggan@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @kduggan16.
Imani Henry with Equality For Flatbush outside 227 Duffield St.
Photo by Caroline Ourso