Play tackles Brooklyn’s anti-slavery movement

Play tackles Brooklyn’s anti-slavery movement
Photo by Gerry Goodstein

It’s said that history often repeats itself and it most certainly will this month in Fort Greene.

The Irondale Ensemble’s theatrical production “Color Between the Lines” will bring the abolitionist movement back to life in the first public history project on the anti-slavery movement in Brooklyn — but sit tight, because history is never as neat and tidy as it is remembered.

After winning a $2 million grant from the city of New York for a project that would celebrate Brooklyn’s abolitionist past, the producers of Irondale said they spent three years uncovering the anti-slavery efforts in Brooklyn to write the narrative — and they were surprised by what they found.

“One of the eye openers is that Brooklyn actually came to abolition late,” said Terry Greiss, the executive director of the socially motivated theatre troupe. “Brooklyn itself was built on a slave economy. Emancipation was in 1827, but the commercial structure of Brooklyn was very much tied to slavery — the banks owned mortgages on slaves and sugar was big here.”

Irondale’s play consists of a series of vignettes about 19th century characters — both real and fictional — strung together into a narrative examining Brooklyn’s growth related to its ties to slavery.

Greiss said that while the show focuses on the borough’s history, he promises the past remains relevant today.

“One of the things we’re trying to show in our theater piece is that the struggle is not over,” said Greiss. “If you look at the stuff going on in Arizona around immigration, or the gay rights movement — the past isn’t over. History gets written by the dominant class and if we just accept it as it is, we’re only giving ourselves a small part of the story.”

As part of the grant, Irondale, the Brooklyn Historical Society and the Weeksville Heritage center will unveil permanent exhibitions around the borough to denote spaces involved in issues around slavery in 2013.

Irondale Ensemble’s “In Pursuit of Freedom: Color Between the Lines” at the Irondale Center [85 South Oxford St. between Lafayette Avenue and Fulton Street in Fort Greene, (718) 488–9233] April 26 – May 24, Tuesdays at 7 pm, Wednesday–Saturday at 8 pm. $35 ($10 on Tuesdays). Visit irondale.org.

Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-2531. And follow him at twitter.com/emrosenberg.