Save the Slave! Arts group wants to revive famous Bed-Stuy theater

Church to upstage famed civil rights theater
By Stefano Giovannini

Theater advocates are on a mission to turn a crumbling but historic Bedford-Stuyvesant building into a thriving performance space — but they say there won’t be an opening night unless drama fans open their wallets.

The non-profit New Brooklyn Theater needs help raising cash to buy the Slave Theater — a famous civil rights site that has fallen into disrepair — saying their plan to build a three-stage performance art center will stop developers from tearing down an important piece of history.

“This community needs a place to come together and experience film, theater, and book readings,” said Sarah Wolff, who heads the non-profit.

The group aims to raise $200,000 via Kickstarter.com by Oct. 4 for a down payment on the dilapidated building at Fulton Street and Bedford Avenue that once hosted black pride rallies lead by Al Sharpton and other activists.

The fund-raising campaign comes after a hotel chain and a condo developer expressed interest earlier this month in buying the building, which is owned by Ohio reverend Samuel Boykin.

The attempt at “crowdsourcing” is the latest chapter in a long-running saga surrounding the theater, which was purchased by Boykin’s uncle, the late Brooklyn Civil Court judge John Phillips in the 1980s — who turned the building into a lively community meeting point for rallies and neighborhood forums.

The theater closed in 1998 after Phillips failed to pay taxes on it and Boykin took over the building, but over the years the structure decayed.

Boykin didn’t return calls on Tuesday, but he told this paper in January that he would likely sell theater to a group that would use it as a community space such as a church — a move that would displace a small congregation that claims it has a lease on the building.

The New Brooklyn Theater, which had raised more than $19,700 at press time, plans to use grant money and private donations to restore the main stage, install state-of-the-art lighting, and a café to revive the Slave Theater as hub for culture and art.

“It would be devastating to lose this piece of history,” Wolff said.

Reach reporter Natalie O'Neill at [email protected] or by calling her at (718) 260-4505.