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First look at ‘Freedom’ - Designs for Underground Railroad memorial unveiled

The Brooklyn Paper
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Plans for a memorial dedicated to Downtown Brooklyn’s abolitionist and Underground Railroad past were released last week.

The memorial, dubbed In Pursuit of Freedom, fulfills part of a settlement, in which the city provided $2 million in funds to memorialize Brooklyn’s role in fighting slavery in America.

The settlement involves the 2004 Downtown Brooklyn rezoning, and specifically the city’s plans to raze homes on Duffield Street to make way for the proposed 1.5-acre Willoughby Square Park, along with a 770-car parking garage directly beneath it.

Many historians and activists considered several of the homes on Duffield Street as part of the Underground Railroad network, in which escaped slaves made their way to Canada and freedom.

One of the homes – 227 Duffield Street – was spared the wrecking ball through court action.

In Pursuit of Freedom contains four inter-related components starting with an as yet to be designed commemorative artistic installation on the southern end of the proposed park near Duffield Street.

The installation will be the starting point for visitors to follow a series of historical markers through the borough.

Interpretative exhibits will also be installed at the Brooklyn Historical Society, Weeksville Heritage Center and the Irondale Center at Lafayette Avenue Church.

The memorial will have an original theater piece that draws upon the story of abolitionism in Brooklyn and relating issues that continue to challenge contemporary society.

A website is planned to connect all of the components.

The Brooklyn Historical Society, the Weeksville Heritage Center and the Irondale Ensemble Project created the project in response to a Request for Proposals (RFP) issued by the city’s Economic Development Corporation.

The program will be developed in partnership with a group of scholars with unique expertise in Brooklyn’s abolitionist history.

The Scholars Council of the Brooklyn Historical Society will review exhibits, curriculum and other materials through the development and implementation of the project.

City Councilmember Letitia James said that in supporting the rezoning of Downtown Brooklyn, she also recognized the rich cultural and historical significance of the area.

“I was happy to have played a role in championing this commemorative effort. I proudly congratulate the awardees, who will do honor to this project in a culturally sensitive and respectful manner,” she said.

Downtown Partnership President Joe Chan hailed the memorial announcement as a way to honor and celebrate the past as the vibrant business district continues to flourish.

“Brooklyn’s involvement in the abolitionist movement is an important chapter in the borough’s history and In Pursuit of Freedom will respectfully acknowledge this history into the context of Downtown Brooklyn’s current revitaliza­tion,” said Chan.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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