The city’s memorial to Brooklyn’s Underground Railroad history will sit atop an underground parking lot that will be built where some of the very Abolitionist history being commemorated is said to have actually happened.
The city Economic Development Corporation this week put out a request for proposals to build a $2-million “Brooklyn Abolitionism Commemoration” in the proposed, Bryant Park-styled “Willoughby Square,” a 1.5-acre greenspace that will require several historic homes on Duffield Street to be torn down.
The irony was not lost on supporters of the Underground Railroad houses.
“The best way to commemorate the Abolition work that was done Downtown is to preserve the houses on Duffield Street,” said Councilwoman Letitia James (D–Fort Greene).
That said, James said she supports the city effort to commemorate Downtown’s role in ending slavery.
City officials have denied that the Duffield houses were directly linked to the Underground Railroad, and the RFP continues that position: “A number of homes and churches in Downtown Brooklyn and the surrounding area have connections with the Underground Railroad [including] Plymouth Church (now Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims) in Brooklyn Heights; Bridge Street A.W.M.E. Church (now Polytechnic University student center in MetroTech); Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church in Fort Greene; and the Siloam Presbyterian Church, and Concord Baptist Church.”
The winning bidder must not only design a great monument, but also “provide an interactive, public gathering venue where individuals and groups of all ages can learn about the Abolitionist Movement and the Underground Railroad in Brooklyn.”
In addition, the “Abolitionism Commemoration” must include “an ongoing program or series of activities” and “demonstrate program sustainability using allocated funds for at least the next three fiscal years and … with other sources of funding beyond [that].”