Church to upstage famed civil rights theater

The Brooklyn Paper
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Get our stories in your inbox, free.

Like Brooklyn Paper on Facebook.

The owner of Bedford-Stuyvesant’s Slave Theater plans to convert the civil rights landmark into a church by booting the “squatters” living and working inside.

Samuel Boykin is plotting a $3 million sale of the historic movie house on Fulton Street and Bedford Avenue — once a key gathering place for black activists — to a neighborhood congregation.

“We want it to remain a place for the community,” said the Ohio reverend, who declined to name the church purchasing the building until all of the papers have been signed. “But first we need to get the squatters out.”

The 55-year-old theater has languished since it closed more than two decades ago — and Boykin blames it on “illegal tenants” who won’t pay rent and refuse to move out.

But the current occupants — including first-floor residents who insist they own the building and a second-floor church that swears it pays rent — beg to differ.

“This is a lie from the pit of hell,” said Rev. Paul Lewis, whose Messengers for Christ World Healing Center would be booted to make room for the new house of worship. “We’ve been paying rent for years.”

Lewis insists he has a lease and his congregation will not leave.

The two men of the cloth will duke it out in court on Jan. 26.

The battle is the latest chapter in a long-running saga of the crumbling theater, which was purchased by Boykin’s uncle, the late Brooklyn Civil Court judge John Phillips, in the 1980s.

Phillips turned the Regal Theater into a jewel for the community called the Slave Theater, hosting black pride rallies led by the likes of Alton Maddox and Al Sharpton.

But it closed in 1998 after Phillips, a self-made millionaire, failed to pay taxes. A court declared the aging judge “mentally incompetent” in a controversial 2001 decision and court appointed-guardians took possession of his estate and let the Slave Theater fall into disrepair.

Boykin and other relatives seized it back and put it on the market in 2007, but it never sold.

Since then, squatters got into the first floor using an old key and damaged the theater’s interior, according to Boykin.

But some of those alleged squatters claim they are the Slave Theater’s rightful owners.

Clarence and Omar Hardy, a father and son who were friends with Phillips, claim they bought the building from the judge prior to his death in 2008 under a company called “J and J Real Estate.” They plan on opening an art space inside the Slave Theater and insist they’re not going anywhere, no matter Boykin’s threats.

“He’s trying to act like he knows this neighborhood — but we own this building and we don’t want to sell,” said Omar, who is fighting Boykin for the property in a separate court case.

Boykin is optimistic he will sell the building to the church and step away from the headache once and for all.

“The whole thing has been a real mess,” Boykin said.

Reach reporter Natalie O'Neill at or by calling her at (718) 260-4505.
Updated 6:39 am, January 19, 2012
Today’s news:
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Get our stories in your inbox, free.

Like Brooklyn Paper on Facebook.

Reasonable discourse

judahSpechal from bedStuy says:
Ahhh! Not a church! Thought Bam had their eyes on this place. A church on a vibrant commercal strip.
Jan. 19, 2012, 10:08 am
Joey from Clinton Hills says:
show us the quitclaim deeds!
Jan. 19, 2012, 11:59 am
Myra from Park Slope says:
DA Hynes wanted to help Judge Phillips by taking control of the Slave Theater. Thanks for the help Joe.
Jan. 20, 2012, 7:25 pm
Dr. Lesbo from Mangina Park says:
A Church is a terrible idea, and these "owners" are nothing more than criminals.

I would ask the minister what Jesus would Think Of his materialism and dealings with shady characters. It certainly sounds more like vanity than Christianity.
Jan. 21, 2012, 8:03 am
Chantelle from Bedford Stuyvesant says:
Pure greed, shameful and possibly illegal. These 'men' are an embarassment.
Jan. 21, 2012, 10:12 am
Andrew from Marine Park says:
For ten years The Slave has been in court. Nobody knows who owns it?
Jan. 21, 2012, 11:23 am
Used to Live in from Bed-Stuy says:
An art museum, a history museum, a catering hall,
a restaurant, a live theater, a comedy club......anything but a street deadening church.
Jan. 22, 2012, 3:27 am
Jason from Cobble Hill says:
Hynes wouldnt prosecute the guardians who stole old judge phillips buildings. Now he lets squatters occupy his legacy.
Jan. 22, 2012, 5:19 pm
Malkam Dior from Crown Heights says:
The last thing we need is another Church.......It would be great if we had a Theater that mainly feature African American Films....That would be awesome for the neighborhood.
Jan. 24, 2012, 10:53 am
Friday says:
An artists space (for African American) artists would be wonderful. Painters or musicians ( no rappers) or writers or film makers dancers or tech artists......etc..

Jan. 27, 2012, 11:16 am
LA ZORRA from TRUTH says:
please visit the website: also they are on Facebook......
learn the history of the building and the real story behind the ownership and the mission. Or stop by one day to educate yourselves and meet the devoted folks downstairs that have been keeping hope alive.
Jan. 29, 2012, 3:50 pm
LA ZORRA from TRUTH says:
Support Mr. Hardy. Support your community. Know your roots.
Jan. 29, 2012, 3:51 pm
LA ZORRA from TRUTH says:
This is an example of the abuse and racial profiling of the american justice system.
Judge Phillips was placed into the Guardianship Program (Article 81 of the NYS Mental Health and Hygeine Law) against his will. From the beginning Judges and Lawyers were out to destroy a self made man.
Money was stolen, properties sold, more and more debt accumulated, but that is all looked past and swept under the rug. The deeper you look the more corruption you find. The truth will prevail as it always does.
Jan. 29, 2012, 3:56 pm

Enter your comment below

By submitting this comment, you agree to the following terms:

You agree that you, and not or its affiliates, are fully responsible for the content that you post. You agree not to post any abusive, obscene, vulgar, slanderous, hateful, threatening or sexually-oriented material or any material that may violate applicable law; doing so may lead to the removal of your post and to your being permanently banned from posting to the site. You grant to the royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual and fully sublicensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such content in whole or in part world-wide and to incorporate it in other works in any form, media or technology now known or later developed.

First name
Last name
Your neighborhood
Email address
Daytime phone

Your letter must be signed and include all of the information requested above. (Only your name and neighborhood are published with the letter.) Letters should be as brief as possible; while they may discuss any topic of interest to our readers, priority will be given to letters that relate to stories covered by The Brooklyn Paper.

Letters will be edited at the sole discretion of the editor, may be published in whole or part in any media, and upon publication become the property of The Brooklyn Paper. The earlier in the week you send your letter, the better.

Don’t miss out!

Stay in touch with the stories people are talking about in your neighborhood:

Optional: Help us tailor our newsletters to you!