Most New Yorkers know about the draft riots of 1863, but here’s a side of Gotham’s Civil War history you might not be familiar with. This long-term exhibit examines Kings County’s antislavery movement in the 19th century. Slated to run through December 2018, it’s part of a larger collaboration between Weeksville Heritage Center and experimental-theater group Irondale Ensemble Project (a memorial in Willoughby Square Park, set to open in Downtown Brooklyn in 2016, is another of the group’s initiatives). The display includes one of the most prized items in the BHS’s collection—an original copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, signed by President Lincoln—but focuses primarily on the ordinary Brooklynites who agitated for equality through sermons and community institutions. Learn about local activists such as William J. Wilson, the Kings County correspondent for Frederick Douglass’s abolitionist newspaper; James Pennington, who escaped slavery in 1828 as an illiterate 19-year-old and went on to study at Yale; and Peter and Benjamin Croger, who founded the borough’s first African-American school in Dumbo in 1815 (it operates today as P.S. 67). A series of talks, film screenings and other events runs in conjunction with the exhibit, exploring the related themes of freedom and social justice. It’s a tough period in America’s history to confront, but the stories are an inspiring reminder of what regular citizens at a grassroots level are capable of accomplishing.
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