‘Brooklyn Abolitionists / In Pursuit of Freedom’ now on view at Brooklyn Historical Society

Groundbreaking Exhibition Features Interactive Public Programs

January 15, 2014 Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Screen Shot 2014-01-15 at 3.25.42 PM.png
Share this:

Now on view at the Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS), “Brooklyn Abolitionists / In Pursuit of Freedom,” is a thought-provoking, interactive new exhibition that uncovers the lesser-known stories of Brooklyn activists who fought for freedom and racial justice in the 19th century. This groundbreaking exhibit will remain on view through December 2018 and will inaugurate the Shellens Gallery in BHS’ newly renovated building at 128 Pierrepont Street in Brooklyn Heights.

BHS hosted an opening reception the evening of Jan. 14, and regular gallery hours are Wednesday to Sunday, noon-5 p.m. In conjunction with the exhibition, BHS has organized a series of public programs through April 2014 that focus not only on the stories associated with the exhibit, but also on how the struggles for justice and equality continue to shape our world today. Programs include panel discussions with noted historians, free Saturday family programs, a performance by project partner Irondale Ensemble Project and Created Equal: America’s Civil Rights Struggle, a film series made possible through a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, as part of its Bridging Cultures initiative, in partnership with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

Based on five years of research led by curator/ historian Prithi Kanakamedala and project manager Kate Fermoile, “Brooklyn Abolitionists / In Pursuit of Freedom” evokes 19th century Brooklyn—and tells the stories of residents who fought tirelessly for equal rights—through letters, sermons, pamphlets and advertisements. Landscape paintings and historic maps provide visitors with a vivid backdrop of the area’s growth.

In addition to seeing BHS’ rare edition of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln, exhibition visitors will be introduced to little-known anti-slavery activists including William Wilson (aka Ethiop), James and Elizabeth Gloucester, William and Willis Hodges, James Pennington, Peter and Benjamin Croger, and Sylvanus Smith, one of the original land investors in the free black community of Weeksville.

Featured stories raise questions about racial equality in education, fair and equal treatment under the law and the political and economic significance of owning property—issues that remain relevant in today’s struggle for social justice.

The exhibition includes historic material, hands-on interactive and multimedia elements. It was designed by award-winning exhibition designer Matter Architecture Practice, celebrated design and technology firm Potion, multidisciplinary design firm Pure+Applied and New York-based lighting designer Robert W. Henderson, Jr.

The exhibition is part of a multifaceted public history initiative in partnership with Weeksville Heritage Center and Irondale Ensemble Project. The project includes additional exhibits, pubic programs, an extensive on-line curriculum, an original theater piece by Irondale Ensemble Project, walking tours, a project website  ( and a memorial to Brooklyn Abolitionists that will be part of the new Willoughby Square Park when it opens in 2016. 

The associated programs are open to the public and will last through April 2014. To view the program schedule, details of each event and to purchase tickets, visit

Leave a Comment

Leave a Comment