Downtown

Protests erupt following demolition plans for abolitionist house

"Abolitionists’ home! Leave it alone!"

August 14, 2019 Lore Croghan
From left, Circle for Justice Innovations Director Aleah Bacquie-Vaughn is joined by Michael Higgins (partially visible), Bob Landau and teens Charles Sandel and Ellie Lampione at a rally. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

Social justice advocates are pressing forward with a campaign to save Downtown Brooklyn’s last surviving abolitionists’ home from the wrecking ball.

They’re trying to win city landmark designation for 227 Duffield St., where abolitionists Thomas and Harriet Truesdell lived. A developer has filed an application for a demolition permit.

Demonstrators congregated outside 1 Centre St., where the office of city Landmarks Preservation Commission’s Executive Director Lisa Kersavage is located, during a Tuesday afternoon rally organized by Equality for Flatbush.

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Demonstrators show their support for landmarking 227 Duffield St. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
Demonstrators show their support for landmarking 227 Duffield St. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

“Abolitionists’ home! Leave it alone,” they chanted.

Their placards said, “Black Landmarks Matter” and “Preserve Black History.”

More than 3,300 signatures

If the activists could convince the preservation agency to put 227 Duffield St. onto its calendar to consider it for landmark designation, the owner would be barred from tearing down the house.

“We want a fair and just review of the situation,” Aleah Bacquie-Vaughn, director of the Circle for Justice Innovations, told her fellow demonstrators.

Since July, her organization and others have kept up a steady stream of demonstrations and activities such as a petition drive and social media outreach to draw attention to the demolition threat looming over the Truesdells’ house.


The petition calls on Kersavage to get the abolitionists’ house landmarked. Bacquie-Vaughn’s organization launched it on July 3, and since then has collected more than 3,300 signatures.

The Circle for Justice Innovations launched the emergency effort to save the pre-Civil War house — which is widely believed to have been used by the Underground Railroad to aid runaway slaves — because the campaign dovetails with CJI’s mission.

The house at left is 227 Duffield St., where Abolitionists Thomas and Harriet Truesdell lived. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
The house at left is 227 Duffield St., where Abolitionists Thomas and Harriet Truesdell lived. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

The organization funds grassroots groups that are striving to end mass incarceration and mass criminalization.

“The work I do is a legacy of slavery,” Bacquie-Vaughn said at the rally.

An abolition ‘hotbed’

Michael Higgins Jr., a lead organizer at Families United for Racial and Economic Equality (or FUREE), said 227 Duffield St.’s former owner, the late Joy Chatel, had worked to turn the house into a museum. She had been a member of FUREE’s board.

The current owner of the property is 227 Duffield St. Corp. with Samiel Hanasab as its president, city Finance Department records show. On Aug. 7, he filed paperwork with the Buildings Department for a proposed 13-story, mixed-use commercial and residential building with 21 apartments.

During the rally, a group of demonstrators went inside to the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s headquarters and asked to speak to Kersavage. Staff members politely said the office was closed because it was after 5 p.m.

Later, in a response to a request for comment, an LPC spokesperson told the Brooklyn Eagle, “The request to evaluate this property as a potential landmark is under review.”

The developer who owns 227 Duffield St. has left broken windows unfixed and let junk pile up on the sidewalk. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
The developer who owns 227 Duffield St. has left broken windows unfixed and let junk pile up on the sidewalk. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

When the demonstrators returned to the plaza outside 1 Centre St., Christabel Gough of the Society for the Architecture of the City told them Duffield Street had been “one of the hotbeds of abolition.”

Bacquie-Vaughn told the Eagle that demonstrations about the imperiled house will continue and the activists will deliver their petition to Kersavage soon. She urged people to phone and email Kersavage and send her selfies that show support for landmarking 227 Duffield St.

Follow reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.


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