Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

‘Brooklyn Resists’ Explores the Borough’s History of Racial Protest

The new multifaceted initiative uses exhibitions, new and crowdsourced collections, public programs, and performances to explore racial protest in Brooklyn
Brooklyn Resists_05
Photograph from Brooklyn Resists. Photo: Supplied by Center for Brooklyn History.

This Juneteenth, a new multifaceted program exploring the resistance to racial injustice -- from abolition to today -- will be launched in Brooklyn.

Brooklyn Resists, developed by Brooklyn Public Library's (BPL) Center for Brooklyn History (CBH), documents the history of racial protest in Brooklyn and the ongoing fight against systemic racism, as told through the lens of the Black Brooklynites and allies who have acted in solidarity to abolish it.

The public history initiative was mounted in response to the killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, "and the long history of Black Brooklynites experiencing the persistence of racism and state violence, including police brutality," CBH said in a statement. The initiative marks the first major exhibition at BPL's CBH since its creation last year following BPL's merger with the Brooklyn Historical Society.

CBH Director Heather Malin said the exhibition delved into the deep and varied forms of protest against racial injustice in Brooklyn and provided the community with a platform to share their own stories from the ongoing movement against systemic injustice and violence.

"Communities, activists, and protestors working to change the physical, economic, educational and cultural realities of Black Americans have strong roots in Brooklyn's streets, schools, and neighborhoods, which represent a powerful legacy and a transformative present," she said.

The program will bring together CBH's archival holdings, new acquisitions, and crowdsourced images from the Brooklyn and New York City community. The multifaceted exhibition will officially kick off on June 19, with the opening of an outdoor exhibition at CBH's 128 Pierrepont Street building, featuring historic texts and images and new photographs from the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests projected onto the exterior of the building.

Photograph from Brooklyn Resists. Photo: Supplied by Center for Brooklyn History.

An online version of the exhibition will feature additional content, including photography, oral histories, historic documents, and other materials.  Concurrently, in partnership with Urban Archive, the Center is launching an open call for crowdsourced images, audio and text that document the movement which will be accessible to all Brooklynites. 

Brooklyn Resists is led by Malin, CBH Assistant Director for Collections and Public Service Natiba Guy-Clement and Dr. Brian Purnell. Purnell is Geoffrey Canada Associate Professor of Africana Studies and History at Bowdoin College and award-winning author of Fighting Jim Crow in the County of Kings: The Congress of Racial Equality in Brooklyn and co-author of The Strange Careers of the Jim Crow North: Segregation and Struggle outside of the South.

"From the murder of Arthur Miller in June of 1978 to the murders of Yusuf Hawkins in 1989 and Amadou Diallo in 1999 by New York City police, and the murders of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, and Tamir Rice, Brooklyn has a long history of racial protest, most recently with its amplified call for justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Daunte Wright," Purnell said.

"It is vital that we document, investigate, and reflect on our shared histories, and I am thrilled to be working with the Center for Brooklyn History as we continue this collective fight for social justice."

Brooklyn Resists' projects, performance pieces, and programs at library branches across the borough include in-person and virtual public addressing gun violence, domestic abuse, and other issues associated with systemic racism; an expansion of CBH's collections through CBH's work with local photographers; partnership with Urban Archive to allow the public to share their stories; an creative writing project produced in partnership with Brooklyn's Medgar Evers College; an installation of The Parts by BPL's 2021 Katowitz Radin Artist-in-Residence Chloë Bass; and a new edition of Whispering Libraries, drawing from oral histories and key historical texts.

BPL President and CEO Linda E. Johnson said as the library continued to address the needs and issues vital to the community, it would dig into CBH's extensive archives and build its holdings to reflect and amplify the critical narratives that formed the borough as it stands today. By doing so, BPL hoped to inspire important dialogue and action as the city and country continue to navigate a path to justice and a more equitable future, Johnson said.

"This past summer, Brooklyn became a hub of the national protest movement prompted by the killing of Black people at the hands of police and our nation's legacy of systemic racial violence and injustice," she said.

"As we have witnessed, our shared histories shape our future, making it critical that we explore the borough's history of racial protest through the lens of the Brooklynites who lived through, participated in, and documented the ongoing fight for racial equality today."

For more information on Brooklyn Resists, including how to share personal materials for consideration in the online exhibition, click here.


A note about commenting:

If you had a commenting account prior to Feb. 14, 2023, you will need to register for a new account before commenting. Click here or start to leave a comment to start the registration process.