Monday, March 26, 2007

Is City Consultant Deliberately Ignoring Underground Railroad Records?

Could the consulting firm hired by the city to examine the history of downtown Brooklyn buildings have deliberately ignored key documents? There is significant evidence the buildings were part of the Underground Railroad, but the downtown Brooklyn plan counts on Underground Parking to trump Underground Railroad history. Now, there's a suggestion that consultants took a pass on documents that suggest the development will bulldoze African-American history.

A story in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle by Sarah Ryley says that documents were ignored and implies that this happened so that the consultants could reach the decision expected of them: that the sites have no historic significance and they can be demolished to clear the way for underground parking topped by a park. We reproduce a bit of the story with permission, since the Eagle's site is subscription only:
A city-sponsored study ignored key documents that could link the 19th Century Duffield Street homes to the Underground Railroad, according to expert panelists hired by the consulting firm AKRF to review the study.

The study involved seven homes on Duffield and Gold streets in the footprint of a proposed 1-acre park above an underground public parking garage, part of the Downtown Brooklyn redevelopment plan. The City Council ordered the study two years ago when owners of three of the homes claimed they were used as safe houses along the Underground Railroad.

The final version of the AKRF study deemed one of the homes -- 227 Duffield St., owned by Joy Chatel – as "quite possibly involved" in the Underground Railroad, which is just short of enough to have the home listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Despite records showing that Harriet and Thomas Truesdell, who lived there from 1851 to 1863, had a long history of activism in the abolitionist movement and entertained prominent abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison, the study found insufficient documentation proving that they actually helped African-Americans escape slavery.

But AKRF was made aware of documentation that could have been critical in proving that involvement, if it existed, according to Paul E. Truesdell, Jr., the great-grandson of Thomas Truesdell, whom AKRF contacted for the study...According to stories passed down through generations of Duffield Street residents that were included in the final report, the street was a hotbed of Underground Railroad activity, with tunnels and secret doorways that offered escape to other buildings or the street. The Truesdells and other homeowners would put lamps in the back windows to let freedom seekers know there was space in the home.

AKRF is regularly hired to do consulting work for local projects, either on behalf of the city or developers, including Atlantic Yards, Atlantic Terminal, Red Hook IKEA, Brooklyn Bridge Park and the World Trade Center Memorial and Redevelopment.
Hearings and a decision on the site are pending.

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