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A Historic, Pre-Civil War Site Is Safe For Now

May 13, 2019, 4:56 PM UTC

Over the weekend, a nonprofit of monumental importance to American history was saved by the goodwill of people on Twitter.

Weeksville is a unique cultural center and historic site in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn that was once home to a thriving community of free and formerly enslaved black people. It was established in 1838, just eleven years after New York abolished slavery. Today, as an art, education, and convening space, it’s become an essential node in our collective understanding of race and history. And yet, in a city filled with people who will drop thirty-five-large for a ticket to the Met Gala, Weeksville found itself facing, once again, imminent closure if it didn’t reach an interim funding goal of $200,000.

On Friday, The New York Times covered the struggling organization.

“Free and formerly enslaved black people made their way to the thriving hamlet that offered a school, a church and a newspaper that published the alphabet, reading lessons and prayers. The community produced doctors, journalists and educators,” reported Corina Knoll and Morgan Jerkins. The settlement, including original buildings, was first preserved in the 1960s and has managed to stay open, even expand, over the years. But it’s never truly thrived. “We would lose this repository of history, of black Brooklyn, of this inspiring example of what black people built in an age before emancipation,” Rob Fields, the executive director of the center, told The Times.

Over the weekend, New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones amplified the story and whipped up support for a crowdfunding campaign that helped push the organization past its $200,000 goal. High profile journalists Soledad O’Brien and Yashar Ali joined the effort. Now, Weeksville can stay open through September.

Ain’t no party like a history preservation party, particularly in a country known for revisionism.

Although we continue to expend endless energy on the legacy of Robert E. Lee, there has been some notable progress.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened in 2016, provided an important corrective to the centering of white history. “Many viewers—even those of us who are black—know less about the truth of black history than they do natural history or even how airplanes work,” observed Vann R. Newkirk II in his review for The Atlantic. It made the experience overwhelming. “So much black history has been systematically destroyed and denied chronicle by that conspiracy [of white supremacy], that the curators emphasize its richness where they can.”

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which documents and memorializes the history of racial terror lynchings, offers a similar remedy. It opened April 2016 and is unflinching in its aim. “The people who carried out this violence could have just shot people and buried them in the ground, but they didn’t want it to be a secret, they didn’t want it hidden, they didn’t want it obscured by dirt and dust,” founder Bryan Stevenson told The Washington Post. “They actually lifted up the bodies because they wanted to terrorize. They wanted the entire community to see it.”

There is so much more work to do. As the nation prepares to say something or other about the 400th anniversary of the slave trade, sites like the Whitehead house, which was a scene in a deadly chapter of the Nat Turner rebellion story, continue to crumble.

So, it’s no small feat that some dedicated local journalism and a serendipitous online fundraising campaign bought Weeksville a little more time. But what about the fire next time?

We let these sites disappear at our own collective peril.

“What we choose to preserve is really a reflection of what we care about,” says Justin Reid. He’s the director of African American Programs for Virginia Humanities and part of a dedicated group of advocates working to coordinate an effort to recognize slavery’s legacy in his state and beyond. “When our cultural landscape is devoid of these sites, we’re sending the message that this history is less important, and the people connected to these sites are less important,” he tells The Washington Post.

And that includes the millions of souls who employers now hope will feel welcome at work. Which leads to a bigger question: Is it possible to feel cared about in your office when you don’t exist in your country?

On Point

Can you “just do it” and be a mother?Nike is not alone in making a lot of noise about women's rights and gender equality in sport, but this opinion piece from Olympian Alysia Montaño asks if it’s all just for show. In sports like track and field, athletes make the majority of their income from sponsorship deals, she explains, but there are no provisions for people who become pregnant. She quotes fellow athlete Phoebe Wright, a former Nike sponsored runner. “Getting pregnant is the kiss of death for a female athlete. There’s no way I’d tell Nike if I were pregnant,” says Wright. Part of the problem, suggests Montaño, is that the four executives who negotiate contracts for these athlete's at Nike are all men. Women who don’t compete during or after childbirth risk losing their livelihoods and their insurance. Wright says, “Some people think women are racing pregnant for themselves. It sometimes is, but it’s also because there’s a baby to feed.”New York Times

A new report sheds new light on school segregation
While it’s been 65 years since the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education, the battle over school segregation is far from over. A new report from U.C.L.A. and Penn State has examined the state of schools today and finds that the percentage of intensely segregated schools - where less than 10% of the students are white - has increased from 6 to 18 percent between 1988 and 2016. The report also found that nationwide, 42 percent of Latino students and 40 percent of black students attend intensely segregated schools. The problem exists in the suburbs, too. The report warns that in “a heightened period of racial conflict in our public life,” increasing school segregation by race and class “are very high stakes trends threatening the future.” Click through for their suggested remedies, which include investing in diverse staff and programs that benefit students of color.
New York Times

Harvard removes faculty dean for defending Harvey Weinstein
Professor Ronald Sullivan, along with his lecturer wife, Stephanie Robinson, were the first African American faculty deans in the university’s history. But their tenure as residential deans of an undergraduate house comes to and end on June 30, as the university bows to pressure to remove them. Sullivan joined Harvey Weinstein’s defense team last January, which triggered protests from students saying that he was no longer qualified to serve as a mentor. The Hollywood producer goes on trial this September on rape and other charges.
New York Times

Talking about inequality, corporate wealth, and the mega-rich
The top ten percent of Americans now make more than nine times as much as the bottom ninety percent. How is this sustainable? This was one of the talking points of contention in a recent debate between Arthur Laffer, an economist and former adviser to President Trump, and Anand Giridharadas, author of Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World. Giridharadas argued that as corporate profits have gone up, wealth and power has been sequestered by the very rich via tax avoidance and related policies. Laffer, who was on the hot seat to defend his “trickle-down” policies of the Regan-era, says tax cuts benefitted everyone.  "It created an explosion of growth in income, jobs for the poor, the minorities, the disenfranchised.” Giridharadas warns that regular workers don’t think society works for them anymore. “[T]here's a tremendous new consensus emerging that we need new economic thinking," he said. Absolutely worth your time.
Al Jazeera


On Background

How white women participated in the slave trade
Popular culture often portrays white men as the primary drivers behind enslavement while their wives just sat by. But a new book by Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers, “They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South,” aims to tell a more complete story. The book uses historical documents and resources to suggest that white women actually exercised some power in the slave market: They participated in the buying and selling of slaves, disciplining them, and appearing in court to fight for their ownership. Jones-Rogers writes, “Slave-owning women not only witnessed the most brutal features of slavery, they took part in them, profited from them, and defended them.” It’s a perversion of feminist myth-making she says: White girls were given enslaved people at a young age to make sure they had economic independence in their married lives. Click through for a Q&A with the author.

How an algorithm views ‘love’, ‘life’, and ‘god’
Turkish born artist Memo Akten has created an enchanting and mesmerizing digital art piece that attempts to show how different algorithms understand broad human concepts like ‘everything’, ‘life’, ‘love’, ‘art’, ‘god’, and ‘nature.’ To make A Brief History of Almost Everything in Five Minutes, he first used a quick search on the photo-sharing site Flickr, then input that visual data into a “deep neural network” and let the algorithm do its thing. To make a soundtrack, he paired the images with audio that was generated by an algorithm analyzing sounds from spiritual rituals across the world. Akten says the piece “is intended for both introspection and self-reflection, as a mirror to ourselves, our own mind and how we make sense of what we see; and also as a window into the mind of the machine, as it tries to make sense of its observations and memories.”

"Hair Love" shatters stereotypes and celebrates the strength of black fatherhood
It’s also about black hair. Matthew A. Cherry, a former NFL player turned filmmaker and author, has recently released a new book entitled Hair Love. The picture book tells the story of a young African American girl and her relationship with her dedicated dad and his simple quest to do her hair. It fights the misconception that African American fathers aren't active in their children’s lives, says Cherry. But the book, beautifully illustrated by Vashti Harrison, doesn’t shy away from the simple joy of affirming and celebrating black hair. “It’s almost a third character in the book,” says Harrison. The themes fill an important void. Cherry says, “Anytime a young child can see themselves represented in any form of does a great job of normalizing that look.”
Matthew Cherry for Penguin Kids

Aidan Taylor assisted in the preparation of today's summaries.


History is not the past. It is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history.
—James Baldwin.