Weeksville residents set a precedent of self-determination that is still visible at Brooklyn restaurants.
SOMETIMES, WE CAN ONLY UNDERSTAND history from above. That, anyway, seemed to be the outlook of historian James Hurley and pilot Joseph Hays when, in 1968, they flew a plane over Brooklyn. They were looking for the remnants of a village founded 130 years earlier, the free Black community of Weeksville.
Established by abolitionists and Black landowners in the 1830s, with a peak population of 500 residents, Weeksville was one of the largest free African-American communities of the 1800s. It was founded just a few years after New York State abolished slavery, in 1827, and named after an early Black landowner, James Weeks. Weeksville residents ran their own schools and printed their own newspaper, The Freedman’s Torchlight; with a 93 percent literacy rate, they were more educated than white Americans of the time.