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Brooklyn Abolitionist Home Gains Historic Landmark Status After Decades-Long Battle

Issue 261

Victory follows years of struggle to preserve the house at 227 Duffield Street — now 227 Abolitionist Place.

Friends of Abolitionist Place Feb 3

For previous coverage of the struggle to preserve 227 Duffield Place, click here. 

After years of struggle led by Brooklyn grassroots organizers and activists, on Tuesday Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the Landmarks and Preservation Commission of New York City would confer historic landmark status on the “Truesdell House” at 227 Duffield Street in Downtown Brooklyn.

The contemporary fight to save the house began with “Mama” Joy Chatel, whose family called the building home during the late 20th century. Mama Joy’s house offered an oasis of Afrocentric culture.

“The landmarking of 227 Duffield Street is a declaration that Black History Matters,” said Aleah Bacquie Vaughn, a founding member of Friends of Abolitionist Place and Executive Director of the CJI Fund. “It is poetic that we will celebrate this second day of Black History Month by recognizing the deep history of slavery and liberation in our own communities, and there is no place that captures that history better than the Truesdell House.”

The house at 227 Duffield St – which has been renamed 227 Abolitionist Place – was home to Harriet and Thomas Lee Truesdell in the 1850s. The Truesdells were radical anti-slavery activists and hosted other prominent abolitionists in their home. Historians believe that the building is a hotbed of potential research about the Underground Railroad, as many families on and around Abolitionist Place were active in helping to liberate enslaved people.

The contemporary fight to save the home began with “Mama” Joy Chatel, whose family called the building home during the late 20th century. Mama Joy’s house offered an oasis of Afrocentric culture. “Saving this house is a testament to the struggle that my mom led,” says Shawné Lee, Joy’s daughter and a founding member of Friends of Abolitionist Place. “Mom always wanted the building to become a community-controlled cultural center where Black people can celebrate our history and culture. Today we are one step closer to that dream, and we hope that today’s events open the floodgates for the recognition of other Black landmarks.

Friends of Abolitionist Place hopes to turn the building into the Heritage Center at 227 Abolitionist Place, which would teach visitors about the complex history of abolitionist movements in Brooklyn through interactive learning experiences and artist residencies. “The story of Brooklyn since the 1980s is one where gentrification erases the work and contributions of Black people,” says Imani Henry, founder of Equality for Flatbush and a founding member of Friends of Abolitionist Place. “Saving this building reminds us that the struggle to achieve Black liberation continues today.”

Friends of Abolitionist Place, a newly formed, community-based organization, is committed to the preservation of Black history. 

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