Several weeks ago I attended the Roy Ayers concert at SummerStage (here’s the live performance) in Central Park. It was a gorgeous evening, with a crowd that probably represented six of the seven continents. When Ayers played Harry Whitaker‘s song, We Live in Brooklyn, Baby (originally recorded on Ayers’ 1971 album, He’s Coming), everyone knew it. The entire audience sang in unison “We live in Brooklyn, baby. We’re trying to make it, baby. We wanna make it, baby. We’re gonna make it, baby.” (link to the 1971 version)
It was an amazing feeling when we–people from Brooklyn, Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, Staten Island…people from what looked to be everywhere and beyond–shared with each other our vision of Brooklyn. You could feel it too. Everyone who sang that song knew Brooklyn–had a connection to it in their own way. It started me thinking about the idea of Brooklyn. How has people’s ideas of what Brooklyn is and what it represents changed over the years? Who influenced/is influencing the idea of what Brooklyn is? Who is defining it?
So far, while working on the CLIR project here at BHS, I’ve come across many different ideas of what Brooklyn is and how it should be remembered. Our archival, photography, oral history, and map collections are filled with people’s ideas of Brooklyn. Further, I’m not the only one thinking about what and who makes Brooklyn, Brooklyn. Currently at BHS, we have an excellent exhibit that explores the idea of Brooklyn–Inventing Brooklyn: People, Places, Progress. The March/April 2011 issue of City Limits Magazine also explored the idea of Brooklyn, or rather how we define Brooklyn. And last night, at the Skylight Gallery located within Restoration Plaza, a new exhibit opened, Crown Heights Gold: Examining Race Relations and Healing in Crown Heights, that explores various views of one neighborhood in Brooklyn and one event that took place there, the Crown Height Riots of 1991. (Note: BHS is also hosting an event with the curator of Crown Heights Gold, Dexter Wimberly, and two of the artists from the exhibit on August 11, 2011; for more on Crown Heights, see BHS’s oral history collection: Crown Heights Oral History-Listen To This)
If you too are interested in exploring, examining, and defining the past, present, and future of Brooklyn, you can do your own research at BHS in the Othmer Library (Wed. through Fri. 1-5pm or by appointment). In the meantime, here are some examples of how Brooklyn is represented in our collections.
In the late 1960s/early 1970s Newsweek photojournalist/photographer Bernard Gotfryd shot these photographs of East New York, Crown Heights, and Fort Greene.
Baseball seems to be in the blood of Brooklynites. Our collections definitely support this.
Actor, professional athlete, and Brooklyn son Chuck Connors (1921-1991) played baseball for the Bay Ridge Celtics before he went on to play for the Montreal Royals (the Dodgers minor league affiliate team at the time), the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Los Angeles Angels (then still a farm team), and the Chicago Cubs. (Oh yeah, he also played professional basketball for the Boston Celtics the first year the team was established in 1946…all before he went on to have a 40 year career as an actor).
Ralph Irving Lloyd (1865-1969) was a Brooklyn ophthalmologist (actually, quite renowned in the field) and, lucky for us, a really good amateur photographer who took this early photograph of Brooklyn baseball.
The BHS archival collections contain many great family collections that tell of Brooklyn from each family’s individual and unique perspective. The Mulford family lived in the Prospect-Lefferts Gardens neighborhood at 240 Hawthorne Street (the house is still there). Their family photograph collection dates from circa 1880 to 1930 and, of course, includes a baseball photo or two or three.
You can view these photographs and many others via our image database in the library. Some photographs are available online (with more to come), and there is the rest of our approximately 2000 linear feet of archival collections to research. Come, explore, research, examine, define…”cause we live in Brooklyn, baby.”