Voices of Crown Heights

A riot is the language of the unheard.
- Martin Luther King, Jr.

The essential art of the oral historian is the art of listening.
- Alessandro Portelli

Crown Heights West Indian Day Parade     Crown Heights 2

In 2016, Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS) launched Voices of Crown Heights, a multi-year oral history project on the history and future of Crown Heights, a neighborhood that has taken on continued national significance in conversations on ethnic relations, racial justice, and urban renewal.

Coinciding with the twenty-fifth anniversary of the August 1991 Crown Heights riot, Voices of Crown Heights is a deeper listen into Crown Heights’s history. Deep listening means grappling with uncomfortable stories, poignant observations, and opinions one might not agree with. It also means broadening the scope of our historical inquiry into Crown Heights beyond that of the riot, which represents only one episode in the multi-storied past of the neighborhood.

Through oral history interviews, a web-based listening portal and curated digital exhibit, listening stations based at BHS and in Crown Heights, podcasts, public conversations and listening sessions, Voices of Crown Heights seeks to immerse diverse audiences in unheard voices of the past and present that challenge any singular linear narrative of Crown Heights’s history.

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Listening to the Unheard
Voices of Crown Heights acknowledges and affirms Crown Heights residents' voices, and their power to tell their own stories.

Over twenty years ago, Crown Heights residents shared their memories of the neighborhood and their thoughts about its future in oral history interviews collected by BHS. As part of Voices of Crown Heights, the public will get to listen to these recordings for the very first time. Here is just a sample of the diversity of stories they contain:

     Second Street in Crown Heights

New Oral Histories

In addition to listening to existing oral histories, BHS will be actively collecting new oral histories in the next two years, to be made available to the public over time.

At a time of heightened civic activity—driven in part by dynamic grassroots movements focused on race relations, policing, housing, and immigration—listening has become more critical than ever to American life. And on these national issues, the voices of Crown Heights have a lot to say. As we embark on this listening tour through Crown Heights past and present, what will the voices of Crown Heights have to tell us today?

Voices of Crown Heights had its first public program on August 10, 2016, hosted by Brooklyn Historical Society in partnership with Weeksville Heritage Center and Brooklyn Movement Center. Featuring a performance, oral history presentation, and a panel discussion moderated by Inside City Hall host and CNN contributor Errol Louis, the three-part program explored the multi-storied past of the neighborhood and the issues that continue to shape the lives of its residents today.

For more information about Voices of Crown Heights, email oralhistory@brooklynhistory.org.

Franklin Ave in Crown Heights   Basketball in Crown Heights
All images Copyright © 2015 Alicia Atterberry. See all her beautiful images of Crown Heights on her website Crown Heights in Color.

Voices of Crown Heights is made possible through the generous support of the New York Community Trust, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, and the Nissan Foundation.

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