Weeksville

New York City’s First Black Principal Sarah Tompkins Garnet Began Her Career in Williamsburg

 

“Colored School #3” where Sarah Tompkins Garnet began. It still survives at 270 Union Avenue

March is Women’s History Month when we celebrate the achievements of North Brooklyn’s greatest women. Sarah Tompkins Garnet was not only the first black woman to serve as a principal in New York City, but she was also a fighter for women’s suffrage and for racial equality. She began her illustrious career locally in what was named “Colored School #3” right here in Williamsburg.

Sarah was born in the free black community of Weeksville in Bedford Stuyvesant, some buildings of which have survived and today form the basis of the Weeksville museum, a fascinating relic of Brooklyn’s 19th-century history. Her father, Sylvanus Smith, was one of Weeksville’s founders and one of the very few black Americans who were able to cast a vote in 1820 when New York State still had slavery.

African-Americans were only allowed to vote if they owned $250 worth of property- no small sum in 1820, but Sarah’s father was rich enough to meet the qualification. Her father was a strong advocate of black voting rights and Tompkins Garnet would continue his legacy, fighting against racial discrimination and for expanded voting rights. He also stressed that his daughters get educated. Garnet’s sister Susan McKinney Steward became the first black woman in New York State to earn a medical degree, and only the third in the United States. Continue reading

Category: (Not)Forgotten Greenpoint, Culture, Historical Greenpoint | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 0 Comments

The 5th of July: Abolitionist Williamsburg

African School WIlliamsburg
The African School in Williamsburg via the Brooklyn Historical Society

The Weeksville Heritage Center, a multidisciplinary museum dedicated to preserving the history of Weeksville, a self-supporting 19th century free black community in what is now Crown Heights, has a “5th of July Resource Center for Self-Determination and Freedom.”

This 5th of July, I’d like to honor that project by taking a look at Abolitionist Williamsburg. In the 1840s and 1850s, Williamsburg was home to Brooklyn’s second largest African American community, and was a hotbed of the Abolitionist movement.  Continue reading

Category: Community, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments