Updated: Mar 31, 2022
One year ago, Executive Director Aleah Bacquie Vaughn stood in the rotunda of New York City Hall to bear witness as the city’s Landmarks and Preservation Commission formally conferred historic landmark status on 227 Abolitionist Place (formerly 227 Duffield Street), a site on the Underground Railroad. CJI’s offices are located just a few steps away.
Until that moment, this piece of Black Liberation history was in jeopardy of being condemned and demolished under eminent domain laws as part of the relentless gentrification of downtown Brooklyn. Aleah was accompanied by dozens of activists, including children, who helped protest the city’s plans to destroy this living monument to the successful fight for abolition and the liberation of enslaved people.
Aleah was also joined by activists Shawné Lee, daughter of the late “Mama” Joy Chatel, who originally took on this seemingly impossible struggle almost three decades ago, historian Raul Rothblatt, and many others who helped apply pressure and media scrutiny to this fight, along with Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife, Chirlane McCray, who announced the landmark decision.
The landmark is also known as the Truesdell House for its original owners, Harriet and Thomas Lee Truesdell, who purchased the building in 1850, the same year the Fugitive Slave Act was passed. The Truesdells were radical anti-slavery activists who, along with other Abolitionists operating in Brooklyn, risked their lives to host meetings in 227 and offer their homes as waystations on the Underground Railroad. A network of tunnels connecting private homes to a church remain as evidence of their ingenuity and bravery.
Next steps for the community are the preservation and renovation of this landmark building into a museum and community center, starting with the creation of a new independent nonprofit called Friends of Abolitionist Place.