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The Voice of the Black Community

Arts and Entertainment

Brooklyn’s finest lights way to present via Levine Museum
Exhibit tells neighborhood’s story
 
Published Friday, November 15, 2019 11:28 pm
by Ashley Mahoney | The Charlotte Post

ROBINSON SPANGLER CAROLINA ROOM
Brooklyn entrepreneur J.T. Samuel and community business peers in the formerly all-black neighborhood in Second Ward. A Levine Museum of the New South exhibit tells Brooklyn’s story in “Brooklyn: Once a City Within A City.”

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Levine Museum of the New South is going to Brooklyn’s past to understand Charlotte’s present.


The latest exhibit, “Brooklyn: Once a City within a City” opens Nov. 15, replacing the long-standing “K(NO)W Justice, K(NO)W Peace.” It is the sixth installment in their #HomeCLT series. Mobile devices and tablets can access an augmented reality app, which UNC Charlotte’s School of Arts and Architecture Professor Ming-Chun Lee developed, to enhance the exhibit experience.  

“The story of Brooklyn tells us so much about the Charlotte that was, explains so much about Charlotte today, and asks us to think about the future we’re creating for Charlotte,” Levine Museum President and CEO Kathryn Hill said in a statement.

Enter Second Ward, not as you see it now, but over a century ago.

“We start with the origins of Brooklyn from its inception in the early 1890s to its demise in the 1960s,” museum staff historian Willie Griffin said. “In telling that story, we talk a little bit about how what was Brooklyn was once known as Log Town.”


Griffin explained that during the late 19th century, multiple communities were adopting the name Brooklyn, because of what was transpiring in New York.

“When it became known as Brooklyn around the 1890s, there was discussion in New York about Brooklyn being brought in as a borough as New York,” Griffin said. “What we found in our research was there were a lot of communities that were paying attention to what was going on in New York. New York was the center of the world at the time. There are a number of smaller communities in the South that chose the name Brooklyn. There was a neighborhood in Wilmington, North Carolina that was known as Brooklyn.”

While several areas across the state took on the name, Charlotte’s Brooklyn represented the largest black community in both Carolinas.

“There were other communities in North Carolina known as Brooklyn, but Charlotte’s neighborhood that became known as Brooklyn holds the distinction of becoming the largest black community in North or South Carolina, which is pretty big,” Griffin said. “We tell how this community formed, and how Second Ward basically overtook Third Ward as the center of the black community, because African Americans begin to make a home for themselves in both wards. Third Ward was initially anchored by Good Samaritan Hospital [currently Bank of America Stadium], but then with the growth of the business district in Second Ward—Brevard Street, where you had the AME Zion Publishing House, the Afro American Mutual Insurance Company, by the 1920s you had the Mecklenburg Investment Company, and a number of churches, and theaters. We try to tell the story of how it became a community, and why folks called it a community.”


Brooklyn—based in Second Ward, saw the opening of the city’s first high school for African American students. Second Ward High School opened in 1923, but closed in 1969 during the city’s urban renewal initiative.  


“Brooklyn was a point of contention for a number of residents in the 1950s and 1960s,” Griffin said. “Many African Americans who lived there still feel that the city wronged them by designating Brooklyn as a place to be raised to clear urban blight. Many of these residents were supposedly promised that they could return to Brooklyn. It’s a very complicated narrative.”


Griffin noted interviewing people connected to Brooklyn as key to the project.


“We tried to find people who would tell a diverse story,” Griffin said. “We couldn’t interview everyone, but I think we found about 10 people who tell various stories—a mixture of men and women, business owners and just plain residents.”

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