The abolition of slavery and the memory of resistance to achieve equal rights for black people in New York rests firmly on the participation of Bridge Street African Wesleyan Methodist Episcopal Church members. Freedom rests firmly on their shoulders. Bridge Street AWME became a refuge for the black community after the New York City Draft Riots, and its members were initiators of an African Free School. Welcoming the likes of abolitionist, armed scout and spy, and one of the most successful leaders on the Underground Railroad Harriet Tubman, abolitionist and writer Frederick Douglas, historian and activist William Wells Brown, and abolitionist Theodore Tilton to speak post-Emancipation, Bridge Street AWME served as a pillar of Black Brooklyn. The church’s original location in Downtown Brooklyn “is designated as a New York City historical landmark and yet, there is a barely visible unofficial marker outside the building that truly commemorates the historic feats of the black community. The building is now named for a Polytechnic alumni who paid for its restoration,” mirroring a history of larger commemorative works narrating the stories of those who have money, and have power, and have European ancestry.
While walking towards this church, two women walked towards me. The taller one with a cane gets a little close after she steps out of the street and asks, “You know ‘bout this church?” I say confidently, “I sure do!” Unconvinced, she leans a little closer, turns up her head, and asks “What about it?,” ready to put me in my place if I got the answer wrong. I spewed off all I remembered about the church—a critical player in the abolition of slavery, a place of community for Black Brooklyn, and a station on the Underground Railroad. At the last point, she looked towards the woman who walked across the street with her, a woman I presume she knew well from the church, with a look and silent gesture that either meant “I told you so!” or “This girl knows her stuff.”
Used with Permission: Brooklyn Public Library—Brooklyn Collection