Overlooked No More: Elizabeth A. Gloucester, ‘Richest’ Black Woman and Ally of John Brown

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2022-01-11 18:12Z by Steven

Overlooked No More: Elizabeth A. Gloucester, ‘Richest’ Black Woman and Ally of John Brown

The New York Times

Steve Bell, Senior Staff Editor

Elizabeth Gloucester amassed a fortune from running more than 15 boardinghouses, including the Remsen House in Brooklyn, which drew an elite clientele.

Overlooked is a series of obituaries about remarkable people whose deaths, beginning in 1851, went unreported in The Times.

She ran boardinghouses whose lodgers included members of New York’s elite, raised money for an orphan asylum and was active in the abolitionists’ cause.

With a fortune built largely from operating boarding homes in Brooklyn and beyond, Elizabeth A. Gloucester was considered by many to be the richest black woman in America at her death at age 66 on Aug. 9, 1883.

Attending her funeral was “a congregation of people such as has seldom come together,” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported, made up of “richly dressed white ladies, fashionably attired gentlemen and a number of well-known colored people.”

Whether her fortune of about $300,000 (the equivalent of about $7 million today) actually made her the nation’s wealthiest black woman may be impossible to prove. Some white women were much richer; the financial whiz Hetty Green was then building a net worth that might rival or exceed that held by President Trump today.

But Gloucester was notable for more than just her money. She was linked — for a time dangerously so — to the antislavery firebrand John Brown, whom some blamed for leading the nation into the Civil War. She also led efforts to raise money for New York’s Colored Orphan Asylum, which would be set afire in the deadly draft riots of 1863. In her final year she even managed to land a cameo role in a high-society scandal that made headlines across the country…

Read the entire article here.

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Kinship of Clover, a Novel

Posted in Books, Media Archive, Novels, United States on 2021-11-11 22:17Z by Steven

Kinship of Clover, A Novel

Red Hen Press
272 pages
5.5 x 0.75 x 8.5 inches
Paperback ISBN: 9781597093811

Ellen Meeropol

He was nine when the vines first wrapped themselves around him and burrowed into his skin. Now a college botany major, Jeremy is desperately looking for a way to listen to the plants and stave off their extinction. But when the grip of the vines becomes too intense and Health Services starts asking questions, he flees to Brooklyn, where fate puts him face to face with a group of climate-justice activists who assure him they have a plan to save the planet, and his plants. As the group readies itself to make a big Earth Day splash, Jeremy soon realizes these eco-terrorists’ devotion to activism might have him–and those closest to him–tangled up in more trouble than he was prepared to face. With the help of a determined, differently abled flame from his childhood, Zoe; her deteriorating, once-rabble-rousing grandmother; and some shocking and illuminating revelations from the past, Jeremy must weigh completing his mission to save the plants against protecting the ones he loves, and confront the most critical question of all: how do you stay true to the people you care about while trying to change the world?

From the author of House Arrest and On Hurricane Island comes a thrilling new activist novel that begs the question, “How far is too far?”

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Re Jane: A Novel

Posted in Asian Diaspora, Books, Media Archive, Novels, United States on 2016-12-26 02:27Z by Steven

Re Jane: A Novel

Pamela Dorman Books (an imprint of Penguin Random House)
352 Pages
Hardcover ISBN: 978-0525427407
Paperback ISBN: 978-0143107941

Patricia Park


For Jane Re, half-Korean, half-American orphan, Flushing, Queens, is the place she’s been trying to escape from her whole life. Sardonic yet vulnerable, Jane toils, unappreciated, in her strict uncle’s grocery store and politely observes the traditional principle of nunchi (a combination of good manners, hierarchy, and obligation). Desperate for a new life, she’s thrilled to become the au pair for the Mazer-Farleys, two Brooklyn English professors and their adopted Chinese daughter. Inducted into the world of organic food co-ops and nineteenth–century novels, Jane is the recipient of Beth Mazer’s feminist lectures and Ed Farley’s very male attention. But when a family death interrupts Jane and Ed’s blossoming affair, she flies off to Seoul, leaving New York far behind.

Reconnecting with family, and struggling to learn the ways of modern-day Korea, Jane begins to wonder if Ed Farley is really the man for her. Jane returns to Queens, where she must find a balance between two cultures and accept who she really is. Re Jane is a bright, comic story of falling in love, finding strength, and living not just out of obligation to others, but for one’s self.

Journeying from Queens to Brooklyn to Seoul, and back, this is a fresh, contemporary retelling of Jane Eyre and a poignant Korean American debut.

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I Feel Guilty for Being Able to ‘Pass’ as a Person of Color

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Identity Development/Psychology, Judaism, Media Archive, Passing, Religion, United States on 2016-02-24 03:44Z by Steven

I Feel Guilty for Being Able to ‘Pass’ as a Person of Color


Elana Rabinowitz
Brooklyn, New York

He called me negra. Not mami or guapa, but what translates to “black woman.” I wasn’t offended. More confused. The thing is, I’m really just a white Jewish girl from Brooklyn. There, I said it.

Junot Diaz came to give a book talk and I was awestruck by the man who stood in front of me, waxing poetically in a black hoodie sweatshirt. Would that have been the time to correct a genius? Oh, I am sorry, Junot, I’m actually just another Jewish girl from Brooklyn. I balked.

My last name is Rabinowitz, and with a name like that, and a life like mine, I’ve had my share of jokes and stereotypes, but never anything I couldn’t handle. The more interesting paradox is that the hue of my skin and the positioning of my features has often made me appear more Hispanic than anything else. After a while you get used to it, and eventually, I even started to believe it. I lived and studied in Ecuador, Argentina, and Mexico. Each trip I returned home with more mannerisms and vocabulary inadvertently adding to my new identity…

Read the entire article here.

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Bombay To Brooklyn: New York’s Indian Jews Strive To Preserve Heritage

Posted in Articles, Arts, Asian Diaspora, History, Judaism, Media Archive, Religion, United States on 2015-12-20 00:27Z by Steven

Bombay To Brooklyn: New York’s Indian Jews Strive To Preserve Heritage

News India Times
New York, New York

Ela Dutt, Managing Editor

Siona Benjamin. Photo by Sami studio

Siona Benjamin, a greater New York City artist, hangs her “very typical” Indian Jewish Mezuzah, a prayer scroll in an engraved casing, on her door to remind her of her cultural roots. “Every time I walk through my main door, it reminds me of my Indian Jewish background,” especially so during Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights that began Dec. 6 and stretches over 8 days.

Originally from Bombay, Benjamin’s art is a blend of her background growing up in a Hindu and Muslim society, educated in Catholic and Zoroastrian schools, raised Jewish and now living in America. She is among the barely 100 or so Bene Israelis left in the Tri-state area, and the 350 or so around the U.S. according to Rabbi Romiel Daniel, rabbi and president of the Rego Park Jewish Center who since 1995, has tried to keep his flock together and raise awareness among the second and third generation Bene Israeli youth.

Some of the history of this small and unique community is captured in the exhibit “Baghdadis & the Bene Israel in Bollywood & Beyond” that opened in early November at the Center for Jewish History in New York City and will be on till April 1. Presented by the American Sephardi Federation, most of the items at the exhibit come from the Joyce and Kenneth Robbins collection, and highlight how Indian Jews, women in particular, were leaders in Bollywood and beyond at a time when custom and tradition kept many other Indian women out of Bollywood.

In exploring the largely forgotten history of the Bene Israel of India, the exhibition showcases the careers of Pramila (Esther Victoria Abraham), (Florence Ezekiel) Nadira, Sulochana (Ruby Myers), Abraham and Rachel Sofaer, Ezra Mir, RJ Minney, and Joseph David Penkar, each of whom played multiple roles in front of and behind-the-scenes in Bollywood…

Read the entire article here.

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Something Old, Something New

Posted in Arts, Audio, Autobiography, Biography, History, Media Archive, Religion, Slavery, United Kingdom, United States on 2015-10-06 15:20Z by Steven

Something Old, Something New

BBC Radio 4

Johny Pitts, Host

Peter Meanwell, Producer

Recorded & mixed! Finished @BBCRadio4 (Engineer Steve Hellier with Johny Pitts) Source: Peter Meanwell

From Sheffield to South Carolina, Johny Pitts explores alternative Black British identity.

What happens when your Dad’s an African-American soul star [Richie Pitts] and your Mum’s a music-loving girl from working class Sheffield? Are your roots on the terraces at a Sheffield United match, or in the stylings of a Spike Lee film? For writer and photographer Johny Pitts, whose parents met in the heyday of Northern Soul, on the dance floor of the legendary King Mojo club, how he navigates his black roots has always been an issue. Not being directly connected to the Caribbean or West African diaspora culture, all he was told at school was that his ancestors were slaves, so for BBC Radio 4, he heads off to the USA, to trace his father’s musical migration, and tell an alternative story of Black British identity.

From Pitsmore in Sheffield, to Bedford Stuyvesant in New York, and all the way down to South Carolina, where his grandmother picked cotton, Johny Pitts heads off on a journey of self-discovery. On the way he meets author Caryl Phillips, Kadija, a half sister he never knew, and historian Bernard Powers. He visits the Concorde Baptist Church in Brooklyn, New York, and the Bush River Missionary Baptist Church, in Newberry, South Carolina. He tracks down a whole host of long-lost cousins, and talks to Pulitzer winning writer Isabel Wilkerson. On the way he shines a light on the shadows of his ancestry, and finds stories and culture that deliver him to a new understanding of his own mixed race identity and history.

Listen to the story here.

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Accessing the Crossing Borders, Bridging Generations Oral History Collection through the Digital Humanities

Posted in Articles, Audio, Autobiography, History, Media Archive, United States on 2015-03-25 13:55Z by Steven

Accessing the Crossing Borders, Bridging Generations Oral History Collection through the Digital Humanities

Brooklyn Historical Society Blog
Brooklyn Historical Society
Brooklyn, New York

Julia Lipkins

I’m pleased to announce that the Crossing Borders, Bridging Generations (CBBG) oral history collection is now open for research! From 2011 to 2014, a team of oral historians sponsored by BHS conducted interviews with mixed-heritage people and families in Brooklyn. CBBG narrators and interviewers explored the themes of cultural hybridity, race, ethnicity and identity formation in the United States. The complete collection of over 100 oral history interviews is available for use in the Othmer Library and a portion of the contents are accessible online at the CBBG website.

An exciting feature of the CBBG website is a new digital humanities application known as OHMS, or the Oral History Metadata Synchronizer. OHMS, developed by oral history wunderkind Doug Boyd and his team at the University of Kentucky Libraries, tackles an inherent challenge in oral history archives, i.e. accessing the oral history via the recording manifestation vs. transcript manifestation. While the audio recording provides the richness and context of the narrator’s voice, the transcript offers researchers the capacity to conduct keyword searches throughout the interview. OHMS solves this dilemma by marrying the audio recording to the transcript, thereby making both manifestations of the interview searchable…

For more information, click here.

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Brooklyn is: Feature of the Week [Beth Consetta Rubel]

Posted in Articles, Arts, Identity Development/Psychology, Interviews, Media Archive, United States on 2015-02-03 03:18Z by Steven

Brooklyn is: Feature of the Week [Beth Consetta Rubel]

Brooklyn Artistry
Brooklyn, New York

The latest and greatest untouched talent of the borough.

Being a biracial woman from the South we wanted to know what it was like for Beth Consetta Rubel as an artist. So many things can be triggering for an artists like her. You’d think she would have to battle for both sides, especially now when it seems like racial tension is at an all time high. We spoke with Consetta, one of the illest portraiture painters today, about her experience. Talk about in your face! Beth Consetta Rubel is not the one to hold back especially through her work. Her new series Paper Bag Test shows her pride in all of it’s grace.

If you haven’t already heard about her here’s a little something you should know, her name is Beth Consetta Rubel. She’s an Austin based visual artist. Raised in the South, Rubel draws upon her personal narrative and mixed-race ancestry to create work deeply rooted in her ethnic heritage. Focusing on painting and drawing in college, she received her BFA from the University of Texas San Antonio. Her recent “Paper Bag Test Series” references historical tests used to ascertain race based on phenotype, addressing contentious political and social issues on race, cultural identity, and class struggle…

Read the entire interview here.

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A Look at Looking Different

Posted in Articles, History, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2014-12-03 15:59Z by Steven

A Look at Looking Different

The New York Times

Felicia R. Lee

‘Crossing Borders,’ at the Brooklyn Historical Society

Alexander David grew up with a Chinese mother and a white Jewish father in the liberal Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn. He attended the predominantly Asian elite Stuyvesant High School. He was comfortable in his skin in both places, but in a world of tribes, the Asian kids considered him white, and the white ones considered him Asian.

“We’re not like a racially blind kind of society,” Mr. David said in an interview recently.

Mr. David’s experience is now part of an unusual project by the Brooklyn Historical Society called “Crossing Borders, Bridging Generations,” which has as its centerpiece a collection of more than 100 oral histories of people who identify themselves as being of mixed heritage, whether through race, ethnicity, religion or nationality.

Three years in the making, “Crossing Bridges” will be completed in mid-January and is uncommon in subject and scope for a historical society, said Annie Valk, vice president of the Oral History Association. It comes with public programs, a school curriculum and an interactive website

…About 30 of the oral histories are now gathered on the website, which includes photographs, audio clips, transcripts and scholarly articles. The full oral history collection will be available next year at the historical society’s Othmer Library, the repository of more than 1,200 oral history narratives on a variety of topics. In February, educators will also be offered a curriculum for grades six through 12.

All the oral history subjects were volunteers who live or work in Brooklyn, or did so in the past. They were a diverse flock, including biracial lesbian couples and Jewish couples from different European countries. Their stories reflect changes from the time when mixed marriage often meant spouses of different religions to a time when it means gay or interracial marriage, or both, said Sady Sullivan, the former director of oral history at the historical society. Ms. Sullivan, who conceived the project, has been named the curator of oral history at Columbia’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

“The idea I get really excited about is that this is for the future,” Ms. Sullivan said. “What will it be like to listen to stories about the social construction of race in 150 years?”…

…Championing multiracial families — including the struggle for the right to check more than one census box for race — has also had detractors. Some argue that multiracial identity only increases racial stratification. Others have argued that discussions about multiracial identity too often fail to examine how race is related to wealth and power.

Nitasha Tamar Sharma, an associate professor of African-American studies and Asian-American studies at Northwestern, wondered how the oral histories would be framed. “Is it going to be used only as a celebration?” asked Professor Sharma, who writes about and researches issues of racial identity…

Read the entire article here.

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On the Trail of Brooklyn’s Underground Railroad

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Religion, Slavery, United States on 2014-08-22 20:05Z by Steven

On the Trail of Brooklyn’s Underground Railroad

The New York Times

John Strausbaugh

LAST month the City of New York gave Duffield Street in downtown Brooklyn an alternate name: Abolitionist Place. It’s an acknowledgment that long before Brooklyn was veined with subway lines, it was a hub of the Underground Railroad: the network of sympathizers and safe houses throughout the North that helped as many as 100,000 slaves flee the South before the Civil War.

With its extensive waterfront, its relatively large population of African-American freemen — slavery ended in New York in 1827 — and its many antislavery churches and activists, Brooklyn was an important nexus on the “freedom trail.” Some runaways stayed and risked being captured and returned to their owners, but most traveled on to the greater safety of Canada.

Because aiding fugitives from the South remained illegal even after New York abolished slavery — and because there was plenty of pro-slavery sentiment among Brooklyn merchants who did business with the South — Underground Railroad activities were clandestine and frequently recorded only in stories passed down within families. Corroborating documentation is scarce.

Still, it’s possible to follow some likely freedom routes through Brooklyn. You begin in Brooklyn Heights, where the Promenade offers sweeping views of the East River waterfront. In the decades before the Civil War, this waterfront bristled with the masts of sailing ships. Many were cargo vessels bringing cotton and other goods from the South. Sometimes they brought secret passengers: slaves fleeing to freedom. The fugitives slipped ashore and filtered into Brooklyn, where they were hidden and helped along on their journeys. Acquiring its railroad imagery by the 1830s, this antislavery network had its own “stationmasters” and “conductors,” who helped organize runaways’ passages north, and its own “stations” and “depots,” where they hid. Several Brooklyn churches participated. Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims, a few blocks from the Promenade on Orange Street, between Hicks and Henry Streets, was called its “Grand Central Depot.”…

[Henry Ward] Beecher’s most successful tactic for arousing what he called “a panic of sympathy” for slaves was to stage mock slave auctions in the church, with the congregation bidding furiously to buy the captives’ freedom. The 1914 bronze statues of Beecher and two girls in the church’s courtyard by Gutzon Borglum, who later sculptured Mount Rushmore, depicts the first such auction, in 1848.

The most famous auction occurred in 1860, when Beecher urged his congregation to buy the freedom of a pretty 9-year-old from Washington, Sally Maria Diggs, called Pinky for her light complexion.

“After the service he called her to the platform and told the congregation her story,” Ms. Rosebrooks said. “He said, ‘No child should be in slavery, let alone a child like this.’ I’m sure he played on this. She could be your niece. She could be your sister. Your next door neighbor. So they passed the collection plate and raised $900, which is about $10,000 in today’s dollars.”

Congregants gave jewelry as well as cash. In a theatrical flourish Beecher fetched a ring from the collection plate, slipped it onto Pinky’s finger and declared, “With this ring, I thee wed to freedom.”

In 1927 when Plymouth Church celebrated the 80th anniversary of Beecher’s first sermon there, one who attended was Mrs. James Hunt, a stately woman of 76. She was Pinky and had grown up to marry a lawyer in Washington. According to Plymouth Church lore, she brought the ring with her; Ms. Rosebrooks showed me a simple gold band set with a small amethyst. (A Brooklyn Eagle article from 1927, however, quotes Mrs. Hunt as saying the ring had been lost.)…

Read the entire article here.

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