Joan Maynard: Dies at 77; Preserved a Black Settlement

Historians in the News

Joan Maynard, who shepherded the preservation of the remnants of Weeksville, a once-thriving 19th-century community of free blacks in Brooklyn that had faded from maps and memory, died on Sunday at her home in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. She was 77.

Her death was confirmed by Pamela Green, her successor as executive director of the Society for the Preservation of Weeksville and Bedford-Stuyvesant History.

The story of Weeksville's discovery and preservation sounds like a fairy tale with Ms. Maynard as its guardian angel. The settlement began in the 1830's when escaped slaves and free blacks bought property there. It quickly became a thriving community with schools, churches, an orphanage and one of the nation's first black newspapers, The Freedman's Torchlight.

Among the 19th-century residents of Weeksville was Susan McKinney Steward, who in 1870 became the first female African-American physician in New York State.

But by 1968, few remembered Weeksville, much less where it had been. A historian leading a workshop at Pratt Institute, James Hurley, had seen references to the community in archives, but in many walks he had found no sign of it.

Then, Joe Haynes, a volunteer pilot, took Mr. Hurley up in his plane to make an aerial photograph. It showed four wood-frame cottages hidden in an alley once called Hunterfly Road.

The same year, Ms. Maynard became a founding member of the Weeksville Society and served as president from 1972 until 1974, when she became executive director.

In 1969, college students and students from a nearby public school did an archaeological dig nearby and found artifacts that included a slave's shackles. The following year, a busload of schoolchildren, accompanied by experts, went to the city Landmarks Preservation Commission to ask that Weeksville be given landmark status.

Read entire article at NYT

comments powered by Disqus