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Listen to This: Crown Heights Oral History collection

Call Number



2010, inclusive


Brooklyn Historical Society (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
Crow Hill Community Association (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
Kelly, Alexandra
Paul Robeson High School (Brooklyn, N.Y.)


15.9 Gigabytes in 187 files, total running time: 21 hours, 17 minutes, 51 seconds; .21 linear feet in 1 document box

Language of Materials

English .


This collection of forty-three oral history interviews with Brooklyn's Crown Heights neighborhood residents was donated to the Brooklyn Historical Society by project director Alexandra Kelly. The interviews were conducted in 2010 with the help of the Crow Hill Community Association and five students from Paul Robeson High School who came to the project through the Brooklyn College Community Partnership (BCCP). Included are perspectives from community activists, artists, business owners, retirees and young people. Many are native to the New York metropolitan area. Several others have come from other states, as well as Caribbean nations and Central American countries. Narrators discuss the history of Crown Heights, their childhood and schooling, the changing landscape and ethnic makeup of the community over decades, their parenting and careers, volunteerism and activism, and mentoring or advising young people.

Biographical / Historical

History of Crown Heights: From the late nineteenth century up to the World War I era, the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights was known for being an upper and upper middle class residential enclave. Russian Jews, Irish, and Italians moved there as a part of the boom in immigration from 1880 to 1940. Smaller migrations to Crown Heights occurred as well, with Caribbean migrants among these. Seeing an opportunity for first-time home ownership, some of Harlem's African American residents moved to the neighborhood in the 1930s. A great wave of Caribbean immigration followed in the 1960s and 1970s. With many White residents removing to the suburbs, those immigrants along with Caribbean Americans and African Americans invested and lived in the majority of residences from the 1960s to the 1990s. The Lubavitcher Hasidim, a Judaic movement that established its headquarters in Crown Heights in 1940, accounted for about eight percent of the population, according to 1990s figures. In 1991, long simmering tensions between members of the Lubavitcher and Black communities, and two fatalities, propelled the neighborhood into three days of unrest and violence. Encapsulated by the news media as the "Crown Heights Riot," the community took years to heal. Another demographic shift began as the 1990s ended; and - by the time these interviews had been recorded in 2010 - a new confluence of amenities, development, and rising property values was affecting the diverse face of the roughly 130,000 residents.

Listen to This: Crown Heights Oral History: In January 2010, StoryCorps alum and Crown Heights resident Alex Kelly met with five interns from Paul Robeson High School as placed by the Brooklyn College Community Partnership. Narrators were gathered primarily through contact with the Crow Hill Community Association and recorded in their homes or at LaunchPad, a community center on Franklin Avenue in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights. New York City Grassroots Media Coalition sponsored the project. A blog tracking the progress of the oral histories was created by the interviewers:


Listen to This: Crown Heights Oral History was kept in the original order, arranged alphabetically by the narrator's last name.

Scope and Contents

Listen to This: Crown Heights Oral History includes interview audio and summaries created and collected within the context of a community project undertaken by project director Alex Kelly and Paul J. Robeson High School interns Treverlyn Dehaarte, Ansie Montilus, Monica Parfait, Quanaisha Phillips and Floyya Richardson. These interviewers recorded conversations with forty-three narrators. In addition to the educational experience for the student interns, the oral histories were conducted as life history and community anthropology interviews. Topics of discussion include family and parenting, migration, cultural and racial relations, occupations and business, education and religion, housing and gentrification, civil unrest and reconciliation, and community activism.

Conditions Governing Access

Access to the interviews is available onsite at the Brooklyn Historical Society's Othmer Library and, in some instances, online on the Oral History Portal. Original summaries and biographic materials are accessible at the Othmer Library.

Conditions Governing Use

Use of the oral histories other than for private study, scholarship, or research requires the permission of BHS. Please see the Oral History Note for guidelines on using Brooklyn Historical Society's oral history collections. For assistance, contact

Preferred Citation

[Narrator Last name, First name], Oral history interview conducted by [Interviewer First name Last name], [Month day, YYYY], Listen to This: Crown Heights Oral History collection, [Object ID]; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Alex Kelly donated copies of the oral history recordings and summaries to Brooklyn Historical Society in October 2010.

Related Materials

In addition to this collection, Brooklyn Historical Society has oral history collections and other records related to the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn.

- The Crown Heights History Project collection includes thirty-three interviews conducted from 1993 to 1994. (1994.006)

- The West Indian Carnival Documentation Project Records includes thirty-four interviews dating from 1994 to 1995. (2010.019) - Also narrator Constance Lesold, the community activist recorded for this collection, is documented in the Eastern Parkway Coalition records, 1952-2007. (2007.016)

- 959 Park Place Tenants Association records (1978.009)

For more information on these collections please visit our online finding aid portal.


Goldschmidt, Henry. Race and Religion Among the Chosen Peoples of Crown Heights New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2006.
Gregor, Alison. "Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Where Stoop Life Still Thrives." New York Times. (New York, NY), June 17, 2015.
Shapiro, Edward S. Crown Heights: Blacks, Jews, and the 1991 Brooklyn Riot Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 2006.

Oral History note

Oral history interviews are intimate conversations between people, all of whom have generously agreed to share these recordings with the Brooklyn Historical Society archives and with researchers. Please listen in the spirit with which these were shared. Researchers will understand that:

1. The Brooklyn Historical Society abides by the General Principles & Best Practices for Oral History as agreed upon by the Oral History Association (2009) and expects that use of this material will be done with respect for these professional ethics.

2. Every oral history relies on the memories, views and opinions of the narrator. Because of the personal nature of oral history, listeners may find some viewpoints or language of the recorded participants to be objectionable. In keeping with its mission of preservation and unfettered access whenever possible, BHS presents these views as recorded.

3. The audio recording should be considered the primary source for each interview. It may contain natural false starts, verbal stumbles, misspeaks, repetitions that are common in conversation.

4. Unless these verbal patterns are germane to your scholarly work, when quoting from this material researchers are encouraged to correct the grammar and make other modifications maintaining the flavor of the narrator's speech while editing the material for the standards of print.

Collection processed by

Brett Dion

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-21 11:20:16 +0000.
Using Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language: Finding aid written in English

Processing Information

Collection processed to the item level. Due to privacy concerns, the specific dates of birth of all narrators or other named individuals were redacted from the audio recordings. Recordings were compressed for streaming, uploaded and indexed by BHS, 2015-2016.


Brooklyn Historical Society


Box: 1 (Material Type: Mixed Materials)
Center for Brooklyn History
128 Pierrepont Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201