‘Brooklyn: Once a City Within a City’ Museum exhibit tells story of historic Charlotte neighborhood

Updated: Nov. 22, 2019 at 7:04 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - There’s a new exhibit at the Levine Museum of the New South entitled Brooklyn: Once a City Within a City.

Once upon a time, Brooklyn was the largest African American community in the Carolinas. People not only lived there but they worked, went to school and played there. The exhibit features interviews with people who used to live in Brooklyn. They shared their experiences.

“Most of the people that we talked to, talked about just the real sense of community," Levine Museum of the New South Staff Historian Dr. Willie Griffin said. "They felt safe in Brooklyn - at home.”

Brooklyn was located where Second Ward is now in Charlotte. It covered more than 230 acres. The community was very diverse.

“You had people from all walks of life,” Griffin said. “You had all classes of African Americans living right next door to each other. You had professionals. You had business people. You had activists. You had churches.”

Things changed when city leaders accepted federal dollars for Urban Renewal. It took less than two decades to see Brooklyn disappear. The transformation happened in the early 60′s and 70′s. The money was supposed to revive the Brooklyn neighborhood but instead - it wiped it out. City development leaders were quoted saying back then - “Brooklyn is gone.”

The exhibit shows that from 1961-1970, two schools, 13 churches, 216 businesses and nearly 1,500 homes were leveled. About 7,000 people living in Brooklyn were displaced.

“The overwhelming majority of the African Americans who lived in Brooklyn were funneled up the west end corridor,” Griffin said. “To Beatties Ford Road.”

One of the reasons for the exhibit is to bring attention to economic mobility and the lack of affordable housing in Charlotte.

“We figured that a way to begin to close this gap, was if people understood the history first - how did we get to this point,” Griffin said.

The concern is history may repeat itself thanks to gentrification and higher property taxes in Charlotte. Griffin hopes city leaders pay attention to this exhibit and take note.

The exhibit is very interactive. There is an iPad that can be used to learn more about items in the display and hear from the people who used to live in Brooklyn. There are also stations around the display that prompts people to write down their feelings on paper. One prompt asked people how would they feel if they were told to leave their homes.

Griffin believes this exhibit is eye-opening and people will leave with a deeper meaning of what community is all about.

“Encourage people to think about what a neighborhood means,” Griffin said. “What does a community mean. What does a community mean to you and who deserves to have a community.”

There is a cost to enter the museum. Admission is $10 for adults and half off on Sundays throughout the year. For more information about the exhibit, click here.

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