Works in Progress - Autumn 2011

Brooklyn Bridges

By Chloe Taft | March 21, 2013


In 1969, Brooklyn Dodgers catcher Roy Campanella became the second black man to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. (His mother was African American; his father was Italian American.) The honor came just two years after the last antimiscegenation laws were overturned in 16 states. Today, a record one in seven new marriages nationwide-—more than 300,000 each year—is between spouses of different races or ethnicities.

A new project at the Brooklyn Historical Society, Crossing Borders, Bridging Generations, will collect oral histories to capture some of the borough’s stories. Suleiman Osman of George Washington University, an adviser to the project, says scholars have generally looked at ethnic enclaves as homogeneous, but the reality is much messier. “They have tended to downplay the historically fluid borders, cultural hybridity, and overlapping identities of Brooklyn’s communities,” he says.

Life-history interviews will address multigenerational perspectives on race, immigration, and marriage, among other subjects. Brooklynites will be invited to self-select as “mixed-heritage,” says project codirector Sady Sullivan, leaving open interpretations of whether this includes mixed-faith, class, country of origin, or other characteristics.

Oral history collection and public programming for the multiyear project begin this fall and will include a November screening and discussion of Jungle Fever, Spike Lee’s 1991 take on mixed-race romance. An interpretive website will follow in 2012.

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