The Brooklyn Historical Society is a museum, library and educational center dedicated to encouraging the exploration and appreciation of Brooklyn's diverse peoples and cultures both past and present.
You are standing in Weeksville, founded shortly after the financial panic of 1837 halted Brooklyn’s rapid urban transformation. One year later, free black New Yorkers took advantage of low property prices to intentionally establish the community of Weeksville as a self-sufficient haven for African Americans. Located in Brooklyn’s ninth ward, Weeksville was the most distant and secluded anti-slavery base from the city’s downtown area. Thus it offered safety, refuge, and freedom to its residents.
By the 1850s, Weeksville had more than 500 residents. Although the state of New York had abolished slavery on July 4, 1827, racial discrimination still affected every aspect of black New Yorkers’ lives. Colored School No. 2 was founded in 1839 as the African School. This was one of the several independent schools founded by black educators since their children were not welcomed in public schools.
In 1853, the school was taken over by the Brooklyn Board of Education. The board renamed the school Colored School No 2. It became one of their segregated schools in Brooklyn. Decades later in 1882, Philip A. White was appointed the first African American member of the Brooklyn Board of Education by Brooklyn Mayor Seth Low.
Philip Augustus White was a prominent member of New York's black aristocracy at the time. Although he would be considered Caucasian by today's standards, he was classified as a Negro under the one-drop rule. Though his appearance was different from most of his fellow African Americans, he strongly identified as a black American and was a great contributor to the community. Before his role on the Brooklyn Board of Education, White was the Secretary of the Society for the Promotion of Education Among Colored Children, a leader of the nation's wealthiest black Episcopal Church, and a member of the New York African Society for Mutual Relief. However, he was able to make some of his most significant contributions as a member of the Brooklyn Board of Education.
Around this time the school was renamed PS 68. In 1893, the school merged with PS 83 to become the first integrated school in Brooklyn. The present school building was built in the early 20th century and named Isaac Newton School.
Cover photo credit: Brooklyn Historic Society