Recap: the Abolitionist History of Downtown Brooklyn

We are thrilled so many of you were able to join us this past Friday for our virtual “Breakfast Talk” — it was a record attendance! Again, we’d like to especially thank our panelists Suzanne Spellen and Raul Rothblatt for sharing their archival and preservation work with us.

As a follow up, we now have a recording of the event up on youtube and more information shared about and from the panelists below  we hope you all continue the conversation and help keep this important history alive!

Citation note! Research and images for presentation on the “Struggle for Freedom and Equality: African American Life in Brooklyn, 1620-1865” taken from Prithi Kanakamedala “Brooklyn Abolitionists / In Pursuit of Freedom.” Learn more here:

As a follow up, Raul has put together this Google Drive folder for participants with the slides he presented as well as more information. You can also sign the petition he talked about!

As mentioned, you can read more of Suzanne’s writing up on the Brownstowner  there’s lots of great articles there to learn more about Brooklyn history! You can also check out the work of the New York Preservation Archive Project, which includes an oral history with Suzanne.

She also works with the Crown Heights North Association and Bowery Alliance of Neighbors and gives regular monthly virtual tours for the Municipal Art Society. Her specialty is Brooklyn tours, generally Central Brooklyn – Bed Stuy, Crown Heights, Fort Greene/Clinton Hill, African American History in Downtown Brooklyn.

Mark your calendars for her next tour on Saturday, April 24th: Lost Brooklyn: A Look at Vanished Architectural Treasures – The Municipal Art Society of New York (

For more about the abolitionist history of Brooklyn, check out Prithi Kanakamedala’s In Pursuit of Freedom | Brooklyn Abolitionists


Raul Rothblatt has been dedicated to promoting Duffield Street’s unique and powerful history since he met Joy Monroe in 2004. Originally from San Francisco, he moved to Brooklyn in 1993 to complete his Masters in Musical Theater Composition at the Tisch School of Arts at NYU. He plays cello with Kakande, a West African griot-led band, and he plays bass with Életfa Hungarian folk.

As Co-President of the PS9 Parent Teacher Organization, he led the efforts to remove the school name of a slave owning family and replace it with Sarah Smith Garnet, the first African American woman principal in New York and co-founder of the first African American women’s suffrage club in the United States. He lives in Brooklyn and is the father of two children. He is currently Communications Director for NY City Council Member Robert E. Cornegy, Jr. 

Suzanne Spellen grew up in the village of Gilbertsville in Otsego County, New York. She went to Yale, and then moved to NYC to pursue a career in opera and costume design. Living in Bedford Stuyvesant and Crown Heights North, Brooklyn inspired a new career in writing about old house restoration, and the history, architecture and people of Brooklyn. Spellen is a long-time board member of the Crown Heights North Association, Inc. (CNHA), which has worked tirelessly for landmark and National Register designation for the neighborhood.  

Spellen is a columnist for the popular Brooklyn blog, her early work written under the pen name “Montrose Morris.” Her expertise on the architecture and history of Central Brooklyn has led to books, lectures, walking tours and research projects for many organizations, individuals and causes. In 2015, Spellen received the Historic Districts Council of New York’s “Grassroots Award” for her writing and historic preservation activities. Suzanne has also been a member of two teams receiving NY State Historic Preservation Awards. One in 2017, along with other CHNA board members and another in 2020 as part of the team writing the National Register designation report for all of NYC’s Carnegie Libraries.