Brooklyn’s Green-Wood cemetery is celebrating the legacy of the influential New Yorkers of color who have been laid to rest there.
Keeping in step with Black History Month, the cemetery is hosting a trolley tour of the grounds, stopping at the graves of prominent black historical figures and telling their stories of progress and activism.
In its fourth consecutive year, the Black in Brooklyn tour is guided each February by Green-Wood historian Jeff Richman.
“There are people with interesting stories, ex-slaves who came north and established themselves in Brooklyn and had successful and long lives up here,” Richman said.
Among the notables visitors will learn about are innovative artist Jean-Michel Basquiat; Susan Smith McKinney Steward, the state’s first black female doctor; Margaret Pine, New York’s last slave; and James Weldon Johnson, composer of the Negro National Anthem.
Richman noted that one of the most peculiar acts of the heroes featured on the tour was Margaret Pine’s refusal to be freed from slavery. Her master offered her freedom in 1813, but Pine had served as a nurse to the Wynant Van Zandt family her entire life and wished to continue. Slavery was abolished in 1827, and Pine died a slave in 1857, making her the last in New York.
“She told her master, when he proposed to [free her], that he had had her services for the best part of her life, and that she wished him to take care of her for as long as she lived, and he willingly consented,” the Brooklyn Star reported after Pine’s death.
Tour-goers need not worry if they have attended Black in Brooklyn in the past. Richman said the 15-some sites along the trolley ride are added-to and varied each year. Winter trolley tours average 30 people, since the rear unheated caboose is left empty. Trolley tour guests will enjoy a drive through the entire grounds, as opposed to walking tours which Richman said only cover one tenth of the route.
Besides the biweekly historic tours, there is also a tour of the Baseball Greats of Green-Wood.