“Brooklyn: Once a City within a City” opens at Levine Museum on Nov. 15

Brooklyn is the sixth neighborhood added to Levine Museum of the New South's #HomeCLT exhibit.
A mural on the Mecklenburg Investment Company building by visual artist Abel Jackson commemorates the legacy of the Brooklyn neighborhood. Photo: Qcitymetro

By the 1950s, Charlotte’s Brooklyn neighborhood had become the heart of the Black community. The “city within a city” — now known as uptown’s Second Ward — was home to Charlotte’s first Black high school, the first public library to serve Black patrons, and businesses located on Charlotte’s Black Wall Street. 

There were some good quality homes, but much of Brooklyn’s housing were shanties that lacked indoor plumbing and furnaces. Urban renewal was supposed to invest in decent affordable housing and urban development. Instead, during the 1960s and 1970s, urban renewal demolished Charlotte’s largest Black neighborhood and displaced more than 1,000 families.

Beginning Nov. 15, the memory of Brooklyn and its residents will be included in Levine Museum of the New South’s “#HomeCLT: People. Places. Promises.” exhibit. With the help of augmented reality, visitors can view vivid images and hear stories from eight storytellers who once called Brooklyn their home. 

“We wanted to tell the long history of the neighborhood and what it meant to the residents,” said Staff Historian Willie Griffin. “This is not an old exhibit where all you’ll be doing is reading from the walls from one room to the next. You can use this technology to look at our maps and see how things changed over time.”

One of the storytellers is state representative Kelly Alexander Jr.

“I grew up in Brooklyn. As a matter of fact, I was 10 when the infamous city council meeting for the urban renewal was going on,” Alexander said in one of the exhibit’s pieces. “It amuses me sometimes when folks talk about Brooklyn. It’s almost as if we’re dealing with mythology.”

February 1961: A bulldozer pushes over the first house in Brooklyn, an old Charlotte neighborhood, to make way for urban renewal. Photo: Charlotte Observer for the Charlotte Journalism Collaborative

Clara Lewis attended Myers Street Elementary School and graduated from Second Ward High School, Charlotte’s first Black high school. She said it was a “great sense of loss” with the demolition of the two schools.

“A lot of people have memories of their high school and elementary schools. I no longer have that,” she explained. “I talk about [the schools], and people ask ‘Where was that?’ It’s hurtful not to have a place to go to say this is where I went to school, this is where I graduated from.” 

After the destruction of Brooklyn, many of its residents were spread across Charlotte. Griffin says a small committee was formed to help these residents, with most relocating to the northwest part of the city, including neighborhoods like Biddleville, Seversville and McCrorey Heights. 

“We got scattered to a different part of the town, and we lost a sense of community,” Lewis said. 

Residents recall life in Charlotte’s former Brooklyn neighborhood as part of Levine Museum of the New South’s “Brooklyn: Once a City within a City” exhibit.

Griffin added that he wants the community to consider what they value in neighborhoods and their makeups.

“I want people to think about the people who once lived in Brooklyn and imagine how they felt,” he said. “Black Charlotte lost a very vibrant example of Black life.”

The Zip Code Project

In addition to the stories of former Brooklyn residents, visitors can admire the work of local teens who offer their interpretations of challenges facing Charlotte.

Eleven teens from Playing for Others leadership training program are the artists behind The Zip Code Project. Nine paintings reflect the challenges and community efforts in changing areas like Uptown, University City, Historic West End and Ballantyne. Specifically, the project focuses on zip codes 28105, 28202, 28205, 28206, 28208, 28209, 28216, 28262 and 28277.

Levine Museum of the New South is located at 200 E. Seventh Street. For more information about the exhibit, visit museumofthenewsouth.org/exhibits or call 704-333-1887.

Dante Miller is a freelance writer who received her journalism and mass communications degree from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. She loves music, reading novels and watching television.

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