Oral histories are intimate conversations between and among people who have generously agreed to share these recordings with BHS’s archives and researchers. Please listen in the spirit with which these were shared. BHS abides by the General Principles & Best Practices for Oral History as agreed upon by the Oral History Association and expects that use of this material will be done with respect for these professional ethics.
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[Last name, First name], Oral history interview conducted by [Interviewer’s First name Last name], [Month DD, YYYY], [Title of Collection], [Call #]; Brooklyn Historical Society.
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Oral history interview conducted by Sady Sullivan
November 20, 2009
Call number: 2008.031.1.003
5:35 - Witness to crime in backyard; meeting Spike Lee through M. Jackson book; artists in Ft. Greene
11:18 - Congregating in Ft. Greene; ease of access to Lower Manhattan arts; "She's Gotta Have It" effect
33:19 - Improved, variety of amenities; long-term evolution of city & Ft. Greene microcosm; the Atlantic Yards effect
50:06 - Transitioning merchants, area chain store clashes with gangs & larger crowds; local blog and participation
57:35 - Tension between new & old; red-lining & rundown apartments; local landmarks: Ft. Greene Park, Richard Wright's bench, Washington Park, Brooklyn Tech
Oral History Interview with Nelson George
Born in 1957 and raised in the Brownsville and East New York neighborhoods of Brooklyn, Nelson George moved to the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn in the mid-1980s. Best known as an author and filmmaker, his non-fiction books have largely focused on histories of popular music and biographies of Black musicians. He helped bankroll Spike Lee's filming of "She's Gotta Have It" (1986) and has produced, written and directed for the screen ever since. He featured Brooklyn in his book "City Kid: A Writer's Memoir of Ghetto Life and Post-Soul Success" and the documentary "Brooklyn Boheme." In 2016, he was a writer on Netflix's "The Get-Down" and he was continuing work on a series of detective novels.
In the interview, Nelson George takes in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn from several perspectives. Moving in a mostly chronological approach, he recalls trips with his mother to the Abraham & Straus department store on Fulton Street and visits as an independent young adult to a girlfriend in the neighborhood. George remembers the floor plan of his first Fort Greene apartment in the 1980s, and a theft that took place just outside his window. He reflects on the culturally vibrant time of African American artists inhabiting the area and how their departure opened a void that was filled by a new upper-middle class and young professionals starting families. George's friends Spike Lee, Chris Rock, and Vernon Reid all figure into his personal connections with the neighborhood. In much of the final half-hour, he gives his points of view on several Fort Greene landmarks and shares how affected he was as a young writer by living in the same Fort Greene where Richard Wright once wrote. Interview conducted by Sady Sullivan.
The Voices of Brooklyn oral histories: Arts and entertainment series features a dynamic range of narrators. Some are well-known public figures and others are well-known in their communities or field. This ongoing series focuses on the arts and the experiences of these Brooklyn narrators, as well as documents local, national, and international cultures. The narrators often discuss their production of works of art or entertainment media. The oldest narrator in this series was born in 1917.
CitationGeorge, Nelson, Oral history interview conducted by Sady Sullivan, November 20, 2009, Voices of Brooklyn oral histories: Arts and entertainment, 2008.031.1.003; Brooklyn Historical Society.
- Abraham & Straus
- Brooklyn Academy of Music
- George, Nelson
- Lee, Spike
- Wright, Richard
- African American neighborhoods
- African Americans
- Community development
- Community identity
- Performing arts
- Race identity
- Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
- Fort Greene (New York, N.Y.)
- Fort Greene Park (New York, N.Y.)
Finding AidVoices of Brooklyn oral histories: Arts and entertainment