U.S. congresswoman tells Stephen Colbert slavery practiced in Brooklyn in 1898
posted at 4:32 pm on September 7, 2012 by Howard Portnoy
Some myths are all-pervasive and indestructible. Take the widespread belief that slavery was still practiced in Brooklyn as late as 1898—a full 35 years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.
OK, maybe the myth is not all that widespread. In fact, it appears to be limited one person, Yvette Clarke. But since Clarke represents New York’s 11th congressional district, which is in Brooklyn, one might reasonably assume she knows a thing or two about the borough’s history.
And one would assume wrong. It’s easy to see where Clarke got tripped up. She was being interviewed during the DNC by Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert. At one point in a video of the exchange, which is here, the mock-conservative host threw the congresswoman a curve ball. He asked her about the “Great Mistake of 1898.” The phrase, still common among old hands, was a reaction back in the day to Brooklyn’s merger with the City of New York—a move that many believed would strip “America’s third largest city” of its unique local color.
Clarke seemed clueless about the reference even though Colbert prefaced his question by explaining what it meant, so she hazarded a guess that also had to do with another sort of “local color.” When asked what she would say to the people of Brooklyn if she could travel back to 1898, her response was, “I would say to them, ‘Set me free’.”
Pressed by a bemused (and amused) Colbert to explain what she would have been freed from, Clarke replied, “Slavery.”
Colbert pressed further, asking, “Who would be enslaving you in 1898 in New York?” Clarke responded, “The Dutch.”
That’s the same Dutch presumably that formally ceded control of the colony of New Amsterdam to the English in 1674. As for slavery, it was legally abolished in New York in 1827.
New York’s Daily News recalls that Clarke, a former city councilwoman, came under scrutiny for lying in campaign literature in 2004 and 2005 by claiming she graduated from Oberlin College. She attended the school, but didn’t graduate. She blamed a bad memory for those misrepresentations.
Kristia Beaubrun, a spokeswoman for the congresswoman, insisted it was all a joke. A joke it was—and is—though not in the manner Beaubrun intended.
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