Sticker campaign targets slavery roots in New York City

Elsa Eli Waithe and Ada Reso, 'Slavers of New York' campaign co-founders, pose at a window sill in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of the Brooklyn borough of New York City, U.S.

A New York-based campaign is drawing attention to prominent New Yorkers whose names are emblazoned on streets, schools, and storefronts and who it says had ties to slavery.

The campaign – called ‘Slavers of New York’ – says there are at least 500 sites that feature the names of figures who owned slaves. Many of the slaveowners date from the 17th century when New York was New Amsterdam, including colonial governor Peter Stuyvesant and the Cortelyou family.

The group comprises artists, educators, activists and researchers, said Ada Reso, campaign co-founder.

It places stickers through Brooklyn to draw attention to the mostly unknown connections, and campaigns on social media.

The sticker campaign uses historical data “to educate New Yorkers about the city, streets and neighborhoods they live in and around,” Reso said.

“If more people knew what their street was named for, or who it was named for, we can then foster another conversation about what it looks like to name and claim your neighborhood,” she said.

At a debate last month ahead of primary elections for New York City mayor, the leading Democratic candidates agreed the city should consider renaming sites named after slaveholders. The mayor’s office did not return a request for comment.

Campaign co-founder, comedian Elsa Eli Waithe, said that during the pandemic she had come across census documents online that showed New Yorkers and the numbers of slaves they owned.

New York had slaves spanning from its days as a Dutch colony until as late as 1827, when the last were freed.

“I just wondered who else knew this, who else had this information? Because it was kind of new information to me,” Waithe said.

The campaign then turned to the Black-owned and Brooklyn-based sticker shop, Comik Ink, for production.

The result is a sticker modeled on New York’s green street signs, which refers to how many slaves the named people owned.

The campaign says they often find themselves replacing the stickers after they have been taken down or defaced. But they have put up more than a thousand so far and are planning to spread out to New York’s other four boroughs.

“A lot of these streets run through Black and brown neighborhoods and the people walking these neighborhoods are still saying a slave owner’s name. And it’s unbeknownst to them,” said Waithe.

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