Thursday, October 27, 2011

119 Years Later, Recognition for a Fabulous First

This Friday at 11am, at Utica and Bergen Avenues, a small group will gather to dedicate a block of Utica Avenue "Moses P. Cobb Way." While it will be doubtless be a small, brief ceremony, it acknowledges a truly remarkable piece of history, the story of how a freedman from Kinston, North Carolina walked all the way to Brooklyn and became, in 1892, the City of New York's first full career African-American police officer.

Cobb was born a slave in 1856, and sometime during Reconstruction, he set out for Brooklyn's Weeksville, a community founded by free blacks and freed slaves. Google Maps suggests that such a journey would be 526 miles and take 6 days and 19 hours of walking time on today's roads, but 150 years ago, it's likely Cobb was walking for over a month. A few of Weeksville's original homes, the Hunterfly Road Houses, survive today (in the shadow of NYCHA's Kingsborough Houses), managed by the Weeksville Society for the public, but in the 19th century, it was a thriving black community, and Cobb made his home there, finding a job as a janitor at the local police station (This from Evangeline Porter, the President of the Crow Hill Community Association, which takes its name from a 19th-century moniker that may have referred to North Crown Heights/South Bed-Stuy's status as an African-American neighborhood). From there, he was eventually encouraged to take the qualifying exam and become a police officer, which he did in 1892.

The Brooklyn Rail's Kevin Plumberg did a nice story about this back in 2003, where he wrote:

"Moses P. Cobb was a tough man. He was born a slave in Kinston, North Carolina in 1856. After emancipation, he sought a new start to his life, literally step-by-step, by walking to New York City from North Carolina. After his sojourn, Cobb bought a house in Weeksville, a community in Brooklyn’s Ninth Ward formed by freed slaves. In 1892, he became his neighborhood’s first Black policeman."

Hopefully he or a similarly-inclined reporter will be out at Utica and Bergen tomorrow to acknowledge this lesser-known but remarkable piece of New York, and Brooklyn's African American History.

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