Events & News

New NYPAP Database Entry on Brooklyn’s “Tree Lady” Unveiled

By Peter Sohmer, Reisinger Scholar

Hattie Carthan attends a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Magnolia Tree Earth Center in 1979 in Bedford-Stuyvesant. | Courtesy of The Brooklyn Collection, donation of Bernice Green

On February 26th, the Archive Project unveiled a new Preservation History Database entry on Hattie Carthan at an event honoring her legacy. Held at The Brooklyn Collection at the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, the talk was one of the final events held in the space prior to the merger of the Brooklyn Public Library with the Brooklyn Historical Society.

Known as the Tree Lady of Brooklyn, Carthan became involved in preservation efforts only in the last two decades of her life. But those years were marked by a flurry of community engagement.

Carthan, who died in 1984, was instrumental in leading a campaign in the 1970s to designate a magni cent magnolia grandi ora—whose branches rise above brownstones on Lafayette Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant—as a City landmark. The tree, which is now the City’s only living designated individual landmark, is just one facet of Carthan’s legacy. Carthan also founded numerous environmental and community organizations in central Brooklyn, including the Magnolia Tree Earth Center, fighting to beautify neighborhoods and empower communities.

At the library event, Marlon Rice, former director of the Magnolia Tree Earth Center, presented “The Legacy of Hattie Carthan,” part of The Brooklyn Collection’s programming for the exhibition A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: An Exploration of Our Plant Life and Green Spaces. Rice discussed Carthan’s life, the historical context of 1960s and 1970s Brooklyn, and connected her mission to continuing work in central Brooklyn today to preserve and reinvigorate green space for community benefit. At the end of the talk, Executive Director Brad Vogel spoke about the Archive Project’s work and handed out copies of the freshly published entry on Carthan. Unveiling the entry in person allowed The Archive Project to share its mission with a new audience, and to get its resources (literally) in the hands of people interested in the enduring legacy of preservation across the city. The Archive Project continues to grow its Preservation History Database with new entries.

Left to right: NYPAP Reisinger Scholar Peter Sohmer, Michelle Montalbano of The Brooklyn Collection, speaker Marlon Rice, and NYPAP Executive Director Brad Vogel | Courtesy of the Archive Project