Bertram Baker Legacy in Bedford-Stuyvesant

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Last Saturday, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and his lovely wife, First Lady Diane Patrick, an attorney, along with hundreds of friends, supporters and family members proved you can go home again —  especially when home is Brooklyn.

The Patricks joined celebrants in the co-naming of Jefferson Avenue, between Tompkins and Throop, as Bertram L. Baker Way – a tribute to Brooklyn’s first Black elected official who assumed office as a State Assemblyman in 1948. Lady Diane and her cousin journalist Ron Howell, an event host and planner, are grandchildren of the late pioneer.  Baker’s life and achievements inspired Governor Patrick who lived on Midwood Street in the Lefferts Manor section of Brooklyn in the 1980’s.

In the early afternoon, The Governor and First Lady spoke at the co-naming event, and later joined guests at Tremaine Wright’s Common Ground café for a reception and book signing for “A Reason to Believe,” Governor Patrick’s new memoir.

The book is about the Governor’s early life in relative poverty  and about the spirit that allowed him to later grasp at opportunities, to attend the elite Milton Academy and then Harvard College and Harvard Law School. Patrick later become head of the Civil Rights unit in the Justice Department under President Bill Clinton.

Jacqueline A. Berrien, Chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission EOC), who splits her time between Washington, D.C. and her Brooklyn brownstone, told Our Time Press,  “I am proud to call Bedford Stuyvesant home. All of us here in Brooklyn have a debt to repay Mr. Baker who opened the doors. This event honors the work to which he dedicated his life: community service.”

“The co-naming also links Bedford Stuyvesant’s historic past to its history-making present,” said Peter Williams, President & CEO of the Mid Bronx Desperadoes Community Housing Corporation, who is Ms. Berrien’s husband.  “It also reflects Bedford Stuyvesant’s connections to worlds beyond its borders.”

Astute political analyst and author John Flateau, a longtime Bedford-Stuyvesant resident, offered a sweeping survey of the scene from 1949-1970, giving a nod to the power plays and the players, including Baker, Wesley McHolder, and Maude Richardson and Ida Jackson – “women who helped set the stage for Baker’s nomination in ‘48,” the Bedford Stuyvesant Political League, The United Action Democratic Association, his father Sidney Flateau and more.

“In the 1960s Baker became Majority Whip of the Assembly, the highest position of a black person in the state at that time,” added Flateau. “Earlier in the 1950s hepushed through first-of-its-kind laws barring housing discrimination in the 1950s.  The impact of that work is still felt– more than 50 years later.”

Gov. Patrick,center at Common Grounds book signing with Brooklyn Attorneys Jamal and Monique Murphy

Ms. Berrien noted that some of today’s established politicians were campaign workers to major politicians in the past.  “They taught us.   Many of us volunteered to work on campaigns.  I’ve often said, I was privileged to practice Civil Rights law under giants.  At the core, Bertram Baker worked for the betterment of others, and worked to be of assistance and support to others. Service provides an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others; the reward is in the work. Everyone here shares that mission.”

“And the impact of Mr. Baker’s work reverberates beyond Brooklyn’s political life; it touches education, as well,” said educator Bernadette U. Okeke-Diagne. “I believe young people will benefit from the example set today by the Patricks who traveled here to celebrate with us, and they will learn from this experience.”

Mrs. Violet Payne, commenting on the event’s “historical perspective,” said, “Kids growing up in today’s world need to know this history so there’s no need to recreate the wheel.  The event solidifies why we do some of the things we do to push forward certain issues that relate to the African American community. It is so important for young people to know that there were people back then working to make a difference in the life of the community.  They need to know so they can continue to build on the work started and move it forward.”

Gov.  Patrick, in noting Baker’s extensive contributions to Brooklyn politics, told young people to take to heart the messages of the day and “Believe!”   He also said,  “It’s a good day for Bedford Stuyvesant and a good day for Brooklyn. It’s wonderful to be back home.”

Educator Patrika Wellington, excited by the moment, told us, ‘We only have three African-American governors.  I said to Governor and First Lady Patrick, ‘I’m honored to meet you and see you.’  Relationships and connections seem to always bring you back to Brooklyn.  We are such a mighty spiritual bunch in a mighty spiritual place.”

Among other guests attending the post-event reception were: Marian Baker Howell, daughter of the late Assemblyman Bertram Baker; U.S. Eastern District Court Judge Sterling Johnson; Marty Markowitz, Brooklyn Borough President; Altovise Fleary, President of the Jefferson Avenue TNT (Tompkins and Throop Aves.) Block Association; Hon. Annette Robinson, State Assemblywoman; Hon. Hakeem Jeffries, State Assemblyman; Hon. Letitia James, City Councilwoman; Lee Daniels, Director of Communications, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; Robert Cornegy, State Committeeman; Dr. Sydney C. Butts, Assistant Professor, SUNY Downstate Medical Center; Dr. R. Damani Howell and wife Dr. Brittany Howell, both of New York University Medical Center; Dr. Paul and Susan Fox; Robert Swan, founder of the Black Brooklyn Historical Society; Jamal and Monique Murphy, Brooklyn attorneys; Audrey Edwards, realtor, author and journalist; Ozier Muhammad, Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times photographer; Hunter College Professor of African-American History Joanne Edey-Rhodes and her husband Ed Rhodes, marketing officer with the City University of New York; Brooklyn College Professor Paul Moses, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author of  The Saint and the Sultan: the Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi’s Mission of Peace and wife Maureen Moses, nurse; Les Payne, the Pulitizer Prize winning journalist; William C. Rhoden, New York Times sports columnist and author of Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete; and Mama Iyafin Olatunji, widow of Babatunde Olatunji, the famous drummer, who once played with Gov. Deval Patrick’s late father, jazz saxophonist Pat Patrick.

Block association president Altovise Fleary pushed to get the co-naming action of Bertram L. Baker Way through the City Council; last December, City Councilman Al Vann sponsored the legislation for it

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