“Mama Joy” Chatel passes away
by Shane Miller
Jan 16, 2014 | 5267 views | 0 0 comments | 32 32 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Joy Chatel, a community activist perhaps best known for her fight to preserve the Abolitionist legacy of Downtown Brooklyn, passed away at Methodist Hospital on January 8 after a battle with respiratory disease.

“Mama Joy is an ancestor now,” said daughter Shawne Lee.

In 2007, Chatel successfully fought a plan by the city to seize her home at 227 Duffield Street through eminent domain to make way for a park and underground parking garage. The home once belonged to Thomas and Harriet Truesdell, prominent Abolitionist in the mid-19th century.

Downtown Brooklyn, most notably Plymouth Church on Hicks Street, was at the center of the Abolitionist movement in New York City. Chatel and many others believed that her home, as well as 231 Duffield and 436 Gold Street, were stops on the Underground Railroad because the structures were connected by tunnels.

Chatel would often open up her home to visitors to see the tunnel. In 2007, Duffield Street was co-named “Abolitionist Place.” Chatel also formed 227 Abolitionist Place, a group dedicated to turning her home into a museum.

“I continue to be inspired and energized by Mama Joy’s selfless dedication to Brooklyn’s Underground Railroad history,” said Public Advocate Letitia James. “I will strive to carry her spirit onward.”

In addition to her preservation efforts, Chatel was also a board member of Families Untied for Racial and Economic Equality, and over the years was an active member of the PTA in Districts 13 and 22.

Joy was very clear about one thing: she wanted to make sure her home was open for all to see, with our own eyes, the tunnels used by enslaved people escaping to freedom in the Underground Railroad,” said Valery Jean, executive director of FUREE. “Mama Joy wanted us all to know the history of Downtown Brooklyn, the history before the high rises, hotels and the Barclays Center.

“She was also very clear that community development should be led by all people from all walks of life and not just developers that have little interest in maintaining the diverse fabric of a community,” Jean added.

Chatel is survived by her mother, three children, one brother, one sister, 13 grandchildren and four great grandchildren, as well as numerous uncles, aunts, and cousins.

Funeral services were scheduled for January 16 at Frank R. Bell Funeral Home in Prospect Heights.

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