Brooklynites turned out Thursday night to say a final goodbye to a community pillar who helped lead a fight against the city's use of eminent domain. NY1's Jeanine Ramirez filed the following report.
Joy Chatel fought to save her Downtown Brooklyn home from being condemned, she struggled to have her house get recognition as a stop on the underground railroad, and she battled a lung disease until it claimed her life last week at the age of 66. Her funeral services were held Thursday night.
"My mom is what you call a warrior," said Shawne Lee, Chatel's daughter. "She's a modern-day Harriet Tubman."
Tubman's picture is still displayed in the window of Chatel's home on Duffield Street. It was one of several houses on the street that the city wanted to demolish back in 2004 to make way for a park with underground parking in what was a newly rezoned area, but it was where Chatel lived and home schooled her grandchildren.
NY1 first reported on Chatel's plight in 2004.
"I don't want to leave my home. They don't want to leave their home. We're comfortable here," Chatel said at the time. "I can't understand why we have to."
Chatel, her neighbors, community groups and preservationists united. They researched the houses on the block. Chatel's dates back to 1848. Another one was built in 1847. They turned up what they said was evidence that their houses were an important part of the abolitionist movement, serving as stops on the Underground Railroad.
"This was sacred ground," said neighbor Lewis Greenstein. "We found a lot of artifacts and things on the block over time that showed that there was a movement of slaves up and down the block."
The city disputed those claims. When the group took their fight to federal court, the city backed down, re-drawing plans for the area around the two houses. Today, a hotel is adjacent to Chatel's property, and there's another hotel across the street.
While her home still stands, she never was able to get it the status that she and her supporters still say it deserves.
"It's also a very passionate fight for me because the city has never ever acknowledged the importance of the site," said friend Raul Rothblatt.
They say they'll continue their efforts to preserve history and fulfill Chatel's dream of turning her home into a cultural center and museum.