Paul Hurschmann  /  AP file
Joan Maynard, executive director of the Weeksville Society, in a February 1996 file photo, in Brooklyn, N.Y.
updated 1/24/2006 5:54:31 PM ET 2006-01-24T22:54:31

Joan Maynard, who fought to preserve a 19th-century settlement of free blacks, has died. She was 77.

Maynard died Sunday at her home in Brooklyn, said Pamela Green, her successor as executive director of the Society for the Preservation of Weeksville and Bedford-Stuyvesant History. The cause was not disclosed.

Once a flourishing community that included New York’s first black police officer and first black woman physician, Weeksville had been largely forgotten when its remnants were discovered in 1968 after historian James Hurley saw references to it in some 19th-century archives.

Hurley and a pilot went up in a small plane and spotted four wood-frame cottages hidden in an alley once called Hunterfly Road — all that remained of Weeksville.

After an archaeological dig turned up artifacts including a slave’s shackles, Weeksville was designated a New York City landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Maynard was a founding member of the Weeksville society and served as president from 1972 to 1974, when she became its executive director. Restoring the cottages and turning them into a functioning museum was a daunting task, with setbacks including a break-in by crack addicts who did $36,000 worth of damage.

“We thought it was going to take 10 years to build a museum when we started,” Maynard said in a 1996 interview with The Associated Press. “Frankly, it’s amazing we’re still alive.”

But Maynard persisted, raising funds from the government, corporations and individual donors. Her hard work was rewarded when the Weeksville houses were opened to the public at a June 2005 dedication ceremony.

Green said that Maynard was a visionary who “was persistent in her desire to make sure that young and old folks, descendants of Africans, knew their history and that it was something to be proud of and something to constantly keep alive.”

Maynard was born Joan Cooper in Brooklyn on Aug. 29, 1928. She graduated from Empire State College of the State University of New York and worked as a commercial artist for McGraw-Hill and other companies.

Twice divorced, Maynard had one son, Jerome, who died before her; she leaves no immediate survivors.

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