Relatives of the late Judge John Phillips Jr. are still trying to sell the Slave Theater on Fulton Street in Bed-Stuy, while battling current occupants who deny they are squatters. It is the latest chapter in a legal and real estate story of a building that helped birth a new wave of political activism in the 1980s. Rev. Samuel Boykin, Phillips's nephew and one of his heirs, wants to sell the Slave Theater at Fulton Street and Bedford Avenue to a church with a congregation for $3 million. But according to the Brooklyn Paper, first floor residents Clarence and Omar Hardy claim they bought the theater from Judge Phillips before his 2008 death, and the leader of a church that calls the theater's second floor its home says the church has a lease on the space and has been paying rent for years.
Judge John Phillips Jr. died in 2008, suffering from Alzheimers and the victim of legal guardians like Emani Taylor, who was accused of looting Phillips's real estate holdings. Phillips' property was being managed by others after he was found mentally incompetent following an investigation by Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes. Some said that Hynes's investigation was politically motivated; Judge Phillips was planning on challenging the DA for office. But Hynes's investigation was based in part on Judge Phillips losing the Slave Theater in a real estate scam. Emani Taylor said she was working on getting the theater back in Phillips's name when she was accused of looting his bank accounts.
This is not the first time the Slave Theater has been up for sale since Judge Phillips's death. Boykin tried to sell the building to retailers in 2009 in order to pay $1.5 million in back taxes and other debts owed by the estate. And last year, the cops got involved when alleged squatters and Rastafarian drug dealers were complicating matters at the Slave Theater and the Black Lady Theater (also owned by the Phillips estate).
Judge John Phillips Jr. was a civil courts judge in Brooklyn for 17 years, first getting elected in 1977 without the support of the borough's Democratic political machine. Born in Kansas, Phillips eventually amassed a $10 million fortune in Bed-Stuy real estate, most of which was lost in the later years leading to his death in 2008. Phillips was known as the Kung Fu Judge, because he held a 10th degree black belt in kung fu. The Slave Theater became a Brooklyn civil rights landmark in the early 1980s, when community activists like Al Sharpton and Alton Maddox came to the political foreground during rallies at the theater, and racial tensions in New York City were running high.
· Church to upstage famed civil rights theater [BrooklynPaper]
· Judge Phillips is dead [BrooklynPaper]
· Brooklyn retailers eye Bed-Stuy theater: 'Slave' being sold to pay $1.5M in debt [NYDN]
· John L. Phillips Jr., 83, Civil Court Judge Is Dead [NYT]
· Bed-Stuy Theater Drama [CurbedNY]