Running through New York's history with slavery

As Black History Month kicks off, historical ultra-runner Todd Aydelotte hit the pavement to run 40 miles across the five boroughs to retrace New York City's complicated history with slavery.

"This city was built by slaves, really—they cleared the land, they did all the labor and infrastructure in building New York," Aydelotte said. "At the time of the Revolutionary War, there were more slaves here in the New York City area than any other North American city except for Charleston, South Carolina."

One of Aydelotte's stop was Weeksville in Brooklyn. Founded in the 1830s, Weeksville was one of the largest free African-American communities in the U.S. prior to the Civil War.

"We have this view that New York is so progressive and so liberal but slavery wasn't abolished in New York State until 1827," said Rob Fields, the president and executive director of the Weeksville Heritage Center. "A lot of the places that Todd is stopping at are still in existence—the Langston Hughes house, the African burial ground, the Weeksville Heritage Center and the historic houses that we have here."

Aydelotte said this is the most important run he has ever done and was inspired by the horrifying incident that happened at Foley Square in 1741.

"It was known at the time as the 'Bonfire of the Negroes,'" Aydelotte said. "And this was an incident where we were under control of the English and they tied up 13 blacks to stakes and burned them alive."

"People think of history as something that so distant and removed from their lived experiences but often it's right in our midst as Weeksville is in the community here in Crown Heights and Bed-Stuy," Fields said.

"We all have the power to make a difference," Aydelotte said. "Running is an expression to me, it's a way to connect with my city, to become part of it."