Hey there! Welcome to Crown Heights in Brooklyn, New York! Today we’ll be taking you on a walking tour of one of Brooklyn’s most well know neighborhoods, all the while, sharing with you some of the most important, popular and historic sites. Before we begin the tour, you might want to know a little about Crown Heights and its history…
Originally called Crow Hill or Green Mountains, what is now Crown Heights, was first settled by The Dutch in the 1600s and used mainly for agricultural purposes. In later years during the 19th century, the area began to urbanize as mansions and limestone house were built.
In even later years during the 20th century, the first wave of Caribbean immigrants joined the Crown Heights population and community of Protestants, Jews, and Catholics. Today, Crown Heights, Brooklyn is considered to be “the largest West Indian neighborhood in New York City.” Recently, the neighborhood and its residents have been threatened by gentrification and the “renewing” of certain areas. Even so, Crown Heights and its history remain ever so fascinating and wonderful.
We will now being out tour, and our first stop is….
Medgar Evers College
Just at the corner of Crown Street and Bedford Avenue stands The School of Business branch of Medgar Evers College. This historically black college was founded in 1970 though cooperation from educators and community leaders in central Brooklyn. Medgar Wiley Evers, the man the college is named after, was a Mississippi-born black civil rights activist and World War II veteran who spent his life fighting for and helping secure numerous social and political advances for African Americans before his assignation on June 12th, 1963. In addition to The School of Business, there are three other school within the Medgar Evers College, including The School of Professional and Community Development, The School of Liberal Arts and Education, and The School of Science, Health, and Technology. The College also operates multiple external programs and associated centers such as Male Development and Empowerment Center, Center for Women’s Development, Center for Black Literature, and The DuBois Bunche Center for Public Policy. Of the thousands of students attending Medgar Evers College, 87% of students are non-Hispanic blacks, 5% are Hispanic, and another 5% are undocumented immigrants.
Just one block south of the Medgar Evers School of Business you will come across the famous Ebbets Field…or what used to be the famous Ebbets Field. Back in 1913 on the 9th of April, The Ebbets Field baseball stadium was opened and became the home of the then Brooklyn Dodgers. A lot of history took place in Ebbets Field before it was closed in September of 1957, including the emergence of Jackie Robinson, a black man from Cairo, Georgia who became the first African American to play Major League Baseball in the 20th Century. Five years after the closing of the baseball stadium, a massive apartment complex was built in its place. It was originally named the Ebbets Field Apartments, but was renamed as the Jackie Robinson Apartments in 1972 after Robinson’s passing. The apartments have been around for 52 years and now house over 4,000 people. Even so, many will always see it as Ebbets Field, the baseball stadium.
Although the actual church was not established until 1969, the congregation was already quite active beginning in 1953. A group of about twenty women and men of Stalwarth faith originally got together with the dream of establishing a church. After fires in various locations, the congregation brought a building on 450 Eastern Parkway that now serves as their venue. The First Baptist Church of Crown Heights has addressed community issues such as job training, housing development services for the homeless and the elderly as part of their outreach ministry. The First Baptist Church of Crown Heights continues to be a source of encouragement within the Crown Heights community. The church offers free guitar and piano lessons to the youth and they host graduation programs for several of the local daycare. Every Sunday morning, members of the ministerial staff, Board of Deacons, Deaconesses, Missionary and members conduct a worship service for the residents at the Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation. It is a place where any resident of the area can seek help.
Whether you exit the subway at Franklin Avenue or at Utica Avenue, as soon as you climb that last step and return above ground, you’ll find yourself smack-dab on one of Brooklyn’s most famous roads: Eastern Parkway. If you visit Eastern Parkway on a month other than September, the only thing you will see are cars and bicycles whizzing past. However, if you visit Eastern Parkway in September, more specifically on the first Monday of September (Labor Day), you will find no cars, no bicycles, and hundreds of people in and around the street. For the past 45 years, The West Indian Day Parade had been held on Eastern Parkway, and every year it gets bigger and better. The parade was once held in Harlem where it was first organized and executed by a woman named Jessie Waddell and a few of her friends in the 1920s. Years later in 1964, Harlem revoked the permit for the parade and five years later it was moved to its current home, Crown Heights. The parade is composed of participants and representatives from Caribbean and South American countries including: Trinidad, Tobago, Haiti, Barbados, Dominica, Saint Lucia, Jamaica, Saint Vincent, Grenada, Guyana, Suriname and Belize. Once all members are accounted for, the participants take to the streets and make their way up the Eastern Parkway dancing, singing, laughing, waving, playing instruments and showing off their costumes. Off to the side on the sidewalks, hundreds of venders line the street selling delicious Hispanic and Caribbean cuisine, clothing, jewelry, music, movies, and party favors. When the parade has passed a given area on the Eastern Parkway and the crowds disperse (either to follow the parade or return to their Labor Day festivities) the cleaning crew gets to work, gathering all the various streamers, flags, banners, feathers and confetti left behind.
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