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Black History is American History: Spotlight on Flushing's "Black Dublin"

Activists, historians shed light on "Black Dublin" in Queens
Activists, historians shed light on "Black Dublin" in Queens 02:42

NEW YORK - Black history is American history

In a bustling corner of Queens, history that was once paved over is being uncovered. 

Local activists and historians are shedding new light on a 19th century community known as Black Dublin. 

On 39th Avenue in Downtown Flushing stands a towering complex of luxury condos and shops. Before the high rise, the site was a parking lot, and before it was a parking lot, it was home to a community some call Black Dublin for its African American and Irish populations.

"It was an integrated village, so Black and Irish people as well. And they had stores and churches and organizational spaces," public historian Erica Buddington said.

The city displaced Black residents, demolishing their homes and businesses in the early 1950s to build Municipal Parking Lot #1.

"There were many Black enclaves and integrated enclaves in the 19th century here in New York," Buddington said. "There was an abundance of joy in these communities."

Flushing's Black history is something local anti-displacement activists are fighting to preserve. 

Natalie Milbrodt and her team at the Queens Memory Project are collecting oral histories from those who lived in a Flushing before high rises.

"An opportunity that we have is bringing some of the stories into the fore that would otherwise, even today, not be prioritized," she said.

Her group interviewed Jay Williams, a Flushing resident of African American and Native American descent. He remembers when the city removed his family from their home more than seven decades ago.

"When they condemned it for the parking lot, they gave them absolutely nothing for it," he said. "When I say 'nothing,' I mean the amount was just miniscule."

From that point, the neighborhood continued to change shape.

The Macedonia AME Church, believed to have served as a station on the Underground Railroad, stood in Downtown Flushing for more than two centuries. In 2017, it was sold to developers and torn down.

Local advocacy work is having an impact. Robbie Garrison is co-chair of the Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground Conservancy, a group devoted to saving a 19th-century cemetery where African Americans and Native Americans are buried.

"All the bodies are still there, bodies that were paved over in 1931 at the request of Robert Moses," she said.

For Garrison, this work is essential.

"I am a passionate person when it comes to Black history and having people understand: It's not Black history. It's American history. It's American history," she said.

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