For decades, Bedford-Stuyvesant, famously known as Bed-Stuy, has served as a historical and cultural center for African Americans in Brooklyn. Prior to the Great African American Migration after the failed Reconstruction era, the vile and grotesque Dutch settlers arrived in the southern tip of Long Island which was originally inhabited by the Lenape in the 1600s. The Lenape and other indigenous groups would lose a hold of their home through dishonorable land deals, smallpox, war and other factors. Bed-Stuy itself was settled and purchased by Dutch settlers from the Canarsee in 1670. Throughout the rest of the Brooklyn township, the Dutch settlers would establish villages with other European settlers from Germany, Scandinavia, England and France bringing enslaved Africans along with them. By 18th century, enslaved Africans would become a third of Kings County’s population with slavery becoming illegal in New York State in 1827.
Named after the Dutch village of Bedford and the last governor of the New Netherlands, Peter Stuyvesant in 1667, Bed-Stuy was once considered two separate neighborhoods: Bedford and Stuyvesant Heights. With the Williamsburg Bridge being completed in 1907, Italians and Jews moved in large numbers to Bedford and Stuyvesant Heights from the Lower East Side. Starting in 1915, more than six million African Americans migrated out of the rural Southern part of the United States to the urban cities in the Northern and the Midwestern United States to escape the lack of economic opportunities, as well as Jim Crow segregation and lynchings. They decided to take advantage of the demand for industrial workers that emerged from World War 1. Harlem became populated with African Americans and diasporic black people which blossomed into a political, social and cultural movement known as the Harlem Renaissance. This movement developed Harlem into a black cultural mecca during the 1920s. During the 1930s, the Eighth Avenue line covered by the A train was extended into Brooklyn from Manhattan. With Harlem being very populated, many of Harlem’s black residents moved to what would finally merge into Bed-Stuy due to the train line extension. Bed-Stuy’s new black residents sought better living conditions, less crowded neighborhoods and more job opportunities, especially at the Brooklyn Navy Yard during World War 2. Occurring during the 1930s alongside the Harlem Renaissance was the Great Depression. Out of this came a very racist systematic practice known as “redlining.”
REDLINING: The systematic practice of denying or limiting financial services to certain neighborhoods based on racial or ethnic composition without regard to the residents’ qualifications or creditworthiness.
(Map of redlined Brooklyn)
This racist housing policy was created by the Federal Housing Administration in 1934. The FHA collaborated with banks and insurance companies to create the new government agency: the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation. This is the apparatus that redlining was executed through. Redlining benefitted white home ownerships by making loans guaranteed. Black people and those who lived around them were denied loans outright. Bed-Stuy was assessed by an appraiser for the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation. Neighborhoods such as Bed-Stuy, East New York, Williamsburg and Crown Heights were all redlined which was categorized as “hazardous.” In the appraiser’s summary he described what put the redline around Bed-Stuy:
Colored infiltration a definitely adverse influence on neighborhood desirability.
The redlining resulted in white flight of the neighborhood. The war economy allowed Italians and Jews to move out in large numbers to Queens and Long Island. Bed-Stuy’s black population was 155,000 by 1950 making up 55 percent of the neighborhood’s racial composition. By then another racist housing practice had begun: “blockbusting.”
BLOCKBUSTING: the practice of persuading owners to sell property cheaply because of the fear of people of another race or class moving into the neighborhood, and thus profiting by reselling at a higher price.
With black people becoming the majority in Bed-Stuy, real estate agents took advantage by putting fear in the neighborhood’s white residents. These residents sold their homes for cheap prices with the real estate agents making good profits off of the fear of black people.
Bed-Stuy would continue to be home of New York’s second largest African American neighborhood after Harlem.