Historical Context

Bedford-Stuyvesant is one of Brooklyn’s oldest neighborhoods, comprising two different historic communities: Bedford and Stuyvesant Heights. Bedford-Stuyvesant, New York City’s largest African-American neighborhood, is the result of a merging to these two distinct communities. In the 1600s, the Dutch West India Company bought a large parcel of farmland from the Canarsie Indians and named it Bedford – either for the Duke of Bedford or for England’s Bedfordshire. The mostly rural Bedford included the free black community of Weeksville. To the east, Stuyvesant Heights was established during the 1890s and was named for Peter Stuyvesant, director general of New Netherland during the 1600s. The two communities existed separately until the 1930s.

Bedford was a rural community well into the 1800s. When Brooklyn was incorporated in 1834, Bedford became part of a large tract of under-populated, rural land where only 666 people lived in 1835. Some 20 years later, the population had ballooned to 9,000, with Blacks comprising about one third of the population. The sparsely populated area became home to several charitable institutions, including the Brooklyn Orphan Asylum, the Brooklyn Home for Aged Men, the Brooklyn Home for Consumptives and St. Mary’s Hospital.
Throughout the 1900s, Bedford-Stuyvesant continued its growth – both geographically and demographically. The construction of an elevated train supported the types of changes in the community that resulted in an increase in the Black population and a migration by that population into other areas of Bedford-Stuyvesant. By 1940, Blacks comprised 25 percent of the population of Bedford-Stuyvesant, with the majority of Blacks in Brooklyn calling the neighborhood home. After World War II, the racial and demographic character of Bedford-Stuyvesant shifted as Whites moved from the area in large numbers and Blacks took over the available housing. Between 1940 and 1960, its population shifted from 75% white to almost 85% African American and Latino. By the 1960s, Bedford-Stuyvesant was home to more than 200,000 Brooklyn Blacks. That population represented the core of what would evolve into the largest Black community in New York City – far exceeding the population of Harlem by the mid-1970s.

The area is now best known for its abundance of handsome row houses and magnificent brownstone buildings as well as a thriving arts, culture, and culinary scene. An array of striking and historic brownstones, mansions, school buildings and more make Bedford-Stuyvesant unique among American neighborhoods. Reflecting the community’s proud heritage, these architectural gems may be found throughout the community.

Architectural, Historical, & Cultural landmarks

NYC Department of Housing Preservation & Development (2009) http://www.nyc.gov/html/hpd/html/home/home.shtml
Pratt Center for Community Development (2009)
Bedford-Stuyvesant: A Cultural Heritage.

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