Addisleigh Park, a small portion of St. Albans in southeast Queens, was home to many people who were influential to black history. Athletes and musicians such as Jackie Robinson, Ella Fitzgerald, Joe Louis and Miles Davis once called the small town home.
But their acceptance there did not come easy, as it took years to break racial barriers that once kept the neighborhood exclusively white.
“I heard of the problems that used to be associated with my neighborhood,” said Phillip Douglas, 74, who moved to Addisleigh Park in 1952 and currently lives there. “But when I moved in, most of the racial problems had passed and more and more black people started to move in.”
In the 1940s, Addisleigh Park was mostly owned by white families. Black families started to move into the area but were not allowed to live there due to deed restrictions on houses that prohibited the sale of the property to blacks.
These restrictions were later thrown out by the United States Supreme Court, which said that these rules violated the equal protection of all citizens. Upon this case ruling, black families moved into the area at a fast pace and by 1952, Douglas said that the neighborhood was predominately black.
Famous people who paved the way for many blacks took up residence there, including Roy Campanella, W.E.B Du Bois, Eugene Earl Bostic, James Brown and Count Basie, among others.
Douglas said he remembers playing outside of his house when he was young and seeing Campanella and Robinson drive by and stop to talk to the children in the neighborhood. He said even though some people and celebrities put themselves on a pedestal, it was the exact opposite for the ones he knew in the neighborhood.
“Looking back, I would take conversations with people like Roy [Campanella] for granted,” said Douglas. “You’d be surprised how normal they actually were even though they were looked upon as so important in society.”
He talked about how tight-knit the neighborhood was and still is, a sentiment that Olivia C. Banks, another longtime Addisleigh Park resident, couldn’t agree with more.
“Living here with your neighbors is like living with family,” said Banks, 77, who moved to the neighborhood in 1958. “I liked what we had when I was younger but the neighborhood has made some great improvements since.”
Andrea Scarborough, president of the Addisleigh Park Civic Association, said holding her position for the past 13 years has been very rewarding.
“There’s a mix of professionals, seniors and municipal workers that make the community great,” she said. “The community comes together and the people that live here really care about the neighborhood.”
The neighborhood got recognition for being so important to history in 2011, when the city Landmarks Preservation Commission designated it a historic district. In Addisleigh Park, 442 homes became part of the historic district protecting the area from redevelopment.
Douglas said he was proud that he was able to see all of this history firsthand.
“I grew up around some of the greatest talent, even though they didn’t get the recognition they deserved back then,” he said. “It was nice to live here, these were good times in my life. I have great memories.”