Rosedale, Queens: an unsung neighborhood

Written by Jahaida Hernandez Jesurum




Within just two square miles in the southeastern portion of Queens, lies Rosedale, home to a population of a little more than 30,000 residents. I first drove to Rosedale on a sunny Saturday afternoon in August. The first thing I saw was Brookville Park, with its welcoming and overwhelming greenery scattered with family picnics, basketball players, and bicycle riders. 

Driving south on Brookville Boulevard I glanced at beautiful homes of pristine white painted fences, front and backyard gardens with freshly cut grass, seemingly free of the noise of the city — except for the low flying airplanes, as Rosedale is located next to John F. Kennedy International Airport.  


A little more than a century ago, the area was completely different. A 1910 map shows the area of Rosedale as it was around that decade, when southern Queens was mostly farmland and scattered small towns.

It is only in the mid-1930s that Rosedale started developing as a suburban community, initially attracting primarily white, working-class families of European descent, including Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans, and Jews. These original settlers were seeking a better life for themselves and their families, and home ownership opportunities in the area that promised safety and protection. The neighborhood continued to grow in the decades following the Second World War, still attracting predominantly white, working- and middle-class families. Some African American and black immigrant families also started to move in, representing by the mid-1970s about 10 percent of the neighborhood’s population.




Streets of Rosedale, today


As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette highlighted in this article, life wasn’t always easy for them. The new home of one of the neighborhood’s families of color, the Spencers, was pipe-bombed on the night of December 31, 1974, little time after they had moved in. But they didn’t leave;  “We are here to stay,” they told the press. The media attention the Spencers received encouraged other people and communities, of all backgrounds, to come together and fight against discrimination and violence. In 1976, Bill Moyers released a documentary titled Rosedale: The Way It Is, showcasing the racial tensions and unrest unrolling across the neighborhood during this turbulent period.   

But contrary to the chaos and racial strife predicted by sociologists and other analysts in the mid-1970s, Rosedale has since changed for the better, becoming a model of cultural pluralism and racial integration, as proudly described by the Rosedale Civic Association. The role of this organization was in fact instrumental in this respect. It fought for social justice for minority residents, and collaborated with the local police to put an end to acts of harassment and violence. A key victory was the dissolution of the openly racist and bigot group called “Restore our American Rights” (ROAR). It is also at that time the Rosedale Civilian Patrol was established, to guarantee security in the community. Subsequently, the neighborhood’s demographics rapidly changed, with more African Americans and immigrants, many of them from the non-hispanic Caribbean, moving in. Today, over 40 percent of Rosedale’s residents are foreign born, and nearly three-quarters are black (see the report The Newest New Yorkers and City-Data).

The past year and months have brought back into the forefront of public debate and consciousness the decades of discrimination and violence suffered by African Americans and other minorities in the US. As a woman immigrant of color, Moyers’ documentary resonated with me in a powerful way, and shed new light on these longstanding issues. How did a community that started with so few families of color in the 1970s became predominantly black and immigrant over a period of forty years? How did the turbulence of those two decades shape the neighborhood to what it is today?

Against all odds, the history of Rosedale is still unfolding. It faces challenges similar to those faced by any New York City neighborhood with a large minority population. Yet, aside it all, it is today a safe and exciting place to live, where coexisting communities contribute to cultural diversity and pluralism.   



You may also like...