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Library looks at race’s role in Laurelton demographics

Hyslop, the assistant manager of Queens Library's Long Island division, wanted to gather primary source material detailing efforts of Laurelton residents to fight back against "blockbusting and red-lining," techniques whereby real estate agents and banks colluded to create racially segregated neighborhoods, primarily through "white flight."Hyslop, through his research, had found newspaper clippings indicating that the Laurelton Jewish Center, with the help of Laurelton residents Jay Steingold and Rabbi Howard Singer, had fought back against block-busting, beginning in 1964 with the creation of the Greater Laurelton Fair Housing Council."They seemed to really want an integrated neighborhood," Hyslop said.Hyslop's project never really got off the ground. The Laurelton Jewish Center has since relocated and members of its aging congregation indicated that many records were likely discarded during the move.But through his research, Hyslop has developed some insight into a fascinating, and racially sensitive question: Why did the process of integrating black residents into neighborhoods that were traditionally populated by Italian, Irish and Jewish residents go much more smoothly in Laurelton than it did just up the road in Rosedale?"It's a bit of a mystery," Hyslop said, adding that he does have a theory. "Active community participation, groups like the Laurelton Jewish Center, seem to have made the situation much better."Maps available at www.socialexplorer.com, a demographics Web site based at Queens College and created by Sociology professor Dr. Andrew Beveridge, show that there were very few blacks in Queens in 1940 through 1950. In fact, the black population across the city was relatively small during this time. The Web site, which went up around 2001, has catalogued census information from 1910 and maps of Queens County, New York City and Los Angeles County can easily be searched, showing the percentage of black residents in a particular neighborhood during each decade of the 20th century.The maps of Queens shows a small black population in the area of downtown Jamaica during 1950. From 1950 to 1960, there was a major expansion of the black population, with African Americans beginning to populate South Jamaica, Springfield Gardens and Laurelton in greater numbers.There was a similarly large expansion of the black population in southeast Queens from 1960 to 1970 and again from 1970 to 1980. By 1990, maps show the black population in southeast Queens stretched straight from Jamaica to the Nassau border.Hyslop said blacks came to southeast Queens during the '50s, '60s and '70s, primarily from Brooklyn, because Queen was more residential and the homes were affordable. Red-lining and block-busting certainly fueled the cross-borough migrations, Hyslop said.Block-busting refers to real estate agents who preyed on racial tensions. They would contact white residents of neighborhoods that were integrating and tell them to sell their homes before more black families moved in, Hyslop said. Red-lining involved banks only giving loans to black families to buy homes in certain neighborhoods. These techniques were prevalent across the country during the 1960s and '70s. But what unfolded when blacks arrived in Laurelton and Rosedale was vastly different.In Rosedale there were ugly incidents targeting blacks. Some homes were firebombed and the neighborhood even saw the cross-burnings more typical in the Jim Crow south.Yet it was a sharp contrast to the situation a mile down the road in Laurelton, Hyslop said.Judith Todman, Hyslop's boss at the library's Long Island division, said it is unclear why the situation got so bad in Rosedale."There was a great deal of tension," Todman said. "Laurelton was ahead of the curve in that regard. There were tensions, but they were way ahead of Rosedale."Todman grew up in Laurelton during the 1970s. Her family bought the home from an Irish family that was taking on an extra family member and needed more space. She didn't recall any issues surrounding the purchase of the home.She also remembered the neighborhood as heavily Jewish, but described it as "integrated.""Laurelton was just years ahead," Todman said.Reach reporter Craig Giammona by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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