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146th St. named for Gadsden

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Springfield Gardens residents paid homage last weekend to their former “mayor” who led a fight to prevent the neighborhood from becoming a commercial zone in the 1960s and dedicated years of service to his community.

A crowd of nearly 50 people cheered Saturday morning as a section of 146th Avenue at 175th Street was renamed J. Clifford Gadsden Way in memory of the Springfield Gardens activist, who organized his neighbors to fight the creation of a warehouse in the community in 1967.

The following year, Gadsden and 10 other residents founded the Spring-Gar Community Civic Association, which led the battle to prevent the neighborhood from becoming commercial property.

“We are humbled and elated,” said Robin Gadsden Dupree, one of Gadsden’s four children. “Today is a reaffirmation that people who understand advocacy can make a difference. It’s a confirmation that even ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things. If not for Mom and Dad, this would be air freight territory. If you ask for something and don’t get it, demand it.”

U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) said his political career was given a boost through his work with Gadsden, who would talk candidly with community leaders in the back room of his Springfield Gardens hardware store.

“All you have to do to know the greatness of Clifford Gadsden is to look at his family,” Meeks said. “If you look at the fruit of the tree, you can see how great the tree is.”

Three of Gadsden’s four children attended the ceremony — Robin Gadsden Dupree, of Tennessee; Clifford Gadsden, who lives across the street from his parents’ home; and Janice Gadsden, who lives on Roosevelt Island.

In 1967, Springfield Gardens residents received notice of a hearing about a request for a variance to build a warehouse in their residential area. Gadsden convinced community residents to unite to fight the proposal.

The Spring-Gar civic, which formed one year later, took on John F. Kennedy International Airport after freight trucks from the airport would roll down their streets, bumping into cars, breaking off mirrors and leaving tire tracks.

“They would come through the streets in the wee hours of the morning,” said Nora Palmer, a longtime community resident who was one of the civic’s founding members. “They’d gas up and shake the whole neighborho­od.”

Gadsden’s fight to preserve the community led to a court battle. Eventually the city closed off sections of the street along 146th Avenue, 146th Road and other roadways to prevent trucks from entering residential streets.

“The airport was encroaching, so it was the court papers that really put a stop to it,” state Assemblywoman Michelle Titus (D-Far Rockaway) said. “Mr. Gadsden’s leadership really protected our community.”

Gadsden, who originally moved to Sunnyside from Charleston, S.C., 45 years ago before settling in Springfield Gardens, served on Community Board 13 for more than 20 years and was a Democratic district leader in the 31st District. He died in 2005.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at nduke@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Updated 5:55 pm, October 10, 2011
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