BY TRONE DOWD
St. Albans is a cultural touchstone of Southeastern Queens. It has been a constantly evolving neighborhood, shifting alongside black culture through the years. The neighborhood is a place where the most talented African-Americans of the era have either been raised or chose to live, it is a hub of black history, and serves as proof of some great accomplishments within the community.
St. Albans, named for an old town in England, was first settled in 1892. Starting as a small town with the purchase of a Linden Boulevard farm, the town slowly began to develop over the next few years. With the help of a brand new railroad and a post office, all built within the seven years of the original settlement, it was just a matter of time before St. Albans on its way to becoming a decent place for folks to move in. By 1900, the land became a full fledged neighborhood with over 600 residents settled in and making a living for themselves.
As common with most Southeast Queens neighborhoods, St. Albans had a clear distinction pre and post World War II. During the 20th century’s earliest decades, most of the people moving in were middle class whites from European countries like Ireland and Germany. After World War II however, there was a big shift in population. As blacks began to rise to the middle class of America, they began to move into nicer, mixed neighborhoods like St. Albans. Unhappy with their new neighbors, many of the long time residents harassed the African-American families moving in. Unfortunately for them, they quickly realized their new black neighbors were pretty serious about staying in St. Albans despite the barrage of race-based harassment. It wasn’t long before white residents chose to abandon ship rather than giving the idea of co-existence the old freshman try.
Left with the neighborhood all to themselves, St. Albans became rich with black culture at a rapid pace. Some of the biggest names in funk and jazz fled to the live in St. Albans. The trend of the arts growing out of the neighborhood followed as hip-hop began to emerge during the mid-eighties. From Q-Tip to LL Cool J, hip-hip was just as prevalent here as it was in the Bronx and Hollis next door.
Addisleigh Park, the upscale portion of the neighborhood, has always been a standout. Families who initially moved here were seen as those who were able to move up the economically, as the houses were particularly beautiful within the community. Built in 1926, it was just north of the over 50-acre expansion known as Roy Wilkins Park. Named after the civil rights activist and one of the most prominent members of the NAACP, Roy Wilkins Park features baseball fields, basketball courts, handballs sections and more for visitors. The park also features a community center for programs and events held by local civic groups.
St. Albans is also home to a number of different houses of worship, many of which are well known in the community due to their long-standing relationship with residents. From the St. Albans Congregational Church, started by Rev. Robert Ross Johnson who was a founder of York College, to the Beth Elohim Hebrew Congregation, home of the black Jews in the neighborhood, St. Albans has no shortage of places to practice one’s religion.