A Brief History of Demographic Disparities on Long Island
Long Island is one of the United States of America's largest islands- yet, it is one of the nation's most segregated places. Continue reading below for a brief history of segregation on Long Island, and factors that equated to it.
(Image source: United States Geological Survey)
1930's: the Rise of the Automobile: Long Island's Parkways are Created
Long Island's Parkways, planned by Robert Moses, are famous for being a driving force in the development of the entire New York metropolitan area. However, the parkways were intentionally designed with low bridges (see image below, showing the Northern State Parkway). This was done to prevent low-income New Yorkers and people of color from coming to Long Island, as they usually travelled by bus. With the low bridge clearances, buses (and other tall vehicles) were physically unable to use Long Island's parkways. In addition to restricting large vehicles, the design of the parkways was also a big factor in preventing any large-scale commercial and urban development from occurring on Long Island.
(Source of image: New York State Digital Archives)
1950's: the Rise of Suburbia: Levittown is Born
Following the Second World War and the return of our brave soldiers, military families residing in New York City were in search more affordable housing. That's when Levitt & Sons stepped in and planned America's first mass-produced suburb. Levittown (see image below) was born and had a goal: create affordable housing for WHITE service members and their families (to this very day, the racial makeup of Levittown, NY is overwhelmingly non-Hispanic white). At the time, federal housing practices still frowned upon racial integration, and Levitt & Sons followed suit. Ever wonder why the Long Island Railroad doesn't have a station in Levittown? Levitt & Sons made it clear that they didn't want- in their words: "city elements"- coming to Levittown. This made the main mode of transport in the suburb the private automobile, which further prevented racial integration.
(Source of image: Acme Newsphotos)
1960's: White Flight in Roosevelt & the Wyandanch Riots
In the 1960's, Roosevelt, a hamlet in the Town of Hempstead (see image below), began to see an influx of families of color coming from New York City. Many white homeowners in the area started to quickly leave Roosevelt en masse, in a phenomenon known as "white flight". To this very day, Roosevelt remains a predominantly Black/African American community. Also occurring in the 1960's, on August 1-3, 1967, the hamlet of Wyandanch (located a few miles east in the Town of Babylon) experienced a violent riot, thanks to racial tensions in the area (and nationwide) that summer. The riots resulted in the vandalism of numerous structures in the hamlet.
(Source of image: Long Island Exchange)
1968: President Lyndon B. Johnson Signs the Fair Housing Act Into Law
In 1968, the Fair Housing Act was signed into law by President Lyndon Baines Johnson (see image below). This bill would outlaw seller and landlord discrimination, hence protecting those buying or renting homes. However, many Long Island communities would remain segregated- some to this very day.
(Source of image: Wikimedia Commons)
1970's: Slumlords Begin Illegally Subdividing Homes into Apartments
In the latter half of the 20th Century, slumlords started to illegally divide homes into small apartments (see image below) in numerous Long Island communities- such as Brentwood and New Cassel. Despite the Fair Housing Act of 1968 barring housing discrimination, the conditions in these subdivided homes continue to be abhorrent, violating multiple fire and building codes. To this very day, these illegal apartments- often found in lower-income neighborhoods- remain a huge problem in many Long Island communities.
(Source of image: Patch)
2000’s-Present: the Tale of Two Neighboring Villages
In the 21st Century, the two neighboring villages of Garden City and Hempstead remain polar opposites (see image below). Garden City is predominantly white and enjoys a low poverty level, an extremely successful school district, and a median household income exceeding $100,000. Across the street lies the Village of Hempstead. In Hempstead- which is predominantly African American and Hispanic- life is quite the contrary. In Hempstead, poverty has risen to over 20%, the public school system is struggling and narrowly avoided being taken over by New York State, and the median household income is significantly lower. Indeed, segregation still exists to this very day.
(Sources of images: left: Long Island Exchange, right: Wikimedia Commons)