Welcome to Bedford-Stuyvesant
Bedford-Stuyvesant has emerged as a hotspot for arts and culture in Brooklyn. Popular figures residing here include June Jordan, Hattie Carthan, Mos Def, Chris Rock, and Aaliyah, The Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z, Lil Kim, Big Daddy Kane, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Busta Rhymes, Fabolous, and GZA. Bedford-Stuyvesant has also been the setting for several of Spike Lee’s films. See posts about this neighborhood.
Bedford-Stuyvesant originated as an expansion of the Village of Bedford. The word Bedford is an anglicized form of the Dutch word Bestevaar which translates to “place where the wise old men meet”. The Village of Bedford was eventually expanded to include an area called Stuyvesant Heights, and the two communities joined to become what is now Bedford-Stuyvesant.
In King’s County before the Revolutionary War, the Village of Bedford was a separate town from the Village of Brooklyn, both situated on the ferry road to Jamaica, Queens and Eastern Long Island. On August 27th 1776 the Battle of Brooklyn, also known as the Battle of Long Island, was the first battle ever fought by the United States. It marked the beginning of the Revolutionary War and seven years of British occupation in Brooklyn. November 25th 1782 would be celebrated by Brooklynites and New Yorkers alike as Evacuation Day, a day marking a proud return to peacetime.
For the next several years the area of Bedford Stuyvesant re-established itself as a landmark. During and after World War II, many African-American families from the South began migrating into the neighborhood as a result of the decline in agricultural work in the South. The neighborhood also saw its first wave of West African immigrants arrive at this time that went on to establish a strong cultural and commerce force in the Bedford Stuyvesant community. Today Bedford Stuyvesant is home to the second largest population of African Americans in the United States. It continues to serve as an international epicenter for Black culture.
Although Bedford-Stuyvesant first gained global recognition as the setting for several of Spike Lee’s films including Do the Right Thing, Crooklyn, and Clockers, its fame predated those film features. Bedford-Stuyvesant has certainly earned its place as the hot spot for emerging arts and culture in Brooklyn. In fact, one might even say that it has experienced a renaissance akin to Harlem’s. It is rare for so much talent to emerge from one place.
Interest has rejuvenated in celebrating Bedford-Stuyvesant’s rich early history and the important 20th century figures it has produced, including community activist and poet June Jordan, activist Hattie Carthan, rapper/actor Mos Def, baseball great Jackie Robinson and comedian/actor Chris Rock to name a few. Musical artists include Randy Weston, a true Jazz legend, Aaliyah, The Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z, Lil Kim, Mos Def, Talib Kweli and Fabolous. The notable Lena Horne who graduated from Girls High School in Bedford-Stuyvesant, was also a product of this community. The counterpart, Boys High School was designated as a historical landmark in 1975 and today serves its community by providing alternative adult education.
Beyond its startling yield of entertainment industry talent, Bedford-Stuyvesant was also home to political dynamo Shirley Chisholm, who also attended Girls High School. Chisholm, a member of the Democratic Party, was the first African-American woman to serve as a congressional representative in the United States. In 1972, she was a United States Presidential nominee. Bedford-Stuyvesant’s strong political leadership has continued through the work of individuals such as Council Member Albert Vann and Assembly Member Annette Robinson.
At the heart of Fulton Street is one of Bedford Stuyvesant’s most familiar landmarks — the 300,000 square foot Restoration Plaza, owned and managed by Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation. In 1967 Senator Robert Kennedy, in an attempt to address urban malaise announced the creation of the Restoration Corporation. Today Restoration Plaza is the civic and commercial center of Bedford Stuyvesant following in a long traditional of flourishing commerce. In its earliest years, large landholders created Bedford farms to feed the growing population of Manhattan.
In addition to housing Restoration’s administrative and program headquarters, Restoration Plaza is a major destination for education, commerce, and culture in Central Brooklyn. It is home to the Billie Holiday Theatre, Skylight Gallery and the Restoration Dance Theatre, and plays host to outdoor concerts and community events on its outdoor plaza.
Keeping true to Brooklyn’s reputation as the “City of Churches”, Bedford-Stuyvesant is also home to many historical and prominent black churches including the 111 year-old St. Philip’s Episcopal Church and Bridge Street AWME Church. Bridge Street AWME Church is also one of the oldest African-American churches in New York City. And like several Brooklyn churches; it is an important stop on the Underground Railroad.