BY JASON COHEN
From sites where jazz musicians once lived to iconic theaters, Southeast Queens is filled with historic African American sites and landmarks.
Two prominent African American theater companies are located in Southeast Queens—Black Spectrum Theatre and The Center for Culture the Afrikan Poetry Theatre.
The Black Spectrum Theatre, located at 177-01 Baisley Blvd. in Jamaica, was founded in 1970 by writer, producer and filmmaker Carl Clay. It was originally a small traveling theater company made up of performers from Afro, Caribbean and Latino descent before opening a professional theater within Roy Wilkins Park.
The Black Spectrum is a 325-seat venue that brings theater, film and performing arts to Southeast Queens by showcasing the work of emerging African American directors, performers and playwrights.
Since 1979, the company has presented more than 1,500 performances by 150 theatrical productions and garnered critical acclaim.
The Afrikan Poetry Theatre, located at 176-03 Jamaica Ave. in Jamaica, was created in 1976 by John Watusi Branch and Yusef Wailyaya. The facility offers cultural activities, including music performances, lectures and writing workshops in addition to programs for children and their families.
Southeast Queens is also home to Addisleigh Park, a section of St. Albans that was named a historic site in 2011 by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. This neighborhood has been home to numerous African American musicians and athletes, including Clarence Williams, Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald, William “Count” Basie, Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella.
The impact of African Americans in Southeast Queens can also be seen through art. On the northern side of Linden Boulevard as it passes under the Long Island Rail Road, a mural depicts numerous prominent African Americans who made their mark on the community and nation, including Jackie Robinson, Cab Calloway, John Coltrane and Lena Horne. In 2004, a new mural was painted, replacing the old one.
In November 2013, the City Council approved a resolution to rename a section of South Road in Jamaica for the Tuskegee Airmen, a segregated unit of Army Air Corps pilots. South Road between Merrick Boulevard and Remington Street became Tuskegee Airmen Way.
Two other intersections in Southeast are also dedicated to African Americans. The Proctor-Hospon Circle, located near Merrick Boulevard between 108th Avenue and 108th Drive, was named for local Southeast Queens residents John Proctor and James Hopson in 1932. The two were members of the 369th Infantry of the National Guard, who perished during World War I.
The Gladys Warren Triangle—located at 104th Avenue and 194th Street in Hollis—honors the founder of the Hollis Local Development Corporation, a civic group that aims to preserve small businesses on Hollis Avenue.
The Pan-African flag, also known as the Marcus Garvey, UNIA, Afro-American or Black Liberation flag, is also represented in Southeast Queens. A boulder in the center of Liberty Triangle, a 168-acre park, has the white stripes of the Pan-African flag painted on it. The flag, which was adopted in 1920 by the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League, was a symbol for black freedom.
And in Corona, the Louis Armstrong House was once the home of the famed jazz musician and his wife, Lucille Wilson, but now acts as a museum that presents concerts and educational programs. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976.