Get Those Feet Movin’
Allen AME church. Photo By Ira Cohen
The right to practice your religion freely may date back to the Flushing Remonstrance, but one church in Queens symbolizes the continued progress of the church as a part of people’s lives, making a difference in everything it touches.
With a focus on spiritual, educational, social and economic development, Allen AME is considered the model for what is currently referred to as “faith-based community initiatives.”
Founded in 1834 and named for the leader of the AME movement, Richard Allen, the church has maintained the founding African Methodist Episcopal tenets of relying on God and their own resources to give strength and vitality to the black community.
Today, Allen AME is home to more than 100 ministries, from a blood bank to single parents’ ministry to the young adult ministry and French classes. They leave no stone unturned, seeking out new ways to help the more than 18,000 members of the church – and the rest of the community. People not only get help, but they help out, put to work to help make the community better.
The lively sermons, choir and band help bring the Word to the church in a way that moves the feet and stirs the spirit.
Allen AME takes the basics of religion and expression and gives it soul, depth and meaning within the community.
Can I get an amen?
A New American Conscience
The Bowne House in Flushing. Photo By Ira Cohen
If only the oldest house in the borough was solely the reason why so many generations prospered at 37-01 Bowne St., in Flushing, developers would be forever barred from demolishing even one property.
Luckily, the land marked Bowne house should never face the wrecking ball and continues to serve as a historical and educational icon amongst Queens history.
Built by John Bowne himself, nine generations of family members were born and raised in the small house spanning a time period of 300 years. His followers were among the country’s most successful businessmen, horticulturalists, educators and politicians.
As the first American settler in his family, Bowne participated in courageous acts of religious freedom, which established principals later defined in the Bill of Rights. In 1662, Bowne openly defied the religious ban put in place by the colony of New Netherland and allowed Quakers to hold services in his home. Bowne was arrested and imprisoned, and when he refused to pay a fine or plead guilty, Governor Peter Stuyvesant banished him to Holland, where he argued his case successfully before the Dutch West India Company.
Today, the house is open to the public, as it serves as a museum and educational tool for all of Queens and the world.
ALLEY POND GIANT
Queens’ Oldest Friend
The Alley Pond Giant.
Nestled somewhere in Alley Pond Park exists a 133-foot tulip tree, which is said to be the tallest of all natural species in the five boroughs, and the oldest living thing in Queens – anywhere between 350 and 450 years old.
Unfortunately, walking the paths of the 635-acre park and heeding guidance from the city’s Urban Park Rangers, may still not be enough to locate the giant tulip tree.
According to a 2000 New York Times report, the tulip tree skies above the clouds, but is hidden “in an obscure corner” of the park.
According to the Park Rangers, the tree can be accessed by parking your car near 233rd Street and 64th Avenue and taking what is known as the “white trail” past a ravine and into the woods. It is said that drivers can see the tree while traveling westbound on the Long Island Expressway, though a check in the winter turned up no trace. Neither, too, did a mile of hiking up and down the hilly, wooded landscape.
Perhaps it’s best to be left alone. The tree is said to be fenced in to protect it from Queens’ younger crowd – centegenarians included.
A Touch Of Chinese Soul
Paddling at the Dragon Boat race.
The origin of the dragon boat races that take in Flushing Meadows Corona Park every August lies deep in Chinese mythology.
For the past 15 years, Meadow Lake has played host to the competition in Queens, where hundreds of athletes – Asian and non-Asian alike – compete to see who can row the fastest and come away with thousands of dollars in prizes.
Officially commemorated on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, dragon boat races symbolize the struggles of Qu Yuan, as he tried to fight the Zhou Dynasty’s corrupt court system. According to legend, Yuan fell into despair and threw himself into the Milou River. Fishermen who tried to saved the beloved minister paddled through the river, attempting to find and save Guan, but failed and his body was never found.
In a dedication to Yuan’s sacrifice, thousands of years later, dragon boat races continue to be held in China, across the world and in Queens, home to the biggest Asian population on the East Coast. The boats are brightly painted and decorated canoes, ranging from 40 to 100 feet long. Depending on the size of the vessel, up to 80 rowers can power the boat and the race is concluded when the first team grabs the flag at the end of the course.
Freedom’s First Fight
A portion of the Flushing Remonstrance.
The basic concept of religious freedom that we were taught in school, the story of freedom in America that led countless millions to leave oppression and seek the ability to practice their faith freely, started here in Queens with a single document.
New Netherland Governor Peter Stuyvesant had a ban on meetings held by Quakers, many of whom were in the Dutch settlement of Flushing. Infuriated by the ban, 29 local farmers and townspeople signed the Flushing Remonstrance in 1657, the first written document proclaiming religious freedom in the colonies. The three-page letter had its edges burned in 1911 after a fire in the State Capitol, but the document still exists today.
Currently housed in the State Archives in Albany, a recent effort has been put forth by former Queens Tribune editor David Oats to bring the Remonstrance back to the borough.
Out And Proud In Queens
Enjoying the Jackson Heights Pride Parade.
From Astoria to Flushing to Jamaica, Queens prides itself on a diversity that not only thrives within its borders but also educates its communities. From Greeks to Dominicans to Koreans and Haitians, the borough is a unified community, beyond color and creed.
For the past 14 years, neighbors, elected officials and community leaders have come together with the borough’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities joining hands as they walk into a magnificent celebration of life, love and sexuality- the Queens Pride Parade in Jackson Heights.
Colorful floats parade down 37th Avenue, drag shows play out along the route as the sounds of meringue and the smells of authentic ethnic dishes fill the air at the Jackson Heights Pride Parade.
Reinforcing that mere differences in sexuality is no reason for neighbors to turn their backs on each other, the pride parade also reminds neighbors that being out is not in Manhattan, but wherever you are.
A Haven For Foreign Born
Queens is filled with the children of immigrants. Photo By Ira Cohen
Whether you decide to make a right or a left off of Queens Boulevard in either direction, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll wind up in a neighborhood you’d swear was right out of another country, that is until you see the ever so familiar no parking signs.
Heading onto Broadway and into Elmhurst and Jackson Heights, it’s like you’ve crossed two oceans, being in Latin America one second and India the next.
The spices and aromas of Colombian, Dominican and Ecuadorian food fill the air along Roosevelt Avenue as blaring Punjabi beats race towards your ears while walking down 74th Street, and bright, glittering outfits catch your eye.
The sudden transitions from country to country are what make Queens the mosaic it is. No longer a melting pot like it was a century ago, today more than 100 languages are spoken across the borough, and not one ethnicity is shadowed by another. But what do you expect when half the borough’s population is comprised of immigrants?
Fat Beats And Fly Girls
Hollis’ Run-DMC helped make hip hop king.
In the depths of the urban ghettos of the 1970s, the latest version of one-upmanship was taking an interesting turn. The block party MC was starting to talk some trash, try to get with the ladies or just talk about his money over songs he was mixing.
Well, rather than talk over a song the DJ was playing, the MC and DJ started working together, with one laying a beat while the other offered a rhyme. The result was a new style given its name by the first song of its kind to be given commercial release – “Rappers’ Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang: “I said a hip hop, the hippie the hippie, to the hip hip hop, a you don’t stop the rock it.”
Hip Hop was born, but may have just been a flash in the pan to die in the South Bronx if not for a kid from Queens named Russell Simmons who created Def Jam Records, signed LL Cool J and followed up that act with his kid brother’s group, Run-DMC.
Hip hop was launched from Queens but has never forgotten its roots; with such luminaries as Nas, 50 Cent, Salt N Pepa, Tribe Called Quest and Onyx, to name a few, the pride of Queens hip hop is as strong today as it was 20 years ago.
Lemon Ice King
The Taste Of Sweet Success
The Lemon Ice King. Photo By Ira Cohen
Walking up to the small blue and white Lemon Ice King stand on the corner of 52nd Avenue and 108th Street in Corona, you’re instantly brought back to the hot summer days of the 1940s when kids would swarm around the glass windows with a quarter in hand.
It was 1944, the sun was beating down on all of Queens, and Peter Benfaremo had two recipes ready to cool off the neighborhood. Today, 62 years and some 3,400 Mets home games later, the Lemon Ice King still operates on that same corner, but now the original Lemon Ice King of Corona, old man Benfaremo, can sit on a stool dozing off in the summer sun as the family serves up 35 homemade flavors every day.
The tiny paper cups filled with ice and fruit chunks start at $1; sure it’s nothing too fancy but to those sitting across the street at the park or playing bocce ball with a smile on their face, and to the kids walking towards Shea Stadium with sweet sugar dripping down their chins, the Queens institution is one of the neighborhood’s last Italian glories.
Satchmo’s Legacy Lives On
Louis Armstrong called Queens home.
The notes that came out of Louis Armstrong’s trumpet were some of the greatest, loudest and most influential. But in Queens when a jazz number played by Armstrong is heard, it’s not the notes that resonate with the listeners, it’s the life and contributions of a man who lived in their community that stand out.
Armstrong may have defined what it was to play Jazz, but he also defined what it meant to educate disadvantaged children in music. Like almost all early Jazz musicians, Louis was from New Orleans, yet it was Corona that he called home.
Bequeathing his house and substantial archives of writings, books, recordings, and memorabilia to the City University of New York’s Queens College, the Louis Armstrong archives have been available to music researchers, and his home at 34-56 107th St. in Corona.
The luminary rests at the Flushing Cemetery and his legend plays on in the souls of Queens children.
Contemporary Art’s Home
P.S. 1has been leading the way for 35 years. Photo By Ira Cohen
Along the walls of the first public school in Queens hangs the work of some of the country’s foremost contemporary artists. Classes may no longer be in session but ingenious and edgy concepts are still swirling around the large ex-classrooms.
P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center on Jackson Avenue in Long Island City took over the former public school building in 1971 with support from the Museum of Modern Art and kept the name; maybe it was because they thought it would sound innovative or maybe it was just because they knew the spirit of learning was still within the walls.
Either way the conversion left most of the original features of the school, even the bathrooms and the boiler room, which is no longer off limits as works of art are positioned on the walls. P.S. 1 is the oldest and second largest non-profit arts center in the United States solely devoted to contemporary art.
At the tips of Queens residents’ fingers is a world of renowned exhibits and prestigious International Artist Studio Program, serving the community with a broad spectrum of education and public programs.
The impact of P.S. 1 doesn’t stop at its doors, the center also operates the Internet radio station WPS1, which features a stream of talk and music shows, and a free on-demand archive of more than 1,600 programs.
Crooner Keeps Queens Heart
Looking across the East River at the gleaming lights of Manhattan from an Astoria street, it’s hard to imagine how a hometown hero could croon about leaving his heart in San Francisco.
Especially when all along, Tony Bennett has been pouring not only his heart but also his soul into Queens. From rags to riches Bennett, born as Anthony Dominick Benedetto, might not have known he was going to woo the hearts of swarms of beautiful women with that voice of his, but he knew one day that the hearts of his neighbors were surely going to be his.
Performing beside Mayor Fiorello La Guardia at age 10 during the opening ceremony for the Triborough Bridge in 1936, the city got just a taste of the talent that thrives within the borderlines of Queens. In the early 1950s, Bennett went on to score a series of major hits that made him not only one of the most popular recording artists of the time, but an idle to dozens of boys hanging out along Astoria Boulevard.
But it was over the next few decades and through the friendship the crooner made with old blue eyes that brought more than his music to Queens. When Bennett founded the Frank Sinatra High School of Performing Arts in 2001 he once again left his heart behind, this time in Long Island City.
Civil Rights In Queens
In the early 1960s, East Elmhurst had become a burgeoning neighborhood for the growing black middle class. It was during that time that a prominent minister for the Nation of Islam moved his family into a two-story, detached home on 97th St.
That minister, Malcolm X, moved into the area with his wife and children, hoping to attain some measure of domestic tranquility. Sadly, his home would become a symbol of the strife and violence that typified the last year of his life.
When Malcolm X moved into the house, which was owned by the Nation of Islam, he was the most recognizable and revered figure in the Black Muslim movement. But after he discovered an adultery scandal in the leadership ranks of the religion, Malcolm broke with the group and began advocating for a more harmonious brand of racial integration.
His public separation flared anger within the Nation of Islam, which attempted to evict Malcolm from his home. After he fought the action in court, the house was firebombed during the night, shaking surrounding homes. Malcolm and his family escaped, but were forced to vacate the property soon after. It was the last home he would ever have: three days after leaving, Malcolm X was gunned down at a speech in Washington Heights.
A Queens Legacy
The Queens Tribune has been at it for 36 years.
In our 36th year of providing the news to the residents of Queens, the Queens Tribune continues to keep its finger on the pulse of the communities we cover.
Our publisher is Queens born and bred, sitting at the helm of this publication for the last 26 years. His good friend and Congressman, who started this paper before entering a life in politics, has been a trusted servant of the borough for decades.
The newsroom of sharp-penned writers is led by another child of Queens, who weighs his lifetime of experience in the borough against every piece.
The Queens Tribune continues to dig for the stories that matter to the people of this borough, that touch our lives, that bring us joy, tears and cheer.