A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from September 19, 2007
Little Liberia

Liberia (a country in East Africa) has experienced civil wars in the 1980s and 1990s. Many immigrants settled in Staten Island; the name “Little Liberia” was applied at least by 2003.


Wikipedia: Liberia
Liberia, officially the Republic of Liberia, is a country on the west coast of Africa, bordered by Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Côte d’Ivoire. Liberia, which means “Land of the Free”, was founded as an independent nation with support of the American government, for free-born and formerly enslaved Blacks and thus, is only one of two nations in Africa (along with Ethiopia) that didn’t fall under European domination. Since 1989 it has witnessed two civil wars, the First Liberian Civil War (1989–1996), and the Second Liberian Civil War (1999–2003), that have displaced hundreds of thousands of people and destroyed the country’s economy.

Wikipedia: Clifton, Staten Island
Clifton is a neighborhood in northeastern Staten Island in New York City in the United States. It is an older waterfront neighborhood, facing Upper New York Bay on the east. It is bordered on the north by Stapleton, on the south by Rosebank, on the southwest by Concord, and on the west by Van Duzer Street.

History
The name “Clifton” for the area dates to 1817, when a town by the name, larger in area than the present neighborhood, was laid out along the waterfront. In its early history, much of the surrounding land was owned by the Vanderbilt family. As a young man, Cornelius Vanderbilt established ferry service from the waterfront to Manhattan at the foot of present Vanderbilt Avenue. Bayley Seton Hospital, north of Vanderbilt Avenue, was formerly the United States Public Health Service Hospital and housed the original headquarters of the National Institutes of Health (now located in Bethesda, Maryland).

The Park Hill Apartments, a privately-owned but federally-subsidized low-income housing complex on Vanderbilt Avenue, became the site of steadily increasing crime and drug abuse beginning in the mid-1960s; by the late 1980s it had gained the nickname of “Crack Hill” due to the many arrests for possession and/or sale of crack cocaine that were taking place in and around the development and the adjacent Fox Hills Apartments to the south. However, crime in this area has dramatically decreased since the late 1990’s.

In the 1990s, the neighborhood became the center for an immigrant community from Liberia and West Africans around Targee Street. The residences in the neighborhood are mostly one-family houses, but the last decade has seen the development of many attached homes and duplexes on formerly commercial property. The subdivion Celebration at Rainbow Hill located behind the Park Hill Apartments, contains single and two family attached homes occupied by primarily middle-class West Indians, Pakistani,Asians, and Hispanics. 

Village Voice
Trying Times in Little Liberia
On Staten Island, Reflections of a War-Torn Country
by Johnny Dwyer
August 20 - 26, 2003

Staten Island’s more than 6,000 Liberians stand as New York City’s most vivid living testimonial to the destruction caused by Charles Taylor. Starting from the day in 1989 when the American-educated Taylor, a protégé of Muammar Qaddafi, fought his way out of the bush and into power, a generation of Liberians has fled, many of them to the U.S. The luckiest of the survivors found a new home in the neighboring communities of Stapleton and Clifton, on the hillside overlooking the Verrazano Narrows. 

Staten Island Museum - Little Liberia Exhibit
Staten Island’s Little Liberia
April 8, 2004 - October 3, 2004

Photographed by Abigail Simon.
Reported by Johnny Dwyer.

“The word “belonging” has its roots in the idea of being “native born.” In Africa, this notion of belonging, of connection is essential. Life is infused with a sense of identityóin the face of the greatest uncertainties, there is that which is always certain: who you are. To an American, such clarity of history and destination is mysterious and ungraspable. We are a nation composed of children that have left home, trying to find the way to a place of eternal sun.

These photographs are a testament to the journey from Liberia to Staten Island. They are also the record of another distance: from alienation to assimilation, from African to American. In making these portraits, I have been very moved by the strength of heart with which these men and women face the chaos of the world. I am honored to bear witness to their love-- for their country, their culture and for each other.”

Abigail Simon
April 2004

Gotham Gazette: The Wonkster
Little Liberia
August 16th, 2007
When conversations turn to Staten Island, references to child soldiers don’t usually come up. But the borough is home to a large community of former child soldiers, writes Alissa Quart in Mother Jones magazine. The island, she says, has the largest population of Liberians outside of their native country, and the enclave is often called “Little Liberia.”

New York Times
From Staten Island Haven, Liberians Reveal War’s Scars
By ELLEN BARRY
Published: September 18, 2007
(...)
Ms. Manneh, who is now 24, told this story on a recent Saturday in a Staten Island dance studio with a broken public address system and a view of a decrepit municipal parking lot. A small group of Liberian refugees had gathered there to set in motion a grand project: Beginning next month, Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission will collect testimony on Staten Island, home to one of the largest populations of Liberians outside Africa, many of them survivors of 14 years of civil war.

The commission aims to construct a permanent historical record for Liberia, a country that has been wracked by power struggles and waves of savage violence.
(...)
Liberia was dominated by the descendants of freed American slaves, known as Americo-Liberians, until 1980, when a military coup thrust the Krahn ethnic group into power. In 1989, the warlord Charles Taylor gathered an army of boys and men from the Gio and Mano tribes to rise against the Krahn, leading to the massacre of thousands of civilians.

Mr. Taylor was elected president in 1997, but two years later he, too, faced a rebel uprising and was forced to resign. He is in custody in The Hague, in the Netherlands, waiting to face war crimes charges for his role in the conflict in Sierra Leone, leaving a battered Liberia to set about rebuilding. Among those searching for a place in the new society are child soldiers who, swept into the rebel movement by force or by choice, murdered and brutalized their countrymen. Human Rights Watch estimates their number at 20,000 or more.

Each spasm of violence sent a new set of Liberians to a row of boxy federally subsidized rental buildings in Park Hill. Liberians who moved to New York for school or work began settling there 30 years ago, attracted by the low cost of living. While the wars waged back home, they have found a way to live together: ambassadors’ wives and rural villagers, demobilized child soldiers and a former interim president.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityNeighborhoods • (0) Comments • Wednesday, September 19, 2007 • Permalink