- Type of Place
- CDP, Unincorporated Borough, or MCD
- Metro Area
- Long Island
- Politics c. 1860?
- Strongly Republican
- Unions, Organized Labor?
- Don’t Know
Sundown Town Status
- Sundown Town in the Past?
- Black Town or Township
- Was there an ordinance?
- Year of Greatest Interest
- Still Sundown?
- Surely Not
Method of Exclusion
Main Ethnic Group(s)
From Molly McCarthy, “North Amityville, Where Freed Slaves Could Make a Home”
“When Irwin Quintyne went shopping for a new home in Levittown after World War II, the real estate agents told him bluntly that blacks weren’t wanted. So Quintyne turned to the only community he knew of that would welcome his family North Amityville.
“I saw an ad in The Amsterdam News for homes in Amityville. I got a GI loan and bought a house on Bayview Avenue,” said Quintyne, 70, who now lives on Madison Avenue. “It seemed we were almost guided here by the racism on Long Island. After Levittown, North Amityville was it.”
Actually, there were several communities on Long Island where blacks settled in the postwar housing boom. Besides North Amityville, there were Wyandanch, Roosevelt, Hempstead and West Hempstead. Quintyne wasn’t aware of those places at the time; he picked North Amityville because he had a friend who lived there.
As political scientist Andrew Wiese argued in a paper on racial segregation on Long Island presented at a Hofstra University conference in 1993, black suburbs like North Amityville grew out of historic black enclaves in unincorporated areas that were out of reach of municipal restrictions designed to exclude blacks. In North Amityville’s case, the hamlet was excluded when the predominantly white village of Amityville incorporated in 1894.
“In these places, race acted as a double edged sword, carving small spaces for black families adjacent to older communities largely because developers for whites would not risk building there and no concentrated white elite was in place to organize against them,” Wiese wrote. “Developers ceded these places to the African American market.” This is in contrast with a place such as Gordon Heights, a community in Brookhaven Town that was deliberately marketed to blacks starting in the early 1900s.
The history of North Amityville as a black enclave actually goes back to the 1700s, when the first blacks came to Amityville as slaves, freed slaves or indentured servants. While some may have worked their own land, others were employed by the wealthy white farmers who settled along the shore. By 1815, they were meeting in one another’s homes for religious services, forming one of the oldest black congregations on Long Island: the Bethel African Methodist Church. (The church was originally founded as the Bethel Church by Indian families who had settled the community earlier.)
As slaves were gradually emancipated across New York, many in communities like Amityville continued to work the land as tenant farmers or as laborers. Some moved into commercial or retail industries, providing services for the burgeoning black enclave. They opened barber shops, liveries, groceries and delicatessens. And when Amityville became a premier summer destination for vacationers, many blacks were hired to work in the hotels and resorts built by the sea.
Lillian Miller, 83, recalls the stories her late husband, Norman, used to tell about his earliest ancestors. “His grandmother was born on the Shinnecock reservation, and his grandfather used to go to the bay every day to fish. He kept cows and chickens,” said Miller, who still lives in the house her husband built on Columbus Boulevard in 1932. “And Norman’s mother used to work as a servant for old Dr. Luce in the village.” Lillian’s own parents, John and Lillie Kenney, moved to North Amityville in 1923, when Lillian was 9 years old. Originally from Charleston, S.C., the couple spent the early part of their marriage in upper Manhattan until they could afford a move to the country. When they had enough money, Lillie opened a deli on Albany Avenue near Smith Street and John had a barber shop nearby.
These three families, the Millers, the Kenneys and the Quintynes, neatly illustrate the dominant patterns of black migration on Long Island. First, there were the freed slaves who farmed the land just as the early white settlers did. Then there were families like the Kenneys, who came in the early part of this century to work as servants in the large summer hotels or open businesses catering to the growing summer populations. And, finally, middle class families like the Quintynes were driven to these same communities where earlier black families provided an anchor.
In a 20 year span ending in 1960, the African American population on Long Island grew by 50,000. But the bulk of that growth didn’t come until the 1950s when new suburban developments such as North Amityville’s Ronek Park were sprouting up to cater to the black middle class.
Many of the streets that would make up Ronek Park, like Bayview Avenue and Emerald Lane, were carved out of a farm the Von Nessen family ran for more than 30 years. Bought by Thomas Romano, the land that once produced fruits and vegetables sprouted ranch homes that sold in 1951 for $8,400 apiece. Romano eventually built more than 1,000 three bedroom homes in Ronek Park, according to Wiese.
“When we built our house, there were a few others,” remembers Lillian Miller. “Now, they’re all around. As they years went by, it all filled in. I guess people just kept coming.”
Where to Find More: “A History of North Amityville,” by Walter G. Clerk, available in the Amityville Public Library.
Also, “Racial Cleansing in the Suburbs: Suburban Government, Urban Renewal, and Segregation on Long Island, New York, 1945 1960,” by Andrew Wiese, a chapter in the book “Contested Terrain: Power, Politics, and Participation in Suburbia,” edited by Marc L. Silver and Martin Melkonian.”
Long Island’s black settlements:
Suffolk County: Brentwood, Central Islip, Flanders, Gordon Hts, North Amityville, North Bay Shore, North Bellport; Nassau County: Freeport [integrated, Hempstead, New Cassel, Roosevelt, Uniondale. “A study last year found the Island to be the most segregated suburb in the nation.” (Vivan S. Toy, “Stuck in Last Place,” NY Times, 5/4/2003.)
North Amityville had 8,366 in 1960, 76% black; 16,572 in 2000, 86% minority, with 13.5% Hispanic, c. 72% black. Median family income $50K, compared to $72K for Suffolk County. Irwin Quintyne, moved there in 1961, owing to “ads that ran in local Harlem newspapers” and “He also remembers that other growing LI communities, Levittown in particular, made it clear that they didn’t want blacks.”
Unincorporated. The larger county didn’t do anything for them, under Republicans. (But Republicans point out that areas under Democrats fared little better.) Black middle-class flight from North Amityville began by 1970. Drugs, crime.