In 1929, amid the fanfare of speeches and celebrations, workers in Brooklyn laid the first tracks of the Fulton Street IND subway line. For a mere nickel, residents would soon have their lives and community radically changed by this new steel artery connecting Bedford-Stuyvesant to the wider circulatory system of New York City.
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Brooklyn's leadership, gathered in the depths of the city for the indoor groundbreaking ceremony, were aware of the transformative potential of this project. As Postmaster Albert Firmin pointedly stated, “It is necessary that we find some way to relieve the congestion of Manhattan by the distribution of the population throughout our own borough and our neighboring borough of Queens.”
Little did they know, the Fulton IND line, linking Bed-Stuy to the A and C lines from Harlem to Queens, would do far more than simply alleviate Manhattan's congestion. When it opened to riders on April 9, 1936, it set in motion a demographic revolution in Bed-Stuy.
In the Roaring Twenties and early Thirties, Bed-Stuy was a predominantly white enclave. However, the enhanced connectivity provided by the subway started to redraw the neighborhood's racial and cultural lines. Coupled with the drawing power of World War II-era manufacturing jobs, black communities began to migrate into the city, seeking both employment and housing.
The convenience of the new subway line and the comparative spaciousness of Bed-Stuy, compared to the bustling, crowded streets of Harlem, made the neighborhood an appealing proposition. Resistance and prejudice from some white residents couldn't halt the changing tide, and by the 1940s, Bed-Stuy had become the second-largest black community in New York City.
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