The Historical Information Health of Black Communities on Long Island

Stony Brook University Honors College Senior Thesis

Case Study 3: Spinney Hill

Block Group 5 of Census Tract 3018 (representing Spinney Hill) with schools, libraries, and other points of interest. Map by Arielle Martinez.

INTRODUCTION

Like Eastville in Sag Harbor, Spinney Hill, a neighborhood on the North Shore of Nassau County, is a black enclave that formed around a church established by freed slaves. But in the 20th century, the residents in Spinney Hill were not welcomed in neighboring villages and their schools. What’s more, an urban renewal project in Spinney Hill in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s — billed as the “satisfactory development of ‘blighted’ Spinney Hill” by a local newspaper — pushed out black-owned businesses.

Spinney Hill itself is not an incorporated village or a census-designated place. Therefore, it is difficult to find exact geographic, demographic and economic measurements for Spinney Hill through census data. However, the U.S. Census Bureau does make some of these measurements for “block groups,” which are small areas within incorporated villages and census-designated places. Spinney Hill is located in Block Group 5 in Census Tract 3018 in the census-designated place Manhasset, and that block group is only slightly larger than Spinney Hill. Therefore this paper will instead measure the characteristics of Block Group 5 and Manhasset.

 

BACKGROUND

Geography

Spinney Hill is a neighborhood in the hamlet of Manhasset in the Town of North Hempstead in Nassau County. It sits just south of two peninsulas — the Great Neck peninsula and the Port Washington-Manhasset peninsula — that reached into the Long Island Sound, on the North Shore of Long Island. It is north of the Long Island Expressway and south of Northern Boulevard. Block Group 5 has a population of 1,366 and a total area of about 0.15 square miles, a density of about 9,107 people per square mil according to the 2010 Census.

History

The neighborhood of Spinney Hill is located near the Lakeville African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Manhasset, which was founded by freed slaves in the 1820s, according to the 2011 documentary “Spinney Hill: The African American History of Manhasset and Great Neck.”

Spinney Hill is named after Joseph Spinney, a wealthy merchant who in 1872 bought two acres of land in the area, built a church on the land and gifted the church to the Great Neck Methodist Episcopal Church (Hurst).

By the 1960s, segregation had become entrenched in the Great Neck area. A story about Great Neck from United Press International that was published in the June 30, 1961 issue of The Enquirer and News (Battle Creek, Michigan) reported that “most of the 2,000 Negroes who live here work as domestics for the well-to-do and live segregated in two neighborhoods” (1).

“Community Fights Its Own Prejudice” on Scribd

A block-by-block survey of Spinney Hill in the mid-20th century found “over-crowding, deterioration and rent-gouging,” according to the 1975 edition of the book “This is Great Neck,” published by the League of Women Voters of Great Neck. The book also states that a local weekly newspaper, The Great Neck Record, reported that it was “widely known that a gentleman’s agreement exists as to which properties are available to Negroes” (87).

During the Civil Rights Era, Great Neck residents formed a Committee for Human Rights to work toward the elimination of housing discrimination in the local area. The committee created a listing of 30 homes that were available for black buyers, according to the UPI story and the book “My Soul is a Witness: A Chronology of the Civil Rights Era, 1954-1965” by Bettye Collier-Thomas and V.P. Franklin (156). In 1961, a black family was able to buy a home in Kensington, a wealthy village just north of Spinney Hill (United Press International).

But Spinney Hill was still politically isolated from the patchwork of villages that surrounds it. In the early 20th century, these villages began incorporating in order to set up their own building and zoning codes to protect property values, according to the book “This is Great Neck” (69). Great Neck Estates and Saddle Rock incorporated in 1911, followed by Kensington in 1917, Kings Point and Great Neck in 1922, Great Neck Plaza in 1930, Thomaston in 1931, Lake Success in 1927, and Russell Gardens in 1931. But none of these villages included Spinney Hill in their incorporations.

Demography

Block Group 5’s population of 1,366 is 28.03 percent white, 48.1 percent black, 0.73 percent American Indian and Alaskan Native, and 11.93 percent Asian, according to the 2010 Census. People of two or more races make up 3.07 percent of the population, and Hispanic or Latino people of any race make up 27.67 percent. About 1,073 people, or 78.55 percent of the total, are over the age of 18.

Block Group 5 has a percentage of black residents that is greater than that of Manhasset (48.1 percent in Block Group 5 vs. 9.4 percent in Manhasset), the Town of North Hempstead (48.1 percent in Block Group 5 vs. 5.6 percent in the Town of North Hempstead) and Nassau County (48.1 percent in Block Group 5 vs. 11.1 percent in Nassau County). Block Group 5 also has a smaller percentage of white residents than the census-designated place, the town and the county (28.03 percent in Block Group 5 vs. 75.9 percent in Manhasset vs. 71.6 percent in the Town of North Hempstead vs. 73.0 percent in Nassau County) and a greater percentage of Hispanic or Latino residents of any race (27.67 percent in Block Group 5 vs. 8.8 percent in Manhasset vs. 12.8 percent in the Town of North Hempstead vs. 14.6 percent in Nassau County). Block Group 5 has a percentage of Asian residents that is greater than that of Manhasset (11.93 percent in Block Group 5 vs. 10.9 percent in Manhasset) and that of Nassau County (11.93 percent in Block Group 5 vs. 7.6 percent in Nassau County) but lesser than that of the Town of North Hempstead (11.93 percent in Block Group 5 vs. 15.0 percent in the Town of North Hempstead).

Block Group 5 also has a greater percentage of black residents than many of the surrounding wealthy villages. Great Neck has a population of 9,989 that is 82.8 percent white, 2.0 percent black, 7.2 percent Asian and 10.2 percent Hispanic or Latino of any race. Thomaston has a population of 2,617 that is 66.8 percent white, 1.1 percent black, 28.0 percent Asian and 5.2 percent Hispanic or Latino of any race. Lake Success has a population of 2,934 that is 67.2 percent white, 3.4 percent black, 27.0 percent Asian and 2.8 percent Hispanic or Latino of any race.

But historical census data compiled by the National Historical Geographic Information System from the last three decades shows that the black population of Block Group 5 has been shrinking. The percentage of black residents in Block Group 5 fell from 81.47 percent in 1990 to 59.79 percent in 2000, to 48.1 percent in 2010 (Minnesota Population Center).

Economy

The estimated 2015 median household income in Manhasset was $143,378, according to the 2015 American Community Survey — 36.94 percent higher than the townwide estimate ($104,698), 44.15 percent higher than the countywide estimate ($99,465) and 166.06 percent higher than the nationwide estimate ($53,889). In 2015, the unemployment rate in Manhasset was 5.9 percent, according to the survey. At that time, the unemployment rate was 5.4 percent in North Hempstead, 6.4 percent in Nassau County, 8.2 percent in New York state and 8.3 percent in the United States.

TRADITIONAL PROVIDERS OF NEWS AND INFORMATION

Local government

Because Spinney Hill is in an unincorporated area, it does not have a village-level government to provide services and information specific to the community. The town Spinney Hill is in, the Town of North Hempstead, has 226,322 residents, according to the 2010 Census.

Various government officials serve the Spinney Hill area at the town, county, state, and federal government levels:

  • Town of North Hempstead
    Town Supervisor
    Judi Bosworth
    516-869-6311
    bosworthj@northhempsteadny.gov
  • Nassau County
    Edward P. Mangano
    County Executive
    Phone: 516-MANGANO
    Fax: 516-571-0260
  • Town Council District 4
    Anna M. Kaplan
    Town Councilmember
    516-869-7704
    kaplana@northhempsteadny.gov
  • County Legislative District 7
    Ellen W. Birnbaum
    County Legislator
    Phone: 516-571-6210
    Fax: 516-571-0405
  • New York State Senate District 7
    Jack M. Martins
    State Senator
    Albany Office
    Phone: 518-455-3265
    Fax: 518-426-6739
    District Office
    Phone: 516-746-5924
    Fax: 516-746-0439
    martins@nysenate.gov
  • New York State Assembly District 3
    Anthony D’Urso
    State Assemblymember
    Albany Office: 518-455-5192
    District Office: 516-482-6966
    dursoa@nyassembly.gov
  • Congressional District 3
    Tom Suozzi
    Congressman
    Washington, D.C. Office: 202-225-3335
    District Office: 631-923-4100

The special districts serving Spinney Hill are:

Schools

The majority of the Spinney Hill neighborhood is in the Great Neck Public School District.

In 1813, the Town of North Hempstead’s school commissioners divided the town into 11 school districts, according to the book “Lucky Seven: A History of the Great Neck Public Schools, Union Free School District No. 7” by Richard Match (13).

At the time of the division, the Great Neck school district was known as District No. 8, but it became District No. 7 two years later when the town commissioners eliminated several other districts (Match 14).

Back then, the Great Neck school district did not include Spinney Hill; it included only  the Great Neck peninsula north of what are today Cutter Mill Road and Schenck Avenue. Spinney Hill, which was south of that border, was in the “Success” district, which was later called the “Lakeville” district. That district had a one-room schoolhouse that was built in 1836 or 1837 on the north side of the present-day Long Island Expressway near the corner of Lakeville Road, about 0.9 miles south from Spinney Hill. It burned down in 1877. In 1878, District No. 8 built a larger schoolhouse on the southwest corner of Lakeville Road and what is now the Expressway, also about 0.9 miles south from Spinney Hill. It was abandoned in 1929 (Match 14).

The Lakeville district became known as District No. 8 after the Great Neck district changed its name to District No. 7, and in 1932, the Lakeville district was absorbed into the Great Neck district, bringing the Spinney Hill neighborhood into District No. 7 (Match 14).

The Great Neck district’s first high school opened in 1914 on the corner of Middle Neck Road and Arrandale Avenue, about two miles northwest from Spinney Hill (“Great Neck History Online: Schools & Libraries”). Because the Lakeville district did not have its own high school, students from the Lakeville district attended the Great Neck district’s high school.

In 1867, the Lakeville school district built a second schoolhouse for “colored” children near the Lakeville AME Zion Church on the west side of Community Drive, about 0.7 miles south from Spinney Hill. The local community raised $267 to build the school through a church fundraiser, and the school was called “Institution USA,” according to the book “Making a Way to Freedom” (63). “The records don’t say whether the segregation was de jure or de facto, on the ‘neighborhood school’ principle,” Match wrote in “Lucky Seven.”  “The former seems more likely, because Lakeville’s two one-room schools, ‘white’ and ‘colored,’ stood only a few hundred feet from each other for ten years” (32).

“The Negro parents are said to have been very ‘proud’ to get ‘their own school,’ and they pitched in to help build it,” Match wrote in “Lucky Seven” (32). “Institution USA” was one of the designated schools for black children that were outlawed by New York state in 1900 (Day 61). The Great Neck school district did not have segregated schools, and when the Great Neck and Lakeville districts merged in 1932, the resultant district did not have segregated schools. Nevertheless, the Great Neck school district was “98 percent white at this writing,” according to “Lucky Seven,” which was published in 1964 (32).

In the 19th century, the Lakeville district had only about one-fourth as many children as its Great Neck counterpart. “For Lakeville’s sprawling, thinly populated District 8, still without high school facilities, a more drastic measure was necessary — euthanasia,” Match wrote (31).

District No. 8’s board of trustees had considered building a high school, but the district voted to merge with District No. 7 in the fall of 1932 (Match 32).

The merger was not without a few bumps in the road. Transporting the Lakeville students to the Great Neck schools cost the district about $13,000 that year — a cost that became a key issue in the 1938 school board elections (Match 33). And so even transporting the black children of Spinney Hill and other neighborhoods in the former Lakeville district was seen as a burden.

The region of the former Lakeville district, where Spinney Hill was located, finally got a high school in 1949, when District No. 7 acquired the site of what is today the South Senior and Junior High Schools in Lake Success (Match 40).

A sliver of the eastern part of Spinney Hill is in the Manhasset Union Free School District. The predominantly black Manhasset Valley School near the eastern border of Spinney Hill was the target of one of the anti-segregation protests of 1963 (Day 117). The learning materials used by the school, which had students from kindergarten to grade six, were sub-par, so when the students moved up to the Manhasset Secondary School with white students from other schools, the black students were behind academically, according to local residents interviewed in the documentary “Spinney Hill: The African American History of Manhasset and Great Neck.” In 1964, a federal court ruled that the Manhasset Valley School violated anti-segregation laws, and the school board voted to close the school. The building is now the Hagedorn Community Center, the headquarters of the local Economic Opportunity Council (see below).

Today, the closest elementary school in the Manhasset school district to Spinney Hill is Shelter Rock Elementary School on Shelter Rock Road, which is about 1.7 miles east from Spinney Hill. Manhasset Secondary School on Memorial Place is about 0.9 miles northeast from Spinney Hill. The closest elementary school in the Great Neck district to Spinney Hill is Lakeville Elementary School on Jayson Avenue, which is about one mile southwest from Spinney Hill. Both Great Neck South Middle School and William A. Shine Great Neck South High School are about 1.3 miles south from Spinney Hill.

Libraries

Most of Spinney Hill is also in Great Neck Public Library district, though there has not been a library branch within the neighborhood’s borders. The closest branch to Spinney Hill is the Lakeville Branch, which opened in 1941 in a rented store space on the south side of Northern Boulevard after the petitioning of residents for a branch, according to a history of the Great Neck Public Library published by the library in 1989 (The Great Neck Library 1880-1989 Appendix A 16). It then moved to another store space a few stores up the street in 1950, and to Great Neck Road near the Terrace Apartments in 1953. The branch is about 1.2 miles southwest from Spinney Hill.

News media

The Spinney Hill neighborhood was once covered by The Manhasset Mail, a weekly paper published from 1927 to 1986 (Chronicling America).

An urban renewal project in Spinney Hill, which began in the 1960s and was completed in the 1980s, replaced many black-owned small businesses with office buildings, according to the documentary “Spinney Hill: The African American History of Manhasset and Great Neck.” Stories about Spinney Hill in The Mail show the narrative that was weaved about the renewal project during that time. One story from the March 16, 1978 issue of The Mail started with this lead:

“A decisive step toward the satisfactory development of ‘blighted’ Spinney Hill, Northern Blvd., Manhasset, was taken at the North Hempstead Town Board meeting on Tuesday, March 14th with the approval of the sale of parcels 4, 5 and 6 to 1000 Northern Blvd. Corp. for a price of $395,800” (1).

The story goes on to point out that minority business would not be able to afford to stay in their locations due to the renewal project, but they were promised a discount to help ease the cost burden:

“The parcels are now vacant except for four minority businesses, a beauty shop, two barber shops and a taxi stand, which will be moved while construction is in process and given space in the neighborhood business section of the development when construction is completed. With the expectations that the minority business owners will not be able, initially, to meet the increased rents, [North Hempstead Renewal Agency Chief Hector] Gayle says they will be granted a 30 percent discount on rent the first year, a 25 percent discount the second, and so forth, until they are on a par with other tenants” (1).

But, according to several residents interviewed in the documentary, this promise was not kept. Black businesses could not afford to stay in the area and eventually disappeared.

The story emphasizes the perspective of the North Hempstead Town Board, without any inclusion of the point of views of the minority business owners:

“The blight of Spinney Hill was such, he explains, that the private sector could not have been expected to invest the price required to develop it, and remain in business. Yet this blight, if left unchanged, could affect wide areas in terms of property values, public health, crime, and economics, to mention a few” (1).

“Plans Gel for Spinney Hill’s Development” on Scribd

Another story from The Mail, from the Dec. 26, 1957 issue, frames a town crackdown on small businesses as a crusade against zoning violations:

“Violators of North Hempstead zoning ordinances in the Spinney Hill area of Manhasset and Great Neck are being hotly pursued by the town’s Building Department. Cornelius O’Connor, manager, told the Town Board at its hearing in Manhasset on Tuesday that two of the worst offenders have capitulated in the face of court action and that he is proceeding to end every violation ‘on the hill.’ Henry Judon of 96 Grandview Avenue who illegally had a beauty salon in his residence has moved his business establishment to a commercial building, O’Connor told the Board. He had been hailed into Supreme Court by Deputy Town Attorney Edward Schroeder. William Hargate, also of Grandview Avenue, a trucker who was using his yard for the storage of assorted equipment and materials and was violating a town ordinance by use of a garage exceeding the limit has also consented to abide by the town’s ordinance. Following submission of the report, Supervisor Henry A. Sahm instructed O’Connor and Town Attorney James L. Dowsey, Jr. to proceed without delay on litigation to clear up other zoning violations. ‘There are such things up there as business signs on residences, multiple dwelling in one family homes, apartments in basements,’ stated Sahm. ‘They are going to conform or face the legal consequences.’ Civic leaders in Great Neck, particularly the Village of Thomaston, have complained in the past about the violations and have urged town action to end them” (1).

“Sahm Orders Immediate Action Against Violators” on Scribd

And a Mail editorial from the Dec. 4, 1969 issue shows how contentious the issue of bringing affordable housing to the Spinney Hill area was:

“The MAIL remains in support of the East Shore Road senior project, which is opposed by a number of Manhasset-Great Neck residents and representatives of organizations who favor low income housing for the site in the Spinney Hill area, predominantly Negro. The property, however, was not approved by the federal government for family housing because it was felt to be dangerous for children, with not enough space for recreation, and might become an extension of an existing ghetto area. There is an equally desperate need for low to middle income housing in the Town of North Hempstead for family housing, in the Manhasset-Great Neck valley and in other pockets of poverty, for both black and white families. Often a proposal to construct low to middle income housing, such as the Community Action Council and North Shore Unitarian sponsored Town House complex in Port Washington, is the signal for protest, from residents in the vicinity of the proposed site, from factions who back some other project, and from a segment that doesn’t want any moderate housing anywhere in the Town. Regardless of past, present and future protest, the senior citizens, the black and white at low socio-economic levels and the young marrieds need housing within their income — and they need it now. As a matter of fact, they needed it yesterday” (4).

 “No Place to Go” on Scribd

The Manhasset Press, another weekly newspaper, did more to present multiple sides of the debate over the urban renewal project. Here is an excerpt from one article published in The Press’ May 18, 1972 issue:

“Spinney Hill residents are not unanimous on specific plans for renewing their neighborhood, any more than any group of people evaluating a $10-million project right on their block would be. Before the May 10 hearing, Spinney Hill residents themselves feared what they might hear from their neighbors when the time came for laying one’s views on the line. The president and some other members of the middle class, black and white Great Neck Manor Civic Association, representing property owners to the immediate west of the project area, were known to be opposed to the first phase of the renewal program, which will build 100 to 120 units of predominantly moderate-income multiple housing units just across the border of Great Neck Manor. The president, William Jones, and other association members hired a lawyer to fight the plan in court, on the grounds that it would make a permanent concentration of poor blacks in just one section of Great Neck/Manhasset. Most of the persons involved in the law unit are black, as is their lawyer, Robert Rivers of Westbury. Urban renewal proponents looked forward to the meeting with some apprehension, not knowing what kind of stand or how strong a stand the opponents would make. But besides Rivers and Jones, there were few speakers who came to the microphone to speak against the urban renewal program, and the large part of the audience was clearly behind it. Jones was hooted from the floor” (8).

“Renewal Hearing: ‘Town Hall’ Aura” on Scribd

Around this time, William J. Johnson wrote a column for The Manhasset Press called “A Black’s Point of View.” In his column in the June 1, 1972 edition of The Press, he wrote about the divide over the renewal project:

“Noting the Spinney Hill urban renewal controversy, there are times when the gap between so called ‘middle-class’ blacks and blacks who are poor seems almost as great as the gap between blacks and whites. One would think that, with the racial situation being what it is, ‘black unity’ would prevail. However, too often, and to too great a degree, self-interest, resentment, and even snobbery combine to overcome group interest” (20).

“A Black’s Point of View” on Scribd

The Press also reported on a political campaign’s efforts in 1972 to bring a polling place closer to Spinney Hill to make it easier for black residents to vote:

“Marc Pinckney of Kensington, a student at Northeastern University, is organizing a door-to-door, voter-registration, canvass for the McGovern campaign in the 55th election district, which is the Spinney Hill area of Great Neck and Manhasset. According to Pinckney, a ‘major obstacle to the success of the local registration drive is the inconvenient and intimidating location of the polling place, the Manhasset-Lakeville Firehouse.’ McGovern spokesmen claim that according to a survey they conducted, the geographic and population center of the election district is the Community Service Center at 65 High St.” (5).

“Student Heads Voter Drive for Blacks” on Scribd

Today there is no news organization that specifically serves Spinney Hill, but there are two weekly newspapers that cover Manhasset as a whole: The Manhasset Times, which is owned by Blank Slate Media based in Williston Park, and The Manhasset Press, which is owned by Anton Community Newspapers in Mineola. There are also two weekly newspapers covering Great Neck that are owned by the same two companies: The Great Neck Record, owned by Anton, and The Great Neck News, owned by Blank Slate.

But the two Manhasset papers and two Great Neck papers rarely cover the goings-on in Spinney Hill. The only notable examples are coverage of an annual “Wine Tasting Soirée” fundraiser supporting an after-school program for children in Spinney Hill, and coverage of the creation of a community farmers market.

“Farmers Market Healthy on the Hill” on Scribd

“Farmers Market Healthy on the Hill” on Scribd

Civic organizations

Stories from old issues of Manhasset newspapers show that the residents of Spinney Hill formed their own civic organizations, much like the residents of Gordon Heights and Sag Harbor. Several stories mention an organization known as “United Front of Tenants.” One example is this item from the Jan. 6, 1983 issue of The Manhasset Press:

“The United Front of Tenants Inc., composed of tenants in the North Hempstead projects in Spinney Hill, have called a meeting on the subject of crime for Thursday, Jan. 13, at 8 p.m. in the EOC headquarters at 65 High St. Stephanie Young, a vice-president of the EOC board and an organizer of the tenant group, said there are a number of goals: to establish a police auxiliary unit; a neighborhood crime watch program; and an I.D. program to mark possessions with an identifying number so they could be traced more easily” (1).

Community members also founded a local Economic Opportunity Council in the 1960s to provide educational programing and financial support to black residents, according to the book “This is Great Neck.” The EOC is still located on the eastern border of Spinney Hill on High Street, in the former building of the Manhasset Valley School. The EOC publishes information about the events and programs it organizes on its website, and it maintains a Facebook page for its Head Start after-school program that features posts in both English and Spanish.