How a Black Neighborhood on Long Island Saved Itself

Horton Avenue in Riverhead, Long Island, isn’t the ideal place to build a home. It’s at the bottom of a long hill. There’s a frozen marsh on one side of the road, and a duck pond on the other. But it’s where a dozen African American families from Virginia settled back in the 1920s.

“My mom bought the land for a little under a thousand dollars,” Linda Hobson said. “And she bought the wood for $500.”

Near the base of Long Island’s North Fork, most of the land around Horton Avenue is agricultural. Hobson’s mother worked on a potato farm, and her father died farming. Her parents built their house from an old barn someone tore down. After college, Hobson came back to live in the home. Her neighbors were the same. They lived on Horton their whole lives.

“There used to be barbeques, and on Sundays after church people use to come to Horton Avenue and this was the place to be,” she recalled.

Back then, Hobson says, Horton Avenue was one of the few places in Riverhead where it was acceptable for black people to live.

“But it didn’t stop the people from thriving. They took what they could get and built up on it and made it work for them,” she said.

NPR has reported that, when federal disaster aid gets distributed, white and wealthy individuals generally receive more money than minorities and those with less wealth. The end result is that the rich people get richer and poor people get poorer.

But not on Horton Avenue. After a monumental effort, the African Americans there defied these odds.

It began in March of 2010, when it poured for three days straight. Nine inches of rain ran down that long hill and turned Horton Avenue turned into a lake with 13 tiny homes sticking out.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency came out to survey the damage. But because it was only 13 properties, the homeowners didn’t qualify for traditional disaster aid. But they formed a nonprofit and, along with their pastor, Shirley Coverdale, started organizing politicians.

“That group was really, really important in maintaining the appropriate level of attention for all elected officials,” said former Congressman Tim Bishop.

They petitioned to have the storm that flooded Horton Avenue connected to another storm that had previously affected New England. But to do that, these 13 families had to asked the county to ask the governor to ask the president for a disaster declaration.

After that, they had to find a path to somehow pay for repairing or replacing their destroyed homes.

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Source: WNYC