Growing up on Long Island, the Long Island Advance was a major source of information on everything going on in my surrounding area. And every once in a while, while reading, I would be blessed with a jewel. Today, I hope someone reading will enjoy… this jewel.
After extensive research of early African American settlers on Long Island, I decided to share with you the still rich culture, African American community of Gordon Heights.
Established in 1927, Gordon Heights is a hamlet nestled between four cities: Middle Island, Coram, Medford, and Yaphank, N.Y.
On Long Island, like everywhere else in the country during the 1920s, communities were separated, whites on one side and Blacks on the other. Whether separated by railroad tracks, streets, or waterways, there were always distinct landmarks often referred to as “the invisible line of separation.”
Also, during the mid-1920s, a New York City land developer by the name Louis Fife purchased a unique sparse land, on eastern Long Island, once owned by a man only known as “Pop Gordon.” Fife, after the purchase, created The Gordon Heights Development and Building Corporation. Originally, he divided it into multiple 100-by-100 yard lots. He named the hamlet after its former owner, Mr. Gordon. He then advertised the selling of these lots to African Americans living in Brooklyn, Harlem, and the Bronx, N.Y. The price? $10 a month, per lot. It is from here Gordon Heights is born.
Gordon Heights is one of the only cities on Long Island designated to be a community constructed from an idea of African American independence.
Early settling families such as the Murrays, Weeks, Wilsons, Welches, Browns, Beaches, and the Halls, were all very eager to become landowners, homesteaders, and farmers. Establishing a community center, churches, hotel, all in the idea of “by us, for us,” Gordon Heights quickly became a place of comfort for those wanting to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
And between 1929 to 1939, while the country was in the Great Depression, farmers in Gordon Heights were not only able to feed their families, they also sold affordable farmed goods, such as eggs and chickens, to others struggling in the surrounding areas.
Out of a necessity, early Gordon Heights residents are credited for creating the first African American fire departments. This occurred around 1947, 20 years after the establishment of the Gordon Heights community, and after struggles to get adequate response from the surrounding fire departments, which sometimes led to not only loss of property, but sometimes loss of life. This prompted residents to come together and build their own fire house. Nearly 80 years later, the G.H.F.D. is still servicing its community.
Although early historical maps show Gordon Heights from east to west, lying between West Bartlett Avenue and West Yaphank Avenue, and traveling north to south, between Granny Road and Route 25, I’m inclined to believe oral recording where the earliest homesteaders described the area as being much smaller, and lying east to west between Dunbar and Gordon Avenue, and north to south, between Park Lane and Granny Road. This is the Gordon Heights I proudly remember.
Raleigh McMillon is a longtime resident of eastern Long Island with ties in North Bellport and Gordon Heights. He is the author of the book, “Chicken and Dumplings: A Poor Man’s Diary.” He currently resides at Rosemont Brookhaven.