For thirteen years, through my childhood and early adolescence, I lived in my grandmother’s humble single-family home in St. Albans, Queens, New York City. St. Albans is a semi-suburban predominantly middle-class Black-American community with a noteworthy past. It was one of the few places in New York City where Black Americans could pursue homeownership. In the 1930’s pockets of the community enforced racial restrictive covenants to keep homeownership exclusive to White Americans, but by 1948 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled these agreements unenforceable. Today, St. Albans is locally known for having housed several notable Black figures. James Brown, John Coltrane, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Jackie Robinson, Joe Louis and many others once called this community home.
Prior to the great recession of 2008, I moved from my grandmother’s home to an apartment, with my mother and sister. Due to multiple circumstances, we’d soon move to a shelter in the Bronx. By 2008, and out of a restrictive shelter system, the housing crisis would begin to heavily affect St. Albans and other predominantly Black neighborhoods in Queens. The decline of my quality of life and the housing crisis would motivate me to document this historically rich and underrepresented community, which still exemplifies the best of middle-class life in America.
Reflecting on the comforting times of my youth lead me to focus on homeownership. A decade after the crisis, St. Albans maintains the highest rate of Black homeowners in the borough of Queens and the second highest in New York City. “St. Albans’ Greatest: They All Lived Here” is the title of a local mural highlighting the notable Black musical and athletic figures who once lived here. “St. Albans’ Greatest” reflects on a generation of Black Americans and their paths to homeownership, while celebrating the nuances of their normality as a form of greatness.