The Significance of Eastern Parkway and Migration to New York

Created as the world’s first parkway, Eastern Parkway is a boulevard that runs through the borough of Brooklyn. It was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, who also designed New York City’s Central Park. The objective behind the building of the parkway was to create a main area in Brooklyn that would allow the surrounding neighborhood to flourish, both visually and financially. Vaux and Olmsted wanted to create a focal point the way they had achieved with Central Park in Manhattan. It was also meant to create a direct way to go between Manhattan and Brooklyn. The construction of the parkway started in 1870 and lasted until 1874.

When The West Indian Parade had to find a new home from its displacement in Harlem, Eastern Parkway made sense. It ran directly through the neighborhoods of Flatbush, East Flatbush, and Crown Heights, which in the 21st century, despite gentrification, still has a strong Caribbean presence. Migration to New York happened first around WWI, and by 1930, it was estimated that one quarter of Harlem’s population was of West Indian descent. The second wave took place roughly ten years later during the 1940s in direct relation to the immgration policy of 1924 that began to loosen due to the labor shortage of WWII. While it was estimated that 50,000 immigrants were from the Caribbean, eventually new acts were passed that restricted immigration on racial terms. The third wave came when President Lyndon Johnson passed the The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (or Hart-Celler Act). The Act reversed 50+ years of discriminatory laws and allowed immigrants of West Indian descent to settle in New York’s boroughs, forever changing the demographic of the city.

Image 1: Detroit Publishing Co via Library of Congress, intersection of Eastern Parkway and Grand Army Plaza c. 1901-1906

Image 2: Eastern Parkway and The Brooklyn Museum in view. Photo by Eugene Wemlinger c. 1903–1910

Images 4 & 5: Photos by Daniel Avila / NYC Parks