Race and Religion among the Chosen Peoples of Crown Heights

Race and Religion among the Chosen Peoples of Crown Heights

Race and Religion among the Chosen Peoples of Crown Heights

Race and Religion among the Chosen Peoples of Crown Heights

Excerpt

The Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights stands out, in significant ways, from its immediate surroundings—and, far more broadly, from the patterns of racial and religious identity formation that have shaped American life since the mid-twentieth century. There is, of course, nothing unusual about the neighborhood’s quiet tree-lined streets and bustling commercial strips, or its brownstone row houses and low-rise apartment buildings. The largely working- and middle-class immigrant communities who make their homes there are typical, in many ways, of similar communities throughout New York and other major cities. Crown Heights is certainly not isolated from its surroundings, or from larger social and historical trends. Yet it still stands out in certain ways.

Although it was once a predominantly White and largely Jewish neighborhood, the population of Crown Heights, like the rest of north-central Brooklyn, has been overwhelmingly Black (both African American and Afro-Caribbean) since the early 1970s. In this too, Crown Heights is typical of broader trends. Indeed, it exemplifies the national pattern of “White flight” from city to suburbs that transformed New York and other American cities in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. But today’s Crown Heights is different from the adjoining neighborhoods of Brownsville and BedfordStuyvesant—and from comparable neighborhoods in Chicago, Detroit, Boston, and elsewhere—in at least one extremely simple, yet infinitely complex, way: the Lubavitch Hasidim, a tight-knit community of orthodox Jews, chose to stay in Crown Heights in the late 1960s when nearly all of their White Jewish neighbors chose to leave.

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