Brooklyn's historic African-American center has stunning architecture, important history, staunch activism, and great gardens, as well as rough patches.
For those coming here after a link in Time Out magazine, please note this post.
The large neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant (aka Bed-Stuy), displays upper-class 19th-century roots, mid-20th-century African-American history, a rugged recent past, and very recent gentrification that has brought new businesses and has partly reshaped community identity.
It contains several micro-neighborhoods, including historic districts and housing projects, and borders Clinton Hill to the east and Crown Heights to the north. We can devote 2.5 hours to Bed-Stuy and still not see all of this wide-ranging neighborhood, We will see blocks with notable architecture, as well as those that contain other indications of history, such as murals and churches and stores.
Bed-Stuy received enormous amounts of attention and concerted efforts at uplift after unrest in the 1960s spotlighted the invidious impact of discrimination and disinvestment. It has been the heart of black Brooklyn's civil rights efforts and houses the crucial Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation and the Billie Holliday Theatre, outside of which was a 2020 Black Lives Matter mural.
It remains troubled in places, even as housing prices skyrocket, as those seeking row houses, classic architecture, and transit accessibility bid up a once-neglected neighborhood.
It's at the heart of some recent gentrification debates, such as in the series from WNYC/The Nation called "There Goes the Neighborhood." And it's been at the heart of Black Lives Matter activism in 2020.
House-proud residents also have helped several Bed-Stuy blocks win honors in the annual Greenest Block in Brooklyn competition.
We also look at significant institutions in the neighborhood, such as the Bridge Street AWME Church, the oldest continuing congregation in Brooklyn, dating back to 1766. It's on Stuyvesant Avenue, not Bridge Street, and we'll learn why during the tour. Old photos can evoke lost jazz clubs and 1960s activism.
That Stuyvesant Avenue location, by the way, is not all that far from where Spike Lee shot his classic 1989 film, "Do the Right Thing." We'll see several murals that reflect different phases of Bed-Stuy, including civic heroes and memorials.
If it's open, we'll stop into the Brooklyn Public Library's Macon branch, on Lewis Avenue, which has an African-American collection. Bed-Stuy is also home to a major share of the businesses listed in Black Owned Brooklyn.
Perhaps predictably, the new construction in Bed-Stuy has focused on the western end, closest to Clinton Hill. Also, some blocks of northern Bed-Stuy seem to have become an extension of Hasidic Williamsburg.
Distance from Midtown Manhattan: 35-40 minutes by subway
Basic tour length: 2.5 hours (see fees)
Starting place: Typically near A or C train
Ending place: Varies, but typically near G train
Highlights: History, architecture, African-American culture
Option before/after tour: multiple options for snacks/meals
Potential tour extensions with me: Williamsburg, Crown Heights, Fort Greene/Clinton Hill
Why I like leading this tour: As with Williamsburg, everyone thinks they know something about Bed-Stuy. As with Bushwick, press coverages tends to focus on a small slice. We'll see much more.