Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Let's Explore The Incredible Legacy Of Southeast Queens

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By Kamau Austin

My soul looks back and wonders about the richness of our historic area in Southeast Queens. When I was a boy I lived right across the street from a business pioneer and one of the most successful black entrepreneurial endeavors in Queens' history. It's only fitting that I talk about our area and its distinguished legacy.

I remember the awe and inspiration I got from living across the street from the Wallace & Wallace fuel and oil related companies.  I remember reading how there were two synergistic businesses being run by the family business moguls of the Wallace & Wallace Oil and Fuel companies.

If memory serves me correctly one Wallace & Wallace company was in oil distribution and the other in fuel refinement. To be honest as a teenager I didn't know exactly how they made their money in the oil business but I was proud a Black man could run a community based business with worldwide connections and operations.

I remember both companies were in the Black Enterprise 100 back in the day. If I remember correctly, one company was doing  over 90 million dollars and the other business was doing about 70 million dollars. So they were both listed as number 2 and number 7 respectively when I was growing up.

In other words the Wallace & Wallace Companies in our community back in the late 60s and early 70s were doing about 160 million dollars! Astounding income for now - much less almost 40 years ago. I've yet to reach their pinnacle of success but later at least I did get featured in Black Enterprise (April 1990 Marketing the Motherland!) due in part to their business inspiration.

What became of the promising Wallace & Wallace Oil franchise?  I remember vaguely in Black Enterprise, the owner Charles Wallace, from Southeast Queens, suggested he was projecting to break the Fortune 500, within a few years and the government wasn't going to let a Black man do that so they made it impossible for his business to continue.

I guess Wallace & Wallace may have suffered the same fate as the region referred to as "Black Wall Street" of being brought down out of economic jealousy sans the violence.

I'd like to find the former owners of Wallace & Wallace and ask them what happened. To read more about Charles Wallace and his company Wallace & Wallace click here
The 1st Black American Oil Baron Charles Wallace
The super legacy of entrepreneurs like the Wallace & Wallace Oil and Fuel Companies, Fubu, and Russell Simmons made me feel like I could become successful in business too and fired up my imagination with images of me running my own business. But the accomplishments of the Wallace & Wallace Oil and Fuel companies weren't alone.

Our neck of the woods was also home to some of the top jazz, entertainment, sports, and social luminaries in times past.  It is good to note that Queens is considered the most ethnically diverse area in the world! If Queens County were a city it would be the 4th largest city in the United States. (source Wikipedia)

As noteworthy as Queens is as a county in NYC - what is amazing is Blacks who live in the Southeastern Part of Queens also make a higher average income than ethnic groups in the surrounding areas! Queens County is the only large county in the whole US where Blacks have higher average household incomes than other ethnic groups in the surrounding areas.  These are historic facts according to the US Census and the New York Times.

Therefore, Blacks in our area are on are a leading group economically in the most ethnically diverse area in the world! This certainly has to be seen as a testament to our hard work and resilient spirit.

Southeast Queens is an important historical area especially to African Americans also for cultural reasons in addition to its business and economic legacy.   

Famous jazz artists and entertainers that lived in our area at one time or had homes here are:Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, Fats Waller, Mercer Ellington, Count Basie, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, LL Cool J, 50 Cent, Run DMC, Q Tip, actor Joe Morton (a grad of Andrew Jackson High School) and many many others.

Sport stars that lived in our area are the legendary Joe Louis, the amazing Babe Ruth, pioneer Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Floyd Patterson, and Bob Cousy just to name a small number.

Other business luminaries or companies from the area are Russell Simmons, Daymon Johns and the founders of FUBU.

Civic greats that lived here are W. E. B. Du Bois and Roy Wilkins.  And how can we forget the Godfather of Soul Mr. James Brown, himself owned a home in St. Albans, Queens.

My Southeast Queens peeps are Super Strivers! Southeast/Jamaica Queens is certainly an area with a Super Legacy and Special Place in Black History.  Checkout this NY Times Story:

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