LABOR DAY CARNIVAL PARADE - BROOKLYN, NEW YORK
Crown Heights, for the most part a lower middle-class residential area, lies on both sides of the ridge of Eastern Parkway. The section was known as Crow Hill until 1916, when Crown Street was cut through.
—New York City Guide (WPA, 1939)
Each year on Labor Day a joyful, proud, wild, raucous, swirl of dancing, music and color winds its way through my neighborhood of Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Beginning at 11am, the route follows Eastern Parkway from Schenectady Avenue to Grand Army Plaza. Organized by the West Indian American Day Carnival Association, the “Labor Day Carnival Parade” has become the largest cultural festival in the country, drawing millions of people — both participants and spectators. Some of the countries represented include Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago, among others.
In the 1920s, immigrants from Trinidad and other Caribbean islands with a carnival tradition began celebrating carnival in private indoor spaces in Harlem — like the Savoy, Renaissance and Audubon Ballrooms — due to the cold weather of February, the traditional pre-Lenten period. In the mid-1940s, Trinidadian Jesse Waddle organized a Labor Day street festival on 7th Avenue in Harlem, starting at 110th St. The parade permit for Harlem was revoked in 1964, but five years later a committee headed by Carlos Lezama, which eventually became the West Indian-American Day Carnival Association, obtained permission to parade on Eastern Parkway, where it remains today.
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Northeast Regional Guide Leah Frances was born in a small fishing village off the west coast of Canada and raised in Victoria, British Columbia. In pursuit of a graphic design career she moved to New York City in 2005 and now calls Crown Heights, Brooklyn, home. She spends her days in the production departments of magazines and her evenings studying at the International Center of Photography. Weekends you will find her in the back of a Greyhound bus, map in hand. Leah posts at americanroads.tumblr.com.