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South Jamaica, Queens, New York City, has a rich and diverse history. It was originally part of Jamaica, one of the oldest areas in Greater New York. The area, initially called Rustdorp, meaning “Quiet Village,” was first inhabited by the Jameco Indians. English settlers, in 1655, acquired the land between today’s Jamaica Avenue and Baisley Pond (then known as Beaver Pond) from the Native Americans, exchanging two guns, a coat, and some gunpowder.

In 1656, Peter Stuyvesant, governor of New Netherland, granted a charter to establish a plantation in the area, strategically located between Hempstead and Canarsie. The area underwent several name changes, from Rustdorp to Jameco, and finally to Jamaica in 1680. Governor Thomas Dongan’s charter in 1686 unified various small settlements into the town of Jamaica.

Beaver Pond, in what is now South Jamaica, was a key revenue source through beaver skins and later became a hub for recreation like skating and horse racing. By the early 1800s, South Jamaica was home to many black families, initially brought as slaves for tobacco plantations. Even after slavery ended in New York in 1820, many chose to stay.

Jamaica evolved into a village by the mid-19th century, serving as a rest stop on Long Island’s main east-west route. South Jamaica, then a rural area with scattered farms, started to be recognized as distinct from Jamaica. The completion of the Long Island Railroad in 1844 boosted Jamaica’s development as a commercial and transportation hub. Post-Civil War, the area saw an influx of black migrants from the south.

In 1898, Queens, including Jamaica, became a part of New York City. Today, South Jamaica is known for its diverse community and rich historical background.


South Jamaica, located south of Downtown Jamaica (Jamaica Center) or Jamaica Avenue, is bordered by the Van Wyck Expressway to the west and Merrick Boulevard to the east. The neighborhood’s eastern boundary reaches the LIRR Montauk Branch tracks in the north. To the south, across the Belt Parkway, lies John F. Kennedy International Airport. This area intersects with the neighborhoods of St. Albans to the east, and Rochdale and Springfield Gardens to the south. While some maps outline South Jamaica’s northern boundary at Linden Boulevard and its southern boundaries at Rockaway Boulevard and Baisley Boulevard, others define the area north of Linden Boulevard, including the South Jamaica Houses, as part of Jamaica. Additionally, the region between Linden Boulevard and Baisley/Rockaway Boulevards, known as Baisley Park, is sometimes considered a southern subsection of South Jamaica. Key landmarks in this area include Baisley Pond Park, the Baisley Park Houses, the Baisley Park Branch of Queens Public Library, and the Baisley Park Bus Depot. The area south of Rockaway and Baisley Boulevards to the Belt Parkway, historically part of South Jamaica and including Rochdale Village, is now often identified as Springfield Gardens North or Rochdale. Together, these three sections make up the western half of Queens Community Board 12.

Ethnic Makeup

The 2021 United States Census data revealed that South Jamaica’s population was 270,688, marking an increase from the 38,894 recorded in 2010, a rise of 231,794. The neighborhood, spanning 918.87 acres (371.85 ha), had a population density of 42.3 inhabitants per acre (27,100/sq mi; 10,500/km2)

African Americans constituted 55% of South Jamaica’s demographic, with Whites making up 1.0%, Asians 16%, and individuals from other races 6%. Those identifying as two or more races accounted for 5%, and Hispanic or Latino residents of any race comprised 16% of the population.

Predominantly African-American, with a significant Afro-Caribbean majority, South Jamaica has seen a growing Hispanic community, attracting people from Mexico, El Salvador, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic in recent decades. The Guyanese and Bangladeshi communities also form a substantial part of the newer residents. Bengalis predominantly reside around Sutphin and Merrick Boulevards and along 145th, 153rd, 157th, and 170th Streets; South Road; and 105th, 107th, and 109th Avenues. Additionally, small Haitian, Pakistani, and Trinidadian communities are present in the area.

Crack War

In the 1980s, immigrants, predominantly from Guyana and Jamaica, along with significant numbers from Haiti, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, and Trinidad and Tobago, moved to South Jamaica in large numbers. Many found employment as public employees. Despite this population growth, South Jamaica, like many inner-city areas, experienced a rise in crime and a decline in income during the 1970s and ’80s, becoming one of the city’s most impoverished and dangerous areas. The crack epidemic hit the neighborhood hard in the 80s, with gangs like the Black Spades and Seven Crowns dominating the streets. The situation garnered public attention on February 26, 1988, when rookie police officer Edward Byrne was killed while guarding the home of a drug trial witness. In response, then-Mayor Edward Koch formed the Tactical Narcotics Team to conduct buy-and-bust operations in the city’s worst drug areas, including South Jamaica. The crack epidemic left deep scars in the community, with many residents losing friends and relatives to drugs or related violence, and fear of retribution still prevents open discussion about drug addiction or dealing.

In South Jamaica, a neighborhood that once teemed with drug dealers, efforts are underway to transform a former drug kingpin’s headquarters into a church annex. However, challenges remain, as evidenced by Lillian Mighty’s experience of finding heroin spoons and syringes in her garden, which she turned into a lush space from a former drug hotspot. Four years after Officer Byrne’s murder, the community remains divided on the effectiveness of the drug war.

Initially, Mayor Koch’s creation of the Tactical Narcotics Teams (TNT) aimed to counteract the drug problem with aggressive police action. TNT units would create perimeters in neighborhoods to stop and frisk suspected drug dealers in Jamaica, Queens neighborhoods. 

This approach saw mixed results. While social order returned to some streets, and several major drug operations were dismantled, the perception of change was largely superficial. Drug activities simply moved indoors or to other neighborhoods, and violence persisted, with the 103d Precinct recording a high number of homicides.

Early 1990’s shifts in police strategy, due to budget constraints and changing priorities, led to a decrease in drug arrests. Critics argued that policing alone could not resolve drug-related issues, advocating for more investment in drug treatment and prevention. Others, however, believed that police force was necessary during the peak of the crack epidemic to enable community groups to regain control over neighborhoods.

Walking through South Jamaica, one can see a community still bearing the scars of the crack epidemic yet exhibiting pride in having survived the worst of it. 

Public and Charter Schools in South Jamaica

Public and Charter Schools in South Jamaica

Elementary Schools:

– Samuel Huntington School (P.S. 40) is located near the South Jamaica Houses, at 109th Avenue and Union Hall Street.

– William Wordsworth School (P.S. 48), situated two blocks west of the South Jamaica Houses on 155th Street and 108th Avenue, is a New York City landmark for its Art Deco design.

– Walter Francis Bishop School (P.S. 160) can be found on Inwood Street, off of Sutphin Boulevard.

– P.S. 123 is located on 119th Avenue, between Inwood Street and 145th Street, just south of Foch Boulevard.

– Edward K. Ellington School (P.S. 140) is on 116th Avenue, east of Brewer Boulevard and is named after Duke Ellington.

– Ruby S. Couche Elementary School (P.S. 30) and P.S. 354 are situated on Baisley Boulevard and Bedell Street in Rochdale Village.

– Lyndon B. Johnson School (P.S. 223) is adjacent to the Baisley Park Garden development, on Sutphin Boulevard just north of Rockaway Boulevard.

– Clarence Witherspoon School (P.S. 45) is located across from Baisley Pond Park and Baisley Park Garden, on Rockaway Boulevard and 150th Street.

– Talfourd Lawn Elementary School (P.S. 50) can be found on 101st Avenue and Allendale Street, north of Liberty Avenue.

– Thurgood Marshall Magnet School (P.S. 80) is located in Rochdale Village, on 137th Avenue.

– Rochdale Early Advantage Charter School is across from Rochdale Village, on Baisley Boulevard and 165th Street.

Middle and Junior High Schools:

– Junior High School 40 is adjacent to P.S. 40.

– Richard Grossley Junior High School (J.H.S. 8) is near Merrick Boulevard, between 108th and 109th Avenues.

– Eagle Academy for Young Men of Southeast Queens (Eagle Academy III) is a middle and high school located at Merrick and Linden Boulevards.

– Catherine and Count Basie School (M.S. 72; formerly J.H.S. 72) is on Brewer Boulevard in Rochdale Village.

– York Early College Academy is a middle and high school in the M.S. 72 building on Brewer Boulevard in Rochdale Village.

High Schools:

– August Martin High School, a vocational aviation school, is on Baisley Boulevard, south of Baisley Pond Park, and is named after Tuskegee Airmen Army Air Forces pilot August Martin.

– Eagle Academy for Young Men III

– The High School for Law Enforcement and Public Safety is located on Brewer Boulevard and 116th Avenue, north of Foch Boulevard, near the Baisley Park Houses.

– Queens High School for the Sciences is a specialized high school on the York College campus.

– York Early College Academy

– Hillcrest High School, the closest zoned high school, is just north of Hillside Avenue in Jamaica. Richmond Hill High School is west of the Van Wyck Expressway in Richmond Hill. The Jamaica Campus (formerly Jamaica High School) near the Grand Central Parkway and Springfield Gardens Educational Campus (formerly Springfield Gardens High School) are nearby educational campuses. Campus Magnet (formerly Andrew Jackson High School) is in Cambria Heights, and John Adams Educational Campus (formerly John Adams High School) is in Ozone Park. The Young Women’s Leadership School of Queens, formerly in the P.S. 40 facility, is now across from Hillcrest High School.

Other Schools:

– Queens Transitional Center (former J.H.S. 142/I.S. 142), a special education school, is located at Linden Boulevard and 142nd Street. This facility also hosts a branch of The School of Cooperative and Technical Education (Coop Tech) and the Jamaica campus of Queens Academy High School.

Higher Education

– CUNY York College is situated at the north end of South Jamaica, between the LIRR Main Line to the north and South Road to the south, opposite the South Jamaica Houses.


– The Queens Public Library operates three branches in South Jamaica:

  1. Baisley Park branch at 117-11 Sutphin Boulevard.

  2. Rochdale Village branch at 169-09 137th Avenue.

  3. South Jamaica branch at 108-41 Guy R Brewer Boulevard.

Noteworthy Residents

### Notable Residents of South Jamaica


1. **50 Cent (Curtis Jackson)** – Born in 1975, a well-known rapper and actor.

2. **Rafer Alston** – Former NBA basketball player, born in 1976.

3. **Lloyd Banks** – A rapper, born in 1982.

4. **Bob Beamon** – Olympic athlete and long jump world record holder for 23 years, born in 1946.

5. **Yummy Bingham** – Singer, born in 1986.

6. **Mario Cuomo** – Former Governor of New York, lived from 1932 to 2015.

7. **Sticky Fingaz** – Rapper, actor, and member of Onyx, born in 1973.

8. **Frenchie** – A rapper known in the music industry.

9. **G-Unit** – A well-known rap group.

10. **Diana Gordon** – A singer with notable contributions to the music scene.

11. **Grafh (Phillip Anthony Bernard)** – Rapper, born in 1982.

12. **Milford Graves** – Free-jazz drummer, lived from 1941 to 2021.

13. **Maurice Harkless** – NBA basketball player.

14. **Roi Heenok** – A rapper born in 1973.

15. **Robert Jones** – Head men’s basketball coach at Norfolk State, born in 1979.

16. **Sutter Kain** – Known as both a rapper and producer.

17. **Kwamé** – A rapper and producer contributing to the music industry.

18. **Curtis McDowald** – Épée fencer who competed in the 2020 Summer Olympics, born in 1996.

19. **Nicki Minaj (Onika Tanya Maraj)** – A globally recognized rapper, born in 1982.

20. **Pharoahe Monch** – Rapper and member of Organized Konfusion.

21. **Kyle O’Quinn** – Professional basketball player, born in 1990.

22. **Lamar Odom** – Former NBA basketball player, born in 1979.

23. **Onyx** – A renowned rap group.

24. **Metta Sandiford-Artest (Ron Artest)** – NBA basketball player, born in 1979.

25. **Fredro Starr** – Rapper and member of Onyx, born in 1971.

26. **Supreme** – Notorious drug lord and leader of the Supreme Team from the Baisley Park Projects.

27. **Lost Boyz** – A rap group with significant influence.

28. **Mr. Cheeks** – A rapper known for his unique style.

29. **Nuttin’ But Stringz** – A duo known for their musical talent.

30. **Waka Flocka Flame** – A rapper with a significant presence in the music industry.

31. **Sha Money XL** – A music producer with notable contributions.

32. **Mopreme Shakur** – A rapper born in 1967.

33. **Supreme Team** – A drug trafficking gang known in the area.

34. **Ali Vegas** – Rapper and member of The Drama Kingz.

35. **Tony Yayo** – A rapper born in 1978, known for his contributions to music.

36. **Eric Adams** – 110th Mayor of New York City lived in South Jamaica and was a gang member of the gang called 7 Crowns.

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