Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Bensonhurst is a blue collar/middle class neighborhood located in the south-central part of New York City's borough of Brooklyn. Bensonhurst runs from about 11th Avenue to 25th Avenue and from Gravesend Bay to 63rd Street, encompassing Bath Beach and part of Dyker Heights and bordered by the Bay Ridge, Gravesend, and Borough Park sections.
In the early 1900s, many Italian immigrants moved into the neighborhood, and today their descendants make up the vast majority of its population along with longtime Jewish residents and an increasing Chinese population. Its main thoroughfare, 86th Street between roughly 14th Avenue and Stillwell Avenue, is lined with predominantly small, family-owned businesses, many of which have remained in the same family for several generations, and is topped by an elevated subway line.
On August 23, 1989, the neighborhood made national headlines when Yusef Hawkins , a 16-year-old African American, went there with three of his friends to inquire about a used car which was for sale, only to be set upon by an angry mob of youths from the neighborhood, one of whom, armed with a handgun, shot and killed Hawkins. Spike Lee's film Jungle Fever is dedicated in memory of Hawkins, and his photograph appears at the beginning of the film.
The incident uncorked a torrent of racial tension in and around New York City in the ensuing days and weeks, culminating in a protest march through the neighborhood led by the Reverend Al Sharpton, which almost precipitated a full-scale riot. The episode underscored the strained relations between Italian Americans and African Americans that have existed in many Northeastern and Rust Belt cities for decades. As a result, Bensonhurst became a national symbol of white racism - specifically northern, urban, white ethnic racism. This further perpetuated the negative stereotype of Italian Americans as invariably racist, when in fact Italian-American religious, political and community leaders in Bensonhurst, as well as the vast majority of community residents, condemned the murder and desired to see the perpetrators jailed for their crime (the man who fired the shots that killed Hawkins, Joseph Fama, received a sentence of 32 years to life in prison for murder and unlawful possession of a weapon following his trial and conviction; several other defendants received lesser sentences on charges that included riot in the first degree, a felony).
Bensonhurst has also been negatively stereotyped as a haven for Mafia members (Gus Farace, a reputed mob associate suspected of murdering a federal drug-enforcement agent, was found shot to death in a parked car there on November 17, 1989, and two years later the neighborhood provided the setting for the mob-themed film Out for Justice starring Steven Seagal), many of whom are believed to maintain residences in Dyker Heights, widely regarded to be a part of Bensonhurst.
Visitors from throughout the New York City metropolitan area flock to the neighborhood each year in late August or early September to take part in the colorful Santa Rosalia Festival, St. Rosalia is the patron saint of the city of Palermo and is sometimes venerated as the patron for the entire island of Sicily (a portion of Bensonhurst's Italian American residents are of Sicilian heritage).
Bensonhurst is named after the Benson family whose farm was divided into many 20 by 100 foot lots and sold off in the early 1900's
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