Spinney Hill: The History of an African-American Enclave in Great Neck

In the mid-1800s, formerly enslaved African-Americans founded the agricultural community of Spinney Hill — in between present-day Great Neck and Manhasset. The community was built around the Lakeville AME Zion Church, which was founded in 1821. As time went on, more houses, small buildings, and local businesses developed, and the neighborhood roared with life.

Starting in the 1970s, however, urban renewal projects that claimed to improve the structure of this town ultimately led to the decrease of African Americans in the area and, in particular, shunned black-owned businesses.

The Lakeville AME Zion Church is at the heart of the Spinney Hill community (Credit: Lakeville – MAAP | Mapping the African American Past).


Black children’s education:

In 1867, the Lakeville school district built a separate school for black students called Institution USA. The students’ parents felt proud of their efforts in instituting their neighborhood’s own school.  This region of the former Lakeville district is near where the current Great Neck South schools occupy.

Later in the 20th century, a community center in Spinney Hill dedicated itself to preventing children from staying in poverty. The town’s circumstances were not great—living conditions, work and academic opportunities needed improvement. The center provided the children counseling and kept them involved in their education and the community through many activities: summer camps, sports, learning science, sewing, field trips, roller skating, sharing music. In fact, many children in Spinney Hill took serious interests in sports; they participated in many local sports leagues from baseball to track.

Spinney Hill students play baseball circa 1960 (Credit: Spinney Hill, The African American History of Manhasset & Great Neck).


Civic Engagement:

In 1967, community members of Spinney Hill and Great Neck formed the Equal Opportunity Council to support black residents’ economic and educational success. For example, the EOC created a list of homes that black people could purchase in an effort to eliminate housing discrimination against African Americans in the local area. Individuals within Spinney Hill were also impactful activists who cared about societal issues like advocating for desegregation and fair treatment of black people.

Community members also built the Mount Olive Baptist Church, and the ritual gatherings with families and pastors supported a sense of collective responsibility and solidarity.

The Mount Olive Baptist Church (Credit: Facebook).


If you are interested in learning more about Spinney Hill, please take a look at the following sources:

Spinney Hill, The African American History of Manhasset & Great Neck (film)

The Historical Information Health of Black Communities on Long Island (case study)

Lakeville – MAAP | Mapping the African American Past (article)

This is Great Neck by League of Women Voters (book)

Website: About The Economic Opportunity Council of Suffolk (website)