The Newkirk Avenue subway station on the 2/5 line in Flatbush has officially been renamed Newkirk Avenue-Little Haiti, honoring the large Haitian community in the area, officially known as Little Haiti.
“Each and every local subway station is ingrained in the fabric of the neighborhood,” said Craig Cipriano, acting president of New York City Transit, at an event commemorating the new name’s dedication. “Much like the local public schools, restaurants, and markets. Newkirk Avenue-Little Haiti is no different, it only made sense for us to adjust the name of the station for the area.”
The push to rename the station was helmed by local Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, who represents Flatbush in Albany and became the first Haitian-American elected to the State Legislature in 2014. Bichotte Hermelyn said at a ceremony at St. Jerome Roman Catholic Church, right beside the station, that the renaming involved changing signs and maps, but also affixed Little Haiti and Haitian identity in the area’s fabric.
“Today we celebrate the heart of Brooklyn,” Bichotte Hermelyn said. “To uplift everyone. We have to remind our children and teach them Black history. Because Haitian history is Black history.”
State sen. Kevin Parker, who partnered with Bichotte Hermelyn on ensuring the renaming legislation passed, echoed those thoughts.
“Here in this community, that is the largest concentration of Haitians outside of Haiti in the entire world, it is no robbery to make sure that their culture, their history, and their traditions are expressed in every aspect of the topography and geography of their community,” Parker said. “To make sure that every time people get in and off the train that they see a piece of themselves, they understand that this is their community and they have a stake in it.”
Approximately 67,000 people of Haitian ancestry live in Brooklyn, most concentrated in Little Haiti, according to the Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey (other estimates peg the number as high as 90,000), but the Haitian community’s contributions to the neighborhood went largely unrecognized for generations as it was often lumped in with other Caribbean diasporic groups in the area.
The area finally got its due in 2018 when a big swath of Flatbush was officially designated as the Little Haiti Cultural and Business District, though only after years of protracted arguments between Haitians and other Caribbean leaders that saw a narrower but overlapping section of Flatbush be designated as Little Caribbean. Bichotte Hermelyn, who is now also the chair of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, was the driving force behind the Little Haiti designation as well.
Since the designation, the area has seen greater recognition of its Haitian character, such as street co-namings for two of Haiti’s national heroes, Jean-Jacques Dessalines on Rogers Avenue and Toussaint Louverture on Nostrand Avenue, passing right by the Newkirk-Little Haiti stop.
The unveiling was deliberately timed for Nov. 18 to coincide with the 218th anniversary of 1803’s Battle of Vertières, the pivotal final battle of the Haitian Revolution. The Haitians, former slaves who revolted against French colonial rule, decisively ran Napoleon Bonaparte and his forces out of what had been known as the French colony Saint-Domingue, and they established Haiti as the first free Black republic in the Americas.
The nation has seen more than its fair share of misfortune over the years, from natural and man-made. The country, one of the poorest in the Americas, has seen infrastructural collapse and mass death as a result of earthquakes, including the devastating 2010 quake and a more recent one this summer.
The country’s president, Jovenel Moise, was also assassinated this summer, plunging the country into further political instability. And there’s a long and sordid history of world powers, particularly the United States and France, meddling in Haiti’s affairs to the detriment of its people.
Subway station renamings are a relative rarity, but Brooklyn has seen three stations renamed in the past year-and-a-half, including Newkirk Avenue-Little Haiti. In fact, they’re all on the same line, and all are meant to recognize Central Brooklyn’s Black population: last year, the Franklin Avenue 2/3/4/5/S station and the President Street 2/5 station in Crown Heights were both renamed after nearby Medgar Evers College.