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Quilt illustrates Spinney Hill's African American roots

On Monday, Barbara Masry, a retired pre-K teacher and resident of Great Neck, spoke about the quilt that illustrates the history of Spinney Hill that will help celebrate African American heritage and pride.   (Credit: Howard Simmons)

A large, colorful quilt that illustrates the history of Spinney Hill will be revealed at the beginning of Black History Month in February at a Manhasset community center to celebrate African American heritage and pride.

The history of Spinney Hill, which was a tight-knit African American enclave with a large number of working families, is mostly forgotten, some residents say. 

Barbara Masry, a retired pre-K teacher and resident of Great Neck, wanted to change that.

“It’s an underappreciated community,” said Masry, who organized half a dozen women to create the quilt. “The goal was to create a quilt that would reflect the history of the area.”

It took the group 18 months to research, design and sew 20 squares into a cotton quilt that is 65 inches wide and 85 inches long. Raisy Derzie, a Great Neck-based artist, painted the individual squares, and Karen Harry of Uniondale sewed them together into one piece.

The art on each square tells a part of the community’s history, including the Matinecock Indians who lived on the land in the 1600s and the migration of freed slaves from the South who settled in the community in the 1900s.

Spinney Hill, nestled between Great Neck and Manhasset, is roughly bounded by Northern Boulevard, Community Drive and Pond Hill Road, according to Newsday articles and residents of the area.

Lloyd Means, who grew up on Pond Hill Road in the late 1970s and made a documentary about the area in 2012, recalled the closeness of the community.

Since 1939, Means said those who have lived in Spinney Hill have gathered at Manhasset Valley Park for an annual reunion the first Sunday after the Fourth of July.

“At this reunion, there were people who went to school together, whose parents dated each other and whose grandparents were best friends,” said Means, who now lives in Baldwin. “That tells you how tight that community is.”

The black population in Spinney Hill is now smaller in number, but the women who put the quilt together said they don’t want the past to be forgotten.

“We want to acknowledge these people who came and lived a life for themselves,” Derzie said. “We want to tell their history, how they lived and communicated with each other.”

The Town of North Hempstead, which was awarded a $50,000 National Park Service grant in 2017 to document the civil rights movement in the town, gave the group $2,000 to make the quilt.

The unveiling is at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Manhasset Great Neck Equal Opportunity Center, 65 High St.

After the reception, the quilt will be displayed at the Great Neck Library and at Town Hall before going to its permanent home at the center, the former Manhasset Valley School that was built in 1929.

The building now hosts a Head Start program and after-school activities.

“As the children enter this building, they will be able look at this, see the history, learn it and feel proud,” Masry said.

History of Spinney Hill

  • In the 1830s, freed slaves were among the founders of the Lakeville AME Zion Church in Manhasset, bringing an influx of African Americans.
  • Former North Hempstead Town historian Joan Kent told Newsday in 2009 that Spinney Hill was named after a farming family that lived there centuries ago, but an article published in The New York Times suggested the name came from Joseph Spinney, a “commission merchant” who bought land in 1872 that later became known as Spinney Hill.
  • In the next century and beyond, more African Americans moved to the area, with many working for nearby estates.
  • In the 1960s, the Manhasset school board resisted busing students to integrate schools.
  • In 1971, Jim Brown, who grew up in Spinney Hill and went on to become a running back for the NFL's Cleveland Browns, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Source: Newsday archives