Though the renown of Farmer’s Boulevard in St. Albans stems from its connection with local black history ranging from LL Cool J to the New York City Black Panthers, there’s one group whose role in the region often goes under-appreciated: the seven Griffin brothers.
State Senator Leroy Comrie and Congressman Gregory Meeks joined Southeastern Queens business organizations on Saturday to re-dedicate the Rock at Liberty Square in recognition of seven brothers who ran L. B. Griffin Contracting, the first and largest black-owned construction company in New York.
Roy and Tom Griffin, the two living members of the seven brothers were present at the ceremony.
“It’s not just the construction that they’ve done. They opened up a door for black entrepreneurship,” said Mark Griffin, the head of M.E. Griffin Contracting and son of Tom Griffin.
The Griffin brothers transported the rock to Liberty Square as a centerpiece and painted it in the red, black and green–colors of the Black Power and Pan-African movements of the 1960s. The Griffin construction crew discovered the boulder during the process of excavating the foundation of the Woodhull Medical Center, where it derailed their work on the project. Once they dislodged it from the ground, the crew transformed it into a symbol black empowerment.
“It brought to mind a sense of struggle. And with that in mind, [there] was so much consciousness going on, they decided to bring it back to their neighborhoods, southeast Queens and do the solidarity colors. It showed strength and unity within the southeastern Queens community,” said Mark.
The construction legacy of the Griffin family includes Boys and Girls High School, York College, Kingsborough College and the Harlem State Office building. Beyond amassing a construction empire that extended through the five boroughs and up and down to northeast corridor, the contractors advocated for racial equity in politics and the labor movement by leading protests, hosting voter’s registration efforts and organizing campaigning for local political figures.
“Congressman Meeks and Senator Comrie–they said that if it wasn’t by way of Griffin Contracting, they wouldn’t have most of the political seats. And [the] community wouldn’t be what it is,” said Mark.
Mark organized the event in collaboration with the entrepreneurial non-profit Farmers Boulevard Community Development Corporation. His goal is to raise awareness about his family’s role in shaping the southeastern part of the borough. As a part of this effort, he is putting together a documentary on the brothers called, “The Original Generals of the Industry.”
He sees this as a necessary step to educate young residents about the history of the area, and encourage them to get them involved in their community.
“Our youth seem to be misplaced somewhat. So the whole thing is to try to bridge the gap. Most old timers that are older than myself–I’m 53. They can’t communicate with a person that’s 29 or 30, you know, because the outlook or their level rearing is outdated for these guys.”