Starting in the 1940s, St. Albans became one of the few places in New York City where Black people could pursue the American dream of homeownership and business ownership. The predominantly African American and Caribbean American working-and middle-class neighborhood in southeast Queens is known by locals for its pride, strength, and unity. Through the years, Black luminaries, including singer Lena Horne, baseball icon Jackie Robinson, civil rights activist W.E.B. DuBois, heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis, and soul music superstar James Brown, have lived here.
The housing crisis struck heavily in St. Albans and transformed the community into an epicenter of mortgage fraud. In 2007, Black communities throughout New York City were targeted by banks with predatory loans nearly seven times as high as loans in affected white communities. While the effects of the housing crisis still linger, the soul of this community persists.
Photographer Elias Williams spent the first 15 years of his life in and around St. Albans, the Queens enclave that would become the primary subject of his long-term project celebrating the nuances of Black homeownership in the midst of economic hardship and preserving the identity of one of New York City’s historically Black communities.
Elias Williams is a New York City-based photographer whose work honors under-represented people in the United States. Through portraiture and long-form essays, he studies the cultural and historical significance of everyday people within these communities.
His photographs have been showcased at the International Photo Festival Leiden, the Morris Museum, and The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Elias is also a contributing photographer to AARP, Bloomberg Markets, NPR, National Geographic, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal among others.
Williams is also a 2017 Magnum Foundation Photography and Social Justice Fellow, and 2017 recipient of the Bronx Council on the Arts’s Bronx Recognizes Its Own (BRIO) award, and he is currently participating in the 2020 World Press Photo Joop Swart Masterclass.