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African American Museum renamed for Freeport couple

County Executive Laura Curran honored Julius and Joysetta Pearse for their sustaining role in the unique institution.

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A Nassau County museum was renamed for Julius and Joysetta Pearse, of Freeport, on May 18. 

     Its sign now reads, "The Joysetta and Julius Pearse African American Museum of Nassau County.'

     County Executive Laura Curran filed the renaming resolution, which passed in the 19-member county legislature immediately. At the ceremony, Curran called the Pearses "trailblazing icons of Black History on Long Island," according to a published source.

     The Pearses have served both the Village of Freeport and the wider community with distinction for almost six decades. 

     Julius became the Freeport Police Department's first African American officer in 1962, eventually achieveing the rank of detective (see box, "Freeport's First Black Cop"). During the 1970s, he co-founded the Coalition for a Better Freeport, and with Joysetta, he authored and directed the first Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration in 1981, at Freeport High School. 

     He retired from law enforcement in 1983. He and Joysetta then established Jul-Joy Associates, a private investigative firm that operated in Freeport until 2002.

     Julius had become a professional genealogist in 198. In 1994, he and Joysetta founded The African Atlantic Genealogical Society Inc. (TAAGS) a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Their goal was to help African Americans find ancestral connections.

     "That was in the days before Ancestry.com, when you had to go and look up those original documents and travel from library to library," said Joysetta, who became a Certified Genealogist in 2005. The couple have helped over 300 people discover their personal hidden histories.

PEARSES AT THE MUSEUM

     Joysetta and Julius Pearse first came to the African American Museum of Nassau County as vendors in 1998, when the museum gave TAAGS an office in its building.

     It was the perfect place for the Pearses to pursue their own interest in Black history. Joysetta hailed from Brooklyn, Julius from North Carolina. Joysetta discovered that Julius knew more Black history than she had ever learned in school. Julius felt that Black history was poorly represented in America.

     "The only time that Black history was even thought about was during Black History Month," said Julius. "The rest of the year, it didn't matter."

     In Nassau County, the African American Museum had become the place to discover Black history and Black achievement, year-round. The museum itself was started by Leroy Leonardo Ramsey, and African American professor at Nassau Community College. He mounted a Black History Month display at NCC in 1968. Its popularity inspired him to open the Black History Exhibit Center in 1970. Its displays occupied a storefront at 106A Main Street in Hempstead.

     In 1985, Deputy County Executive Russell Service helped Ramsey move the exhibit center four blocks to its current lodgings at 110 North Franklin Street. The center was renamed the African American Museum of Nassau County.

     The museum continued expanding its document archives and its artifacts collection. It acquired the piano owned by composer-pianist Eubie Blake, and the photos of Pulitzer Prize winner Moneta J. Sleet, Jr. In 2005, it received the Museum Preservation Award from American Legacy Magazine.

      In 2012, TAAGS became the museum's managing agency and Joysetta became museum director. She and her team constantly create displays from little-known histories, like that of Lewis Temple, and African American blacksmith who in 1829 invented the Temple toggle. The device kept whales from wrenching free of harpoons and made millions for the whaling industry.

     Children love the displays, like the one that explains the math required when Africans constructed the Egyptian pyramids 4,000 years ago. "They say, really? Maybe I might pay a little more attention in math class," said Joysetta.

     Michael Butkewicz, a county museum supervisor, said, "When Joysetta gives a docent-led tour, she brings the whole building to life."

     Children's programs at the museum benefit hundreds of kids yearly. A popular one is the Saturday chess club run by Horace Graydon. Its impact can be far-reaching.

     "We had a ceremony in our auditorium after our chess kids won an important tournament in 2019," said Joysetta. A college student attending the ceremony spoke up to thank Horace Graydon, saying that he had been a low-performing student at Hempstead High School until Gradon taught him chess. The young man attributed his 3.5 average in college to the discipline and strategizing he had learned from the game.

      "The parents in the audience were crying," said Joysetta. "It was amazing to see something like that happening and know it is doing good somewhere."

     The museum is only the third county building to be renamed for a county personage.

     "I was overwhelmed," said Joysetta, smiling. "Unbelievable."