Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day by participating in a commemorative program at the Joysetta and Julius Pearse African American Museum of Nassau County in the Incorporated Village of Hempstead.
Prior to the 2:30 p.m. program, at which he was one of the speakers, Blakeman toured the museum’s extensive exhibits with volunteers Monet Green, Anthony Richards, and Audrey Hadden. When the program began, Blakeman was invited to the microphone. He told of growing up in Valley Stream and watching Dr. King speak on television.
“Really, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s message is that we can overcome,” said Blakeman, “if people of good will, people who want to do the right thing, get together and stand up to evil, like Dr. King did, like Senior Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby did, like Julius did. So I have to tell you, it’s been a highlight for me to be here today to be able to talk about one of the people that I admire most in life, and to tell you, you’re going to have a really good friend in me as county executive, a friend to the community and a friend to this museum.”
Julius Pearse had spoken directly prior to Blakeman. Pearse, 87, who is African American, oversees the African American Museum in the absence of his wife, Joysetta, the former executive director who died in June 2021.
Pearse had come to Long Island from North Carolina because his father worried that his activism would get him into too much trouble. “I became the first black police officer in Freeport,” he said. “Today, when I see females, black females, being chiefs of police, commissioners, law enforcement officers protecting our community and being involved, I am really proud.”
The Pearses also founded the Martin Luther King Day Celebration Committee of Nassau County in 1981, before King’s birthday was signed into law as a national holiday in 1983 by then-President Ronald Reagan.
“With the help of the legislators such as Mr. Bruce Blakeman and Dorothy Goosby here,” said Pearse, “we will keep the image [of King] alive and going and let people know that we were not just slaves. We made a heck of a contribution and the country would not be where it is today had it not been for the contributions and the efforts of black folks and particularly black women.”
When Senior Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby came to the podium, she spoke frankly of issues still unresolved in Hempstead, her village of residence: a disturbing burden of traffic through the village, especially from delivery trucks, and the continued overcrowding of Hempstead’s public schools, where too many children still have to take classes in poorly heated trailers attached to buildings more 80 years old.
“We have to do something better than what we’re doing, not just sitting here, because it’s Martin Luther King’s birthday and we’ve got to do something to make sure we’re honoring what he’s done,” Goosby said, adding, “and we can do it if we work together.”
After viewing “In Remembrance of Martin,” a moving documentary about King, Bishop Phillip Elliott of Antioch Baptist Church delivered the closing address. He recalled that in his hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia, racial bias was fierce. After the 1954 Supreme Court decision that declared that segregation in schools was inherently unconstitutional, Elliott said, “Any person who lived in that area had to leave the state to finish their schooling because rather than integrate, the [Prince Edward County leadership] shut the schools down. They poured cement into the pools rather than allowing blacks and whites to swim in the same pools. I sat in the back of a diesel bus where you literally breathed and smelled the diesel fuel. I remember looking up at my mother with all six of us riding the bus with her … and I said, Mom, why do we have to sit in the back of the bus? Amd she said, son, that’s just the way things are right now.”
Elliott detailed many other instances of division, including the abandonment of King by then-President Lyndon B. Johnson, NAACP President Roy Wilkinson, and columnist Carl Rowan in 1967 when King denounced the Vietnam War.
Elliott concluded by recalling King’s description of the human situation: “‘We are caught up in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.’ We need each other,” said Elliott. “Mr. Pearse, we’ve needed you, thank you for calling us together. And we need the next generation to step up and march on until we all are free at last.”