HEMPSTEAD VILLAGE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A remarkable Long Island couple, both in their 80s, got the surprise and honor of a lifetime for keeping history alive, when they learned Nassau County‘s African American museum they helped create was being renamed after them.
Joysetta Pearse came from a Broadway show business family.
Julius Pearse descended from slaves to become Freeport’s first Black police officer.
Between them, they have boundless energy and insatiable curiosity and intellect.
“Really? Oh, did I ever have anything this big in my life? No, not ever. No, nothing like this ever, ever, ever,” Joysetta Pearse told CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan earlier this week.
The long-time directors of the only African-American museum in the region were left speechless, as the county renamed the facility the Julius And Joysetta Pearse African American Museum of Nassau County after the trailblazing icons.
“Together, Julius and Joysetta, you have been an unstoppable force for good. We learn from you. It is our honor to honor you,” Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said.
“I’m thinking about what brought us this far, what brought us here, the contributions that African Americans have made to this country,” Julius Pearse said.
“In school, what do they learn? They learn about slavery and they learn about the Civil War. That’s the only time they see a Black face in history,” Joysetta Pearse added.
It was their vision that started small and grew so tall. To attract more national works to the museum, the Pearses on their own volunteered to remove carpeting, install tiles, repaint walls, and purchase temperature gauges to improve climate control.
They brought school groups from all over to Hempstead to see such exhibits as legendary songwriter Eubie Blake’s piano, the first female millionaires — of any race — the Black royals, Queen Charlotte and Phillipa, American slavery shackles, and slaves’ carved wood panels.
“My great great grandfather was a pine tree tapper,” Julius Pearse said.
“I just found that history was it for me, and sharing, sharing the history,” Joysetta Pearse added.
“Julius and Joysetta Pearse paved the way for generations to be inspired,” said Barbara Powell of the Hempstead NAACP.
Their legacy lives on through their museum, where so many walk out floating on air.
The goal of the Pearses, who are now great grandparents, is to continue to work to preserve African-American history and culture.