Dec. 8, 2018
On the first Tuesday of November, I delivered my historian report at the Hempstead Village Board of Trustees meeting. Trustee Lamont Johnson commented to me that my book, Hempstead Village, was a miserable failure because it did not include certain events. These events occurred starting in the 1930s, and constituted what he considered to be black people's achievement in the village. He added that if I wanted to write a book that would detail these milestones, he would be glad to work with me.
My response was self-defensive: that I had done more to uncover and publish information about the village than had been done in 75 years. Furthermore, I had gone to a lot more trouble than surrounding municipalities had in their Arcadia histories to represent the presence of people of color going back to the village’s founding. But, I added, a project of black achievement could be exciting and important.
After I went home, I realized that a dichotomy exists in views of this village. Generally, surrounding communities view Hempstead as a place that lost its financial stability and its excellence as a school district half a decade ago. But to many African American long-time villagers, Hempstead is a location of black achievement: first National Association for the Advancement of Colored People branch on Long Island (1932), first village to have African American teachers starting in 1957, first African American policeman in 1952, home of a Tuskegee airman, and more.
Since that board of trustees meeting on the first Tuesday of November, many indications have come to me that Mr. Johnson's evaluation of my book is not widespread. Without directly saying so, Hempsteadians around Village Hall have shown me that they appreciate me and the book.
Meanwhile, I think Trustee Johnson has a point. I'm proud of what I have done so far as Hempstead Village historian. However, a book specifically about black achievement in this community could supply vital encouragement to its residents.