Reine Duell Bethany - Author and Illustrator
My Blog

Village of Hempstead

You can be wrong and still have a point

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.

Undeserved EMplyment versus Hempstead Schoolchildren

The more I study the history of the Hempstead Public Schools, the more it looks to me as though the needs of the district's children succumbed to the fear of unemployment among some of the African American people on the school board and in the Village of Hempstead.
     I didn't believe it at first when some people claimed that the school system was ruined by decades of patronage, in which one particular school board member got herself into a position to hire unqualified applicants in exchange for portions of these applicants' paychecks.

The Problem Wasn't the Black Kids

Hempstead High School was renowned on Long Island during the first half of the twentieth century. Students from nearby villages attended Hempstead High because they didn't have their own high schools yet. Hempstead had transport: the Long Island Railroad and a trolley system running west, east, and south. It built roads that cars could traverse and it had been a business establishment since its inception; Sammis Hotel sustained itself with Sammis descendants as propietors from 1660 to 1929. Carman Lush Pharmacy served at least three generations.

On Behalf of Hempstead

For the past week (Jan. 8-14), Long Island's premier paper Newsday, has printed headlines about the utter breakdown in the function of the Hempstead School Board. The focus on the school board's blatant failures to work in unity is, on one hand, long overdue, and on the other hand, off target.
     Hempstead has for so long been overloaded with section 8 residents and Central American immigrants that today's untenable situation is predictable. I don't mean to fault people who may need section 8 housing, and I certainly don't fault Central American immigrants who are leaving bloody gang warfare and natural disasters.


In my work as village historian, I have been surveying the repositories of information about, specifically, Hempstead Village.Hidden on a top shelf in a vault, I discovered scrapbooks: four covering Hempstead events 1927-1943, and one with articles from 1961 to about 1965.
      A headline among the 1961 articles impressed me: APARTMENTS COMING TO LONG ISLAND. It was a Newsday article. It impressed me because Long Island communities at this very time, 2017, are organizing to resist a a mushrooming trend of new apartments.

Hempstead School Board Mess

I have not been to a Hempstead School Board meeting since about 2002. I did not put my children into the Hempstead school system and did not give more than a passing shake of the head to articles in Newsday about contentious school board meetings.
     What I saw last Thursday, June 15, the last school board meeting before the year turns over on July 1 to 2017-2018, was embarrassing. The prime element evident was division, and I don't mean heated discussion among board members.

Alive though Not

Yesterday, May 31, 2017, I spent 3.5 hours poring over Hempstead Village births and deaths records, 1890-1910. Afterward, I returned home so hungry that I could barely expend the effort to heat food, and once I ate, I fell asleep for two hours.
     Why the intensity? To my amazement, entering the records caused me to enter a living dream, wherein these people from more than 100 years past came alive. Their children got born, while their mothers' ages and the number of living siblings revealed the wild joy and heartrending trauma surrounding a growing family, and the fathers' occupations -- laborer, farmer, butcher, reporter, banker -- shaped the home in which the family constructed daily life.

Death Blow from the Inside Out

Once upon a time, someone I had trusted as a friend back-stabbed me. Since then, the places where I had encountered that friend became cues for remembering the pain of betrayal. I avoid those places and keep my face forward, disallowing those memories.
      But what if your cue for betrayal is your whole nation?
      I say this in reference to African Americans, but it surely applies in any location where a group has been singled out as the one to demean with impunity.

My Letter to the Editor of Long Island Newsday 4.19.17

Newsday is a terrific newspaper. In my role as Hempstead Village Historian, I find that my research is made easier because past historians have preserved countless Newsday clippings. The faithful detail with which Newsday reports on our village is awe-inspiring.
      But I don't agree with everything that the Newsday editors say about our village. In rebuttal to a Newsday editorial that approved the addition of many apartment units as part of our village revitalization, I wrote the following (and have recieved many compliments on it):

The Symbiosis between Hempstead Village's Reputation and Its Fortunes

On Tuesday, March 21, 2017, in the Hempstead Village elections, Mayor Wayne J. Hall, Sr., mayor for three terms (12 years), was not re-elected; more votes went to Don Ryan. A commentator in Long Island Newsday attributed Hall's loss to villager anger over potholes, as if all Hempstead residents -- at least, the ones who voted for Ryan -- are village idiots who would give up a good mayor over a few potholes.
     The reality is that more villagers believed it was time for a change of leadership than for a continuation of leadership, not for some potholes, but for a number of long-term and complex reasons.
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