Two of the most heartwarming experiences we have enjoyed in the Village of Southampton in our nine years living here were the opening of the Southampton African American Museum (rebuilt from Randy’s Barbershop — a combination barbershop/hair-cutting ladies salon — that was for years a central gathering place for Black Southamptonites) and the joyous energy of unity at the Juneteenth holiday celebration at Agawam Park.
Finally, I had the feeling that our country — and my very own town! — was moving forward into the 21st century in the spirit that has been kindled over the past year since the horrific killing of George Floyd. I had similar feelings at the various Black Lives Matter marches across the Hamptons. But the celebration of the Juneteenth holiday and the grand opening of the Southampton African American Museum were even more solid evidence that something was finally being done to correct the absence of a complete history of our town, and to celebrate some of the inhabitants who have always been excluded.
Brenda Simmons’s monumental achievement in the founding of the Southampton African American Museum is having created an edifice to truth. Emanuel Seymore bought the land upon which Randy’s Barbershop stood during the Great Migration, when many families of color left the Southern states for the North, some settling in Southampton.
The work of Shinnecock artist David Bunn Martine memorializes many of the people who worked there. Stories of our Black Southampton citizens and how they were descendants of slaves appear nowhere in the history textbooks from which our local Black and white students are taught.
Dr. Georgette Grier-Key, with plans for an extension of that energy into a museum at the Pyrrhus Concer home site, offers an opportunity for local and summer residents, their guests, and visitors to get an even fuller picture of the true history of Southampton and a real sense of Black culture here.
The fact that there is a planned expansion on the Concer home site to make it a more effectively welcoming institution of learning and culture is great news. But now there is opposition to the proposed expansion, and even a challenge to the museum’s existence as an extension of SAAM in a residential area, for which “granting exceptional use” would be an easy solution [“Proposed Visitors Center Holding Up Plans For Pyrrhus Concer,” 27east.com, June 25]. This is just racist. If some rich white person wanted whatever constructed wherever, “granting exceptional use” would not be a problem.
Now is a time for us all to come together and see what we can do to support our Black and Indigenous — formerly isolated, discriminated against and marginalized — citizens in whatever way they deem necessary. Our mouths and our money need to flow in the direction of kindness and compassion.
Heidi and Tom Oleszczuk
One fine body…