Joan Hodges of Hempstead, was among group of Black parents...

Joan Hodges of Hempstead, was among group of Black parents who protested in the 1960s over a lack school buses for their children. Credit: Nancy Solomon

Joan Hodges vividly recalls the struggle that ensued in the 1960s after she and other Black parents asked the Malverne School District to bus their newly enrolled children to one of its elementary schools. Hodges, 81, who now lives in Hempstead, said in an interview that it all started when the parents' Lakeview elementary school, which she described as “predominantly Black,” closed.

“That was our school,” she said.

Afterward, school authorities “sent the kids over to the Malverne school district, and they didn't want us there,” Hodges said. “They tried to deny us busing. We formed picket lines. Martin Luther King came down Woodfield Road to help us integrate the school.”

And the parents, with the aid of civil rights organizations, successfully sued. But as the case wound through the courts, the parents had to hire a private bus company to take their children to school in the Malverne district, at then-Lindner Place School, she said.

What to know

  • Black Long Islanders fight for justice during the Civil Rights era, is the subject of a historical society's cellphone app.
  • The stories are shown on the free app, TravelStorys.
  • On Saturday, the Southampton African American Museum and the Roosevelt Public library are hosting events featuring the app.

Hodges' personal story, which helps illustrate the larger struggles of Black Long Islanders in the era of the civil rights movement,  is among those told in “Civil Rights Back Story” cellphone tours produced by Long Island Traditions, a nonprofit, regional folk and traditional arts organization based in Port Washington. The stories are shown on a free app called TravelStorys. The latest installments — the fourth and fifth in a series begun in 2020 — are titled the “Nassau Civil Rights Tour” and the “Hamptons Civil Rights Back Story.” They both bear the tagline “The Struggle Continues.”

The app also includes tour stops in Hempstead, Lakeview and as far east as Sag Harbor.

Long Island Traditions is scheduled to introduce the tours to the public this weekend with two free events: 11 a.m. Saturday at the Southampton African American Museum, 245 North Sea Rd. in Southampton; and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Roosevelt Public Library, 27 W. Fulton St. in Roosevelt.

Product of research

“We selected the sites based on the people who had compelling stories that would be engaging to people not familiar with the struggle,” said Nancy Solomon, the founding director of Long Island Traditions who is retiring this month. Viewers of the app “will see the people interviewed. They will be listening more to their stories, accompanied by contemporary and historical photographs.”

Solomon said the civil rights tours drew on research the group has done in partnership with local scholars: Georgette Grier-Key, a history professor at Medgar Evers College, and executive director of the Eastville Community Historical Society, which its website says is dedicated to showcasing a lesser-known part of Sag Harbor's past — as home, from the early 1800s until the mid-1900s, to an ethnically diverse enclave of free Blacks and their descendants, European immigrants and Native Americans; and Denice Evans-Sheppard, executive director of the Oyster Bay Historical Society, who said her family, free people of color, have lived in the hamlet since the 1700s.

Oyster Bay Historical Society Executive Director Denice Evans-Sheppard said her...

Oyster Bay Historical Society Executive Director Denice Evans-Sheppard said her family has lived in the hamlet since the 1700s.

  Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

“I was very pleased that Nancy Solomon included me in this project to bring some relevance to communities that were never really talked about or highlighted in the past,” Sheppard said. African Americans, she said, “played an integral part in building these communities” on Long Island, but have often been “erased” from the narrative.

Resilience of the people

Sheppard said she hoped the cellphone tours “will help educate and inform people about the resilience of the people that advocated for civil rights and human rights here on Long Island. … Give people opportunity to see places [like the] Gold Coast, Oyster Bay, places that people are unaware that people of color lived and helped build communities.”

Solomon said, “Between the three of us, we found some amazing men and women who would engage listeners and be connected to sites of significance that reflect that struggle.”

Grier-Key did research and narrates historical stories from both Nassau and Suffolk counties. As she notes in narrating the Hamptons Tour: “Southampton has a long history of African American settlements, beginning with the Colonial period when enslaved Africans were brought by Europeans to Long Island.”

In an interview, Grier-Key said, “There are so many pivotal moments on Long Island as a whole.” In Roosevelt, for example, she highlighted some famous names who grew up in the hamlet: Basketball great Julius “Dr. J” Erving; comedian Eddie Murphy and Chuck D., of the seminal rap group, Public Enemy. 

In the Hamptons, Grier-Key also highlighted Pyrrhus Concer, a formerly enslaved man who went on to become a whaler, voyaging as far as Japan and returning home to Southampton and becoming an entrepreneur. In her tour narration, she said Concer was “respected … As well-known as he was in the community, Concer would not receive the public recognition he deserved during his lifetime or afterward.”

Georgette Grier-Key is one of the historians who did research for cellphone...

Georgette Grier-Key is one of the historians who did research for cellphone tours presented by the nonprofit Long Island Traditions. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Community activists tried to preserve his home, which was ultimately razed in 2014. Now, she said, they are working to use the timbers from the demolished home to create a visitors center.

“I think a lot of times African American history is swept under the rug,” Grier-Key said. “It's not in the built-in environment — a building, a place that you can actually go to visit, walk on the soil.”

The cellphone tours, she said, can change that, enabling “people to go physically to these sites where history happened. I think it gives them a sense of understanding.”

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