Hempstead schools elementary students took part in the unveiling of a postage stamp honoring writer Ernest J. Gaines. NewsdayTV’s Drew Scott reports.  Credit: Anthony Florio

Renowned fiction writer Ernest J. Gaines, who was the son of sharecroppers born on a Louisiana plantation, was honored Wednesday with the unveiling of the 46th stamp in the Black Heritage series during a Black History Month celebration in Hempstead.

The fourth annual event at the Joysetta & Julius Pearse African American Museum was sponsored by the Empire State After-School Program and featured Hempstead public school students performing songs, dances and reciting spoken poetry.

"We're here to pay homage to our African American pioneers, and to celebrate … one of America's most esteemed novelists," said Barbara Powell, director of the Empire State After-School Program at Hempstead public schools.

Gaines, who died in 2019, is best known for the Pulitzer Prize-nominated novel, “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” which was later dramatized in a television movie starring Cicely Tyson, and the National Book Critics Circle Award-winning novel “A Lesson Before Dying," about a young Black man convicted of murder and sentenced to death for a liquor store robbery.

"Gaines' stories addressed the timeless issues of class, poverty and race, which transcend the American South, and which transcend America itself," said Monet Green, a museum volunteer. "While his fictional worlds center on a small rural place in South Louisiana, he addresses universal challenges and the human dignity of all people no matter where they come from."

Students from the I Am Dancers Studio in West Hempstead perform at...

Students from the I Am Dancers Studio in West Hempstead perform at the unveiling of the U.S. Postal Service's 46th Black Heritage stamp at the Joysetta & Julius Pearse African American Museum in Hempstead on Wednesday.  Credit: Rick Kopstein

Angela Abrams, a teaching assistant at the Jackson School in Hempstead, said Black history was not reserved for teaching just in February. 

"Every day we talk about Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King and so many famous African Americans," said Abrams, whose students performed a series of poems Wednesday for a crowd of nearly 200.

The event's keynote speaker, Anissa Moore, the first Black woman elected to both the Long Beach City Council and to secure a tenured position in the communications department at Nassau Community College, encouraged the students in attendance to investigate the contributions of Black inventors, artists, engineers and scientists.

"This is a time when we have the opportunity to learn about ethnic groups that are different from our own," said Moore, who now serves as a Nassau deputy county executive for social services. "This is a time when we gain an understanding and we appreciate diversity but we also find commonality."

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