Brenda Simmons was near tears as she stood in the spot where her aunt once worked as a hairdresser and she would come as a child to help out.
The shuttered, wood-shingled building on North Sea Road in Southampton, which long served as a gathering spot for the black community, hit another milestone Monday as a sign officially naming it the future home of the African American Museum of the East End was unveiled.
"This is so important for our community," said Simmons, chairwoman and co-founder of the museum. "It shows that we belong here and that this is an important site."
The building that was built in the 1950s was formerly a barbershop and beauty salon that Southampton Town purchased for the museum board in 2006 using $500,000 from the Community Preservation Fund, said Suffolk County Legis. Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), who attended the ceremony.
In December 2010, the site was designated as a local historic landmark by the Village Historic Preservation Board, making it the first African-American historical designation in Southampton Village.
Simmons said the museum has operated virtually since 2006, partnering with organizations like The Parrish Art Museum and the Southampton Historical Museum to hold an annual black film festival and curate art exhibits featuring black artists.
She said the unveiling of the sign was an important first step to creating a physical museum space, where the museum board plans to feature educational programs that will shine a light on the African-American community of the East End, but there is still a long way to go. She said the board is still fundraising to help pay for the renovations to the building and is working with an architect and a local historian to create a design plan and a budget to submit to the town for approval.
Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, who attended the unveiling along with a number of representatives from the town and county, said the museum will fill a void on the East End.
"This is a long time coming," she said. "This really represents something that was missing in his community and that has a place in this community."
Photo: Members of the board of the African American Museum of the East End are joined by Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst and Legislator Jay Schneiderman at the unveiling of the sign for the museum. (March 29, 2011)