Joysetta Pearse, Nassau African American Museum Namesake, Dies At Age 82

Joysetta Pearse
Joysetta Pearse (Photo by Ed Shin)

Joysetta Pearse, manager of the African American Museum of Nassau County, and icon of the history of the Black community on Long Island, died of cancer on June 15.

The Pearses, Joysetta and her husband Julius, are an institution of Black history on Long Island. Julius, who is a descendant of slaves, was the first Black police officer in Freeport in 1970. Together, they founded The African Atlantic Genealogical Society, Inc. in 1994. The couple helped more than 300 people find their personal ancestral connections. 

TAAGS also manages the African American Museum of Nassau County. Using historical data, Joysetta’s specialty was creating exhibits that felt familiar and hidden all at once. She was a member of MENSA, the high-IQ society, and wrote 10 books on the topic of African American history.

At 82, she was a still-active community organizer. Pearse and her husband Julius made headlines recently when the African American Museum of Nassau County was renamed “The Joysetta and Julius Pearse African American Museum of Nassau County” in their honor. 

The museum is one of only two African American history museums in the Northeast. It aims to “promote understanding and appreciation of African American culture, art, and tradition through education, interpretation, exhibitions, collections and programs for the enrichment of the public, with an emphasis on Long Island,” according to its website.

She is remembered, not just for the accomplishments, but for the way she made the people around her feel. 

“When Joysetta gives a docent-led tour, she brings the whole building to life,” said County Museum Supervisor Michael Butkewicz in May at the renaming ceremony.

“There are some people who you expect to walk this earth forever and when you hear of their transition, it touches you deeply,” said Nassau Legislator Kevan A. Abrahams (D-Freeport) in a Facebook post. “I am glad she received some of her flowers while she could smell and touch them … Joysetta Pearse will always be remembered for her beautiful smile, heart, and passion about teaching people about the wonderful history of African Americans.”

She is survived by her husband, Julius, as well as their two children, five grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

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