Tag Archive | "eastville community historical society"

New President for Eastville Historical Society

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Audrey Gaines0123

By Stephen J. Kotz

Audrey Gaines, the former director of youth services for East Hampton Town, has recently been elected to a two-year term as president of the Eastville Community Historical Society.

Ms. Gaines, who has been a member of the historical society for three years, said as president, she expected she would rely heavily on the institutional knowledge of other members of the organization, including outgoing president Jackie Vaughn, founding member Kathy Tucker, and executive director Georgette Grier-Key.

“When I first came to work for the Town of East Hampton, there wasn’t a youth services program, so I had to find my way around,” she said. “Here, there are so many people who have been on this board and are so knowledgable and helpful.”

With her town job, she added, she had “to start the wheel turning. Here, the wheel is turning already. All you have to do is jump on board.”

Besides continuing its ongoing lecture series, art and history shows, neighborhood walking tours, and the popular summer fish fry, Ms. Gaines said she expected the society would get started on plans to renovate the Heritage House museum on Route 114 that it calls home.

Those plans calls for the society to work with architect Bill Chaleff to open the basement of the building to the exterior so the society will have more usable space for exhibits and other activities.

Ms. Gaines said she did not know if that projet would ready to move forward this year, but she said it is definitely part of the society’s long-range master plan.

“We know it’s going to cost a lot of money, which we’ll try to raise through grants and other fundraising,” she said.

Another priority, she said, is to continue the society’s outreach to children. “We’re trying to get children involved more,” she said, citing a summer program held last year, in which children from the Bridgehampton Child Care Center took part in a quilt-making project in conjunction with a quilt exhibit.

A licensed clinical social worker who still sees some private clients, Ms. Gaines retired from the town four years ago, but says she enjoys keeping busy through volunteer activities.

Besides the historical society, Ms. Gaines serves on the site council of the East Hampton Town Senior Citizens Center, a committee that organizes activitis for seniors, ranging from Bingo games to shopping trips and special celebrations.

She also serves on the East Hampton Town Anti-Bias Task Force, a committee she says has been revived through the efforts of Councilwoman Sylvia Overby.

Ms. Gaines said the Eastville Community Historical Society is a healthy organization with well over 100 members and an active board of nine members.

“As a kid growing up, I was always involved in East Hampton,” said Ms. Gaines. “I knew people from Sag Harbor, but not that many people. I never knew all the wonderful history in Sag Harbor. What a rich history it is.”

East End Weekend: Highlights of What to Do July 25 to 27

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The Montauk Project, Chris Wood, Mark Schiavoni, Jasper Conroy and Jack Marshall, performs at Swallow East in Montauk on Friday, February 28. Photo by Ian Cooke.

The Montauk Project, Chris Wood, Mark Schiavoni, Jasper Conroy and Jack Marshall, performs at Swallow East in Montauk on Friday, February 28. Photo by Ian Cooke.

By Tessa Raebeck

From fast-growing local bands to slow food snail suppers, there’s plenty to do on the East End this weekend. Here are some highlights:

The Montauk Project is playing at Swallow East in the band’s hometown of Montauk Saturday, July 26 at 8 p.m. The local beach grunge rockers, who were born and bred on the island and are steadily gaining more recognition by music critics and enthusiasts alike, released their first full-length album, “Belly of the Beast,” in March. The band, which consists of East Hampton’s Chris Wood and Jack Marshall, Sag Harbor’s Mark Schiavoni and Jasper Conroy of Montauk, will be joined by hip hop/rock hybrid PUSHMETHOD, who were voted the best New York City hip hop group of 2013 by The Deli magazine.

Eastern Surf Magazine said of the East End group, “The Montauk Project is far tighter than every other surf-inspired East Coast rock band to come before it.” Swallow East is located at 474 West Lake Drive in Montauk. For more information, call (631) 668-8344.


Also on Saturday, People Say NY presents an open mic and art show at the Hayground School in Bridgehampton, starting at 8 p.m. In addition to featured grunge pop artist Adam Baranello and featured performer Danny Matos, who specializes in spoken word and hip hop, performers of all ages are encouraged to participate.

According to its mission statement, People Say NY “brings art back to the fundamentals, so we can remind ourselves why artists and art lovers alike do what we do.”

The night of music, comedy and poetry has a sign-up and $10 cover and is at the Hayground School, located at 151 Mitchell Lane in Bridgehampton. For more information, visit peoplesayny.com or check out @PeopleSayNY on Twitter and Facebook.


In celebration of the release of the “Delicious Nutritious FoodBook” by the Edible School Garden Group of the East End, Slow Food East End hosts a Snail Supper at the home of Judiann Carmack-Fayyaz, located at 39 Peconic Hills Drive in Southampton. The supper will be held Friday, July 25, at 6 p.m.

Guests are asked to bring a potluck dish to share that serves six to eight people and aligns with the slow food mission, as well as local beverages. Capacity is limited to 50 and tickets are $20 for Slow Food East End members and $25 for non-members. The price includes a copy of the new cookbook. Proceeds from the evening will be shared between Slow Food East End and Edible School Gardens, Ltd. Click here to RSVP.


Some one hundred historians will converge upon Sag Harbor to enjoy the Eastville Community Historical Society’s luncheon and walking tour of Eastville and Sag Harbor.

The day-long event starts at 8:30 a.m. with a welcome at the Old Whalers Church, located at 44 Union Street in Sag Harbor, followed by a walking tour at 9:30 a.m. to the Sag Harbor Whaling and Historical Museum, the Sag Harbor Custom House and the Sag Harbor Historical Society, which is located at Nancy Wiley’s home. A shuttle bus is available for those needing assistance.

From 11:15 a.m. to noon, guests will visit the Eastville Community Historical Society Complex to see the quilt exhibit “Warmth” at the St. David AME Zion Church and Cemetery. A luncheon catered by Page follows from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. at the Old Whalers Church in Sag Harbor.


The Hilton Brothers, "Andy Dandy 5," 2007, 36 x 48 inches, pigment print. Image courtesy Peter Marcelle Project.

The Hilton Brothers, “Andy Dandy 5,” 2007, 36 x 48 inches, pigment print. Image courtesy Peter Marcelle Project.

The Peter Marcelle Project in Southampton will exhibit the Hilton Brothers, an artistic identity that emerged from a series of collaborations by artists Christopher Makos and Paul Solberg, from July 26 to August 5.

Their latest collaboration, “Andy Dandy,” is a portfolio of 20 digital pigment prints. The diptychs combine Mr. Makos’ “Altered Image” portraits of Andy Warhol with images of flowers from Mr. Solberg’s “Bloom” series.

“Andy wasn’t the kind of dandy to wear a flower in his lapel, but as ‘Andy Dandy’ demonstrates, sometimes by just altering the image of one’s work or oneself, a new beauty blooms,” the gallery said in a press release.

The gallery is open Friday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. or by appointment.

Quilts Reflect Warmth in Many Ways

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Joanne Carter and Georgette Grier-Key, the director of the Eastville Community Historical Society, with one of the society's quilts.

Joanne Carter and Georgette Grier-Key, the director of the Eastville Community Historical Society, with one of the society’s quilts. Photo by Steve Kotz.

By Stephen J. Kotz

The bare walls of the Eastville Community Historical Society’s Heritage House were being covered in splashes of bright colors and cozy comfort on Friday afternoon as a small group gathered to select and hang the 15 quilts chosen for the society’s annual exhibit, “Warmth,” which opens this Saturday.

The opening reception will be from 2 to 5 p.m. and the show will be on display through July.

As was the case in 2009, when the society also sponsored an exhibit on quilts, this year’s show is being curated by Dr. Patricia Turner, a Sag Harbor native, who is the dean and vice provost for undergraduate education at UCLA, an expert on African-American folklore, and the author, with Kyra E. Hicks, of “Crafted Lives: Stories and Studies of African American Quilters.”

“Everyday life has always interested me,” said Dr. Turner. “Folklore is the perfect field for someone who wants to document things from ordinary life that can be extraordinary.”

“The diversity of African-American people can be shown in the type of quilts they make,” she continued, noting that the show hopes to showcase works by everyone from “the poor little woman from the south” to highly regarded textile artists.

Dr. Turner said her interest in the art was kindled when she interned at the Smithsonian Institution when she was a graduate student. “There was a group of quilters who were making a quilt there and I realized how much they were willing to talk about their families as they did their work,” she said. “It revealed bigger stories.”

On Friday, Dr. Turner was facing something of a dilemma as she sorted through an assortment of extraordinary quilts, some from her own collection, others that she had borrowed from their makers, as she tried to make the final selections for the show.

“One of the challenges of the Eastville house is it is small, and the quilts are big,” she said. She, Georgette Grier-Keye, the society’s executive director, and Michael Butler, a member of its board of directors, had spent much of the morning trying to figure out where to put which quilt in the small house-turned gallery.

The quilts chosen all reflect the theme of the exhibit, but in different ways. Some are “more functional,” said Dr. Turner. “Those were created solely for warmth. They were made for drafty houses.”

Others are representational and express the feelings of warmth and affection family members have for one another.

“About five of these quilts were made by members of the same family,” said Dr. Turner. “They were made in response to a quilting exhibit challenge to make quilts that were inspired by your personal legacy.”

An example among them is one made by members of the Presley family of Oakland, California, to honor their grandmother and great grandmother, “Grandma’s Apron.” Various squares on the quilt depict attributes of their grandmother that family members remembered fondly, from her sewing clothing for the girls in the family, to her love of gardening, her skill as a cook, to her monthly gambling junkets via bus to Reno. Each of the squares includes a small cutout apron.

Another quilt, “Jimmie,” with squares showing various tropical fish and images of a charter boat captain and his customers, honors another family member who once ran a sportfishing boat out of Berkley, California.

Yet another batch of quilts were made by Riché Richardson, an associate professor in the Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell University and are decorative in nature. A native of Alabama, Dr. Richardson uses folk art techniques to depict the heroes she feels warmly about, according to Dr. Turner. For this exhibit, she has submitted quilts of President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Condoleeza Rice, Frederick Douglass, and Phyllis Wheatley, the first published African-American poet. Yet another, “Ties that Bind,” is a reproduction of a photo collage of portraits once commonplace in African-American homes, of President John F. Kennedy, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, in front of an American flag.

“Waiting for the Freedom Train,” by Marion Coleman, shows an African-American family in a log cabin. It was created to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, and Ms. Grier-Keye said she thought it might be the star of the show because of the expertise Ms. Coleman showed in using layers of material to give the piece a sense of depth.

The exhibit is being sponsored by the Huntington Arts Council, which gave the historical society a $4,000 grant for the show. As part of the exhibit, the society plans to work with the Bridgehampton Child Care and Recreational Center during its summer camp. Children will create their own square for a group quilt that will then be put on display, Ms. Grier-Keyes said.

Dr. Turner, who grew up in Sag Harbor Hills and attended Pierson High School before, embarking on her career as a college professor and administrator, still owns a home in Bridgehampton and will return for a lecture and book signing in July.

She added that quilting is gaining new popularity as a “reclaimed enterprise” in the lives of many Americans. Asked if she quilts herself, she replied with a smile, “very poorly.”

“Warmth,” an exhibit of quilts, will open this Saturday, with a reception from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Eastville Community Historical Society’s Heritage House on Route 114 at Liberty Street. Hours are Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday by appointment. Regular Saturday hours will be offered during the summer months. Admission is $3. For more information, call 725-4711.

Terry Sullivan

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By Stephen J. Kotz

This Saturday at Christ Episcopal Church at 3 p.m., you are sponsoring a memorial sing-along to honor Pete and Toshi Seeger, who both died recently. What were their ties to Sag Harbor?

Pete was a great help in 1993 when he came to the Old Whalers’ Church and did a benefit concert for the Eastville Community Historical Society. What happened is when the lines of the historic district were drawn, they went across the street when they came to St. David’s AME Church, avoiding what was a traditionally black neighborhood. When I told Pete that, he said, “Let’s do a concert,” so we did. Lo and behold, the next year, when he came back to town for another fundraiser, Eastville was on all the historic tours.

This is a memorial for both Pete and Toshi, because without Toshi Seeger there would not have been a Pete Seeger. All his family would tell you that. She organized the Clearwater Festival. At its height it was attended by 30,000 people. During the ’50s, it was her idea that they would not talk to the administration at colleges but go straight to the student union: “Would you like Pete to come and do a concert? You do the promo, here’s the fee.” He’d be in and out, so Pete was working regularly when he was on the blacklist.

Where did you meet him?

I met him at a workshop for songwriting at Omega at Rhinebeck upstate in 1991. I was trying to get a chorus together that was going to be an interracial chorus of about a dozen people.  When I told him, he said “You’re just the fellow I’ve been looking for.” Only he wanted 200 or 300 people. Six months later, though, Pete and I put together a quartet. I supplied myself and the soprano. He supplied the tenor and a baritone and six months later we sang at Carnegie Hall. We sang with him for years on short notice.

Why is Pete Seeger important?

Optimism. He had optimism that inspired 12,000 people to sign up to clean up the Hudson River. Integrity. He stood up for what he believed in even when faced with jail. Courage. He faced death threats. He told a story about a guy who came to him after a concert who told him “I came to this concert tonight to kill you.” They sat down and talked awhile and then they sang together. The guy told him “I want to thank you. You changed my life.”

He inspired, and this is not an exaggeration, millions of people.

Tell me about Seeger’s songs.

He was like an encyclopedia for song details. If you asked him for a specific song, it was like pressing the button on a tape recorder and he’d start telling, “Well in 1834, he brought this song to South Carolina” and he’d bring it all the way to the present, telling you who added what and when.

Even when he worked on a song, he always gave credit to everyone else. Take a song like “We Shall Overcome.” He changed “will” to “shall” because it sounded better to his Yankee ear. That’s how Pete worked. He would sing stuff that was around for 10, 20 years and he’d just change a word or two and tinker with it.

Who will be performing with you this weekend and what will you sing?

The Musical Suspects. Dan Koontz is the musical director at Christ Church. He plays the organ at the church, keyboards and a mean blues guitar. Bill Chaleff, the architect, plays guitar and his son, Ben, plays mandolin and bass. And I sing.

We’ll do mostly songs that people know from Pete singing them. “We Shall Overcome,” “Down by the Riverside,” “So Long, It’s Been Good to Know You,” “Deportee.” We are not only encouraging, but demanding, that people sing along. You’ll be put in irons if you don’t sing along.



Eastville Historical Society Earns Archeological Grant

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The Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) awarded its most recent site preservation grant to the Eastville Community Historical Society.

The historical society will use the grant to support the preservation and community stewardship of the St. David African Methodist Episcopal Zion Cemetery, an important heritage site that represents the growth of a working class and diasporic community of African American, Native American and Irish immigrant residents in the 19th and 20thcenturies.

The Eastville community, part of the Sag Harbor National Historic District, is significant to the archaeology of free people of color and includes sites related to African American and Native American labor, land ownership, and religious practice following the abolition of slavery in New York State. Yet the neighborhood sites, including the cemetery, are often overlooked and increasingly threatened by modern development, encroachment, and natural erosion.

The society plans to use the AIA grant to physically protect the site and develop community education programs that promote and encourage stewardship by local residents. A portion of the grant will be used to delineate the boundaries of the St. David AME Zion Church Cemetery through the construction of a fence to protect the site from residential encroachment. The remaining funds will support public outreach through preservation-related events and archaeology education. Planned initiatives include restoration workshops, an Adopt-a-Grave program, and public lectures.

Black Whalers

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Eastville men crewed Sag Harbor whaleship

By Jim Marquardt

On  the wall of the Eastville Community Historical Society on Hampton Street is a modestly framed roster of “19th Century Eastville Whalers,” the ships they sailed on and their crew assignments. A little research revealed that the 13 men listed were only a fraction of the thousands of African-Americans who manned ships that sailed from Sag Harbor, New Bedford, Nantucket and Greenport, pursuing their giant quarry throughout the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic Oceans. White and Black sailors joined rainbow crews of Shinnecock Indians, Pacific Islanders, Creoles, Peruvians, West Indians, Colombians and a few Europeans. At sea, skin color was far less important than courage and skill, and the only measure of a shipmate was seamanship and success at catching whales. One Black seaman in those days said, “A colored man is looked upon as a man, and is promoted in rank according to ability to perform the same duties as the white man.”

Sag Harbor whalers came upon great adventures. Pyrrus Concer, a steerman and harpooner was aboard the Manhattan, commanded by Mercator Cooper, when it rescued 11 shipwrecked fishermen near Japan in 1846. Captain Cooper decided to return the sailors to their homeland, though foreign vessels were forbidden to enter Japanese waters. Reaching port in the Bay of Jeddo, armed boats surrounded the Manhattan and Japanese officials demanded an explanation for the intrusion. The Japanese were intrigued with Concer, never having seen a Black man before. When they understood the Americans’ peaceful purpose, the Japanese rewarded Cooper with spars, water, rice and fresh provisions, then ordered the Manhattan to leave and never to return. (A few years later, Concer joined the gold rush to California, but soon came back and in retirement sailed excursions around Lake Agawam in Southampton.)

In the golden age of whaling from 1800 to 1860, according to “Black Hands, White Sails” by Pat McKissack, African-Americans made up at least 25 percent of whaleship crews, and after the Civil War, as white sailors found jobs ashore, the numbers grew to 50 percent.

Work on a whaleship was tough, smelly and dangerous, and voyages to the far reaches of the oceans might go on for two or three years. McKissak says whaling’s death rate was second only to mining. A young sailor wrote, “There is no class of men in the world who are so unfairly dealt with, so oppressed, so degraded, as the seamen who man the vessels engaged in the American whale fishery.”

We’d like to think ships out of Sag Harbor took a more enlightened approach to their crews, but that’s probably unrealistic. The heyday of whaling coincided with the years of slavery in the United States and many Black crewmen were escaped slaves who took any job under any conditions. On a whaleship they were safe from slave hunters.

According to the Long Island Historical Journal, when Fair Helen departed Sag Harbor in 1817, her crew included Black sailors Cato Rogers and Nananias Cuffee. The Abigail shipped out a year later with six Black whalers, and in 1819 there were seven African-Americans in a crew of 15. They served as steermen-harpooners, stewards, cooks, seamen and greenhands. A few became mates and masters.

In 2000, the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum and Eastville Community Historical Society mounted a celebration of Black whalers. One of the exhibits was a heavy canvas “ditty bag” that belonged to Black boat-steerer Clayton King who shipped out from Sag Harbor in 1865 on the Odd Fellow, and in 1868 on the Myra. The ditty bag held a marlinspike and fid for splicing rope, a jack knife, a ball of beeswax to coat needles, a “palm” of leather fitted with a metal socket and thumb hole for mending sails.

Isaiah Peake was a cook aboard the Sag Harbor bark Oscar under the command of Isaac Ludlow of Bridgehampton. While the ship was anchored off Rio de Janeiro, a drunken crewman named Curtis instigated a mutiny. When Curtis came at Ludlow with an axe, the captain shot him, ending the mutiny. A New York court tried the mutineers   and sentenced Peake to only eight months in prison, probably realizing he was more a bystander than a mutineer.

Whaling was a major U.S. industry in the first half of the 19th century, producing basic ingredients for oil lamps, soap, smokeless candles, machine lubricants, bristles for brushes and brooms, bones for hoop skirts, corsets and umbrella frames. Crew compensation was calculated in the form of “lays,” a percentage share of the returning whaleship’s valuable cargo. Owners took 50 percent, captains 12 percent. A greenhand might get less than a half-percent before “expenses” were deducted to cover cash advances, clothing from the ship’s slop chest, tobacco and equipment. After months and years at sea some sailors owed money to the ship owners.

When the whaling industry began to decline, many ships sailed for the California coast where gold was discovered. One of them, the Sabina, with Black seaman John Crook aboard, took six months to reach the West Coast. In those times, square-rigged ships had to sail thousands of miles south down along two continents, west around turbulent Cape Horn, and thousands of miles north to California. Like many others, Sabina’s crew deserted the ship for the gold fields. She never returned to Sag Harbor and lies under the City of San Francisco. Some entrepreneurial Blacks made more money as cooks, barbers and shopkeepers in the mining camps that they could ever make chasing dreams of gold.

African-Americans made a unique contribution to whaling. Based on the “call and response” of slave spirituals, they created sea chanteys sung by sailors to the rhythm of their work. It was said that a good song was worth ten men on a rope. Many Black sailors now rest in the century-old cemetery near St. David’s AME Zion Church on Route 114. Locked away with them in the holy ground are memories of long voyages where they faced great hardship, but found pride and equality by meeting the challenges of a daunting profession.

Eastville Strives To Unite With Latino Community

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November 2011 451

By Claire Walla

The Latino community has had a strong presence on the East End for many years, yet despite the fact it is now an integral part of the local economy and culture, misunderstandings about the immigrant experience persist.

It’s not that there haven’t been meetings geared toward learning more about the East End’s Latino community, or local events that celebrate Latin culture — there have. But for Eunice Vaughan, President of the Eastville Community Historical Society, the issue is that “we walk away and say, ‘that was interesting.’”

And then it’s back to business as usual.

“To me, it’s more than that,” Vaughan continued. “What can we do to improve the life of the immigrant person who’s coming here? How can we start something?”

That was the impetus behind an event held last Saturday, November 5 at the Eastville Community Historical Society in Sag Harbor. Organized with Witness for Peace — a national grassroots organization committed to promoting nonviolence — a group of seven East End residents sat down in a ring of folding chairs and listened to Jacqueline Garcia as she spoke about the perils of immigration, and the hardships that plague migrants both here and at home.

“It’s really about telling the human story,” said Eastville Community Historical Society Director Georgette Grier-Key.

After participating in a delegation made up of Long Islanders who went on a trip to Mexico early last month, Grier-Key has been empowered to make the issues that affect migrants right here in Sag Harbor more prominent in the community. So, in conjunction with Witness for Peace, she made sure Garcia’s East Cast speaking tour made a stop in Eastville, hoping her story might spark a dialogue.

Mexico Delegation

Above: The delegation of Long Islanders who traveled to Mexico in October.  Grier-Key is second row from the top to the far left.  Sag Harbor resident and former school board member Dan Hartnett is third row from the top to the far left.

Garcia discussed the gang violence many immigrants face as they try to pass through Mexico; she spoke about the “highly protected” wall that runs along the U.S. border, which she said “visualizes a young person as a criminal”; and she went into the roots and motivations behind many immigrants’ journeys north, which are complicated and numerous.

“It’s like a big octopus,” she said.

But the perils of immigration extend beyond extreme poverty back home, and are longer-lasting than the hazardous journey north.

“In Mexico, we have our own way of living,” Garcia explained, so life in the U.S. brings major culture shock.

With a Priest adjusted

Above: Grier-Key (second from left), Dan Hartnett (far left) and members of the Mexico Delegation visited a church in the town of Matias Romero, in Oaxaca, Mexico.

“Imagine the stress and the emotional weight that these migrants have carried with them,” she went on. “And because they’re undocumented they have a lot of fear; often times, people don’t want to even leave their house to go to the store. There’s usually a great amount of loneliness.”

Audience members asked Garcia about the harsh conditions in Mexico and intellectualized the root of the problem before Vaughan once again brought the issue back to the East End.

“The important thing is … what can we do here?” Vaughan asked. “We pass each other on the street and we say ‘hello,’ but that’s not enough. I don’t know how you feel, and you don’t know how I feel. There’s no communication.”

Jim Marquardt, a Sag Harbor resident, agreed with Vaughan, and added: “Language is a huge barrier. When you talk about better communication, that’s just basic.”

Sag Harbor resident Kathy Tucker wondered whether there was a way to engage the Latino community through the local library, or through the churches.

“You’re right on when you talk about libraries and churches,” said Sandra Dunn, a resident of Hampton Bays who is the immigration program officer for the Hagedorn Foundation, which organized the Long Island delegation to Mexico. “[Integration] has to happen on a really local level. You can’t just support immigrants rights, you have to support the people in your community.”

For Dan Hartnett, a former Sag Harbor School Board Member and a social worker in the East Hampton School District, working to improve the lives of Latino immigrants who have moved to the East End has been a priority for nearly 30 years.

“In terms of the schools, we have an uneasy mix: North American, white, Latin American, African American… “ he began. “The issue is very complicated. I have heard many, many times, especially from African American families, ‘We’ve been here for many generations and we’ve never had social workers.’ Now, here’s this new population and their needs are getting addressed.”

Finding a way to integrate the diverse communities of the East End is not easy, Hartnett continued. But he agreed with those who pointed to local organizations like churches and libraries to bring the community together. In fact, he said several years ago church leaders throughout the East End did coalesce in an effort to open up more of a dialogue on the issue.

“Those clerics have since moved on,” Hartnett continued. “But I hope there will be a new group there. We should go talk to our ministers and our priests and say, ‘It’s time to look at this again.’”

A Conversation With: Georgette Grier-Key

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Convo Grier-Key

By Claire Walla

Georgette Grier-Key, an East End painter, arts administrator and cultural historian who’s now putting her skills to work as the first ever director of the Eastville Community Historical Society.

What originally brought you to Sag Harbor?

I am an artist first. So, naturally I gravitated to the East End because this is where our art center is on Long Island.

How have you been involved in the art community here?

I have a bachelors degree in visual arts, but my mother always said: You’re going to starve! [laughs] So, I went to get my masters in art education. When I finished school, I said to myself, what am I going to do with this? We’re always taught to go to school and get a job, but I was taught: do what you’re passionate about. I’m passionate about art, and I’m passionate about history. Now, I’m really fulfilling my dream of doing what I want to be doing. I’m in a doctorate program and my interest is cultural institutions, particularly museums and historical organizations and how prepared leaders are to lead these institutions.

This is perfect, then!

It really is. And I’m still entwined in the art world. I’ve been a volunteer at the Parrish Art Museum, I work with the Huntington Arts Council, I do grant outreach and I’m also at Guild Hall.

Now you’re also the first director of the Eastville Community Historical Society. When was the organization established?

The cultural center started in 1981 and was chartered in 1986. As I understand it, there was talk about making a historic district and one of our residents, our historian Kathy Tucker, took notice. She asked to have the village’s historic lines pushed back to include the community of Eastville because St. David’s A.M.E. Zion Church was here. It’s still at its original location, and is one of the oldest churches in Sag Harbor. [It dates back to 1840.] The community has organized from that point on.

What are some other aspects of this area’s history that are important to point out?

One of the things we also talk about is the presence of African American and Native American whalers, which is a big thing. Recently we had a student come from Brown University to talk to us about some of the history and we were able to show her some of the tomb stones we have deeded to us from St. David’s A.M.E. Zion. A lot of the Native American whalers are buried here.

So, now that you’re in office, what are some of the initiatives you will be spearheading for the historical society?

The biggest initiative is we’re starting a social media campaign. I’m a generation X-er so I grew up with computers in school. But here, this is a big feat: to be online, to create a website, to have a Facebook page and a Twitter account … even to have a web store on our website.

Is it difficult to get a historical society up-to-par with modern technology?

I think I had the board behind me, but what really sealed the deal was that we had a Facebook message from a direct descendant from Lippman and Rose Johnson [who owned the house that now serves as the society’s headquarter]. He sent us a message via Facebook. That sealed the deal for them, because it let them see how important it is to be out there.

Does the historical society have any bigger plans for programs in the future?

At the time, it doesn’t seem feasible for us to have one of our bigger events: the fish fry. For bigger events like that, the board used to be able to do everything in-house. [But now that the event has expanded], it’s like cooking potato salad for 400 people! Being insular is not necessarily a bad thing, but, being insular, you become self-sufficient. We’re looking to diversify our funding streams, and usually for events like [the fish fry] you can get a sponsor to underwrite the whole thing. We want to be able to do things that the organization had been able to do in the past. Previously we had programs in schools. But, because of No Child Left Behind, teachers began to focus more on course work. We want to — even if it’s here on our site — start talking to children about the heritage here.

Working at a place like this, which strives to preserve the past, how do you also ensure that today’s events and issues are getting documented? ?

I think the best way right now is to just tell the stories. It’s part of our tradition — story-telling keeps it alive. If you don’t have external control over [wider forms of communication] — whether it’s print media, or television — often your story doesn’t get heard. So, it’s very important even today to keep the tradition of story-telling going.

So, what stories are you telling today about Eastville?

I think the story that needs to be told about Eastville is its resiliency. That’s the story that we want to talk about. Before May 4 [when I was hired as director], this organization was 100 percent volunteerism for the last 30 years, which is amazing considering the accomplishments that they’ve been able to get: we’re a new York State chartered organization and we’re the first African American or minority society that was established in Suffolk County. I think our history is not being told in schools, it’s not being told in text books. And [as we question] what’s being written in the text books, who’s writing the text books, and how obsolete the African-Americans in this country are… We can’t rely on someone else to tell the story. We have to tell the story. That’s why all historical societies are important: to tell the stories that are germane to their organization.

Joanne Carter Gives a Tour of Current Exhibit for Black History Month at Eastville Community Historical Society

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