Freeport’s 1st black cop: Assassination of MLK changed life

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Julius Pearse was walking the beat as the first African-American police officer in the Village of Freeport 50 years ago when he learned of the assassination of civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., prompting him to become a civil rights activist himself.

"I couldn't believe it," Pearse recalls. "Here's a man that practiced nonviolence and was trying to do all he could to give us an equal playing field."

Pearse says the assassination changed his life. From that day forward, he says he dedicated himself to advancing civil rights causes on Long Island.

MORE: The 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination

"It made me more focused and determined to keep the dream alive and to make sure people do not forget Dr. King and what he stood for," he says.

Since then, Pearse has co-founded the first girls' track team at Bayview Avenue School in Freeport. In 1984, he kicked off the first of many celebrations of King's birthday in Nassau County. He runs the African American Museum in Hempstead. And along with his wife, Joysetta, he participated in some of the earliest petition drives to establish Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a national holiday.

For Pearse, the 50th anniversary of King's death is a time to reflect on the accomplishments of the civil rights movement and the goals for the future.

"Racism is still here, and we have to make sure that we recognize it when it is happening," he says. "As long as I'm around, I'm going to do all I can to make sure that Dr. King's dream is never forgotten."

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