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Hofstra University Library Special Collections

Diverse Suburbs Oral History Collection

Theme: Work

Clips from the Julius Pearse Interview


JP: Pearse.

JL: What's your earliest memory?

JP: Of what?

JL: As a child.

JP: As a child? Cooking.

JL: Yeah?

JP: Burning my first pot of rice.

JL: Burning your first pot of rice?

JP: Yes. My mother was ill, in the bed and I'm trying to be a helpful young man helping his mother in the house [inaudible] and she's trying to instruct me how to cook some rice and I burnt it and I cried and then remade it.

JL: How old were you?

JP: I must have been about five or six. And she's soothing me and said you know, that's your first time, you tried it and ... I knew my father was a cook so I wanted to be like daddy. So I want to cook and also I wanted to be a police man at the same time. My father was working and I was left in the house with my baby brother. My brother was a baby at the time. That's what I can remember.

JL: Why did you choose to become a police officer?

JP: Because I didn't want to become a sanitation worker. I took all the Civil Services, and I didn't want to be a Corrections Officer because I'll be damned if I'm going to be locked up with people all day. So I said, okay, I finally became a police officer. And number two, if you remember, this is when the Civil Rights Movement was just about beginning to start and we, there was a lot of police brutalities and things, and the whole attitude of people just changed. It wasn't quite into it yet, but I said to myself, if I'm going to make changes within the police department, police brutality, the only way I can do that is on the inside. I cannot do it from the outside. If I'm a police officer now, then I have some control and make some changes. That's what my whole focus was. So when I took the test, I just missed Nassau County by five people.

JL: What do you mean?

JP: Otherwise, they took, they first, I'm number 115. They called 110 people for the first class. So I'm now number five on the list. So now they had that class and now you've got to wait until your next calling. Now I'm 27 at the time. They said they didn't want anybody after 28 years of age. So if I would have waited for that next calling, I would have been 28 and they didn't, at that particular time, they didn't give out any merits for service time unless you were wartime service time. So I just missed that Korean War. So my chances of not being called at all were-well, you better take them. So I got letters from Malverne, I got letters from Lynbrook, I got letters from Rockwell Center, I got letters from Freeport. Malverne I didn't want. There ain't no black neighborhood there. Rockwell Center was my next choice then Freeport. Freeport sent a representative out to my house. I was living in Woodmere at the time, believe it or not. And when the guy came, he thought he was going to interview a white guy because my name was Julius Otto Pearse. And in Woodmere. So he's going to go and get a guy from Woodmere. You know, I've got to be some Jewish or something, you know.

JP: When he went there and knocked on the door, I answered the door and I could see the expression on his face. You could read him. You know he didn't want you. He said "Is this where Pearse live?" I said "Certainly. Come on up there Sergeant, sit down." Now he gives me all the story about how great it would be for me to wait and join Nassau County Police Department, that Freeport would not be good for me. And I said "Well, I've done some research here and I found that Freeport salary is equal to that. Freeport's benefits is equal. So what's the difference? I'll be there tomorrow morning." So I carne in and joined the Freeport Police Department. This is a memorable moment. I walk in and the first thing the desk sergeant looked down at me and says, "He's here!" I said "Oh." Chief, "Send him in." Chief looks at me, raise your right hand. Gives me the swearing in ceremony, never looks at me. My hand's up and I'm looking at him, he's looking down. He gets up from behind his desk, go downstairs in the basement, hands me a .38 revolver, a gun belt and .38 rounds of ammunition and says "Go to the desk officer, sign him up, he's in." And I'm living in Woodmere. To remind you, I had a raggedy ride from Freeport back to Woodmere with a gun, a round of ammunition, a badge in my hand and no uniform and I was wondering now if I get stopped, that was before internet, there was no teletype going out on me. I could get stopped and be locked up. Black guy with a gun, you know, be in Woodmere with a gun.

JP: So I'm driving 40 miles an hour, no faster, going back. And I'm making sure I put my hand out and boy, all the signals and going on and make sure I get home and I park the car and I take this thing, put it in a bag, and I sneak it upstairs to make sure that I don't get caught. Same thing when I go back. They don't give me a uniform. I had to go buy a uniform to fit me. All right? Now I know there were big guys in the Freeport Police Department, but they didn't have one to fit me. So I had to go buy mine. They wouldn't give me a locker. And the "N" word was used all over the place. But this is what you're seeing when they're trying now to make sure they provoke you, make sure you do something stupid and you'll get kicked off the police department. Because you had one year for probation. I pass my probation; listen to the "N" word every day. Black jokes every day, you know. All kinds of stuff. I'm cool.

JP: But after about a year, if I waited one year and a month, I'm sure I'm in. And that's when the changes started. You will not tell anymore black jokes and if you tell one, it better be funny because if I ain't laughing, somebody's in trouble. There will be no more striking of black prisoners in front of me. None of that. That was before the Miranda thing came out. You're not supposed to do that, not in front of me. And this is what some of the changes, you know, that we seem to be started. And I'm riding in northeast, you know, when I went to Freeport there were only five or 10 black families in Northeast Freeport, where there now is a whole, you can't find a white person in the Northeast area. And the Northwest area, well there weren't none. Now you can't tell which house is black and which is white. There were no, in fact, the only way-my black families would recall Benetton Park area. And them being in Freeport.

JL: When this year and month went by and you sort of laid down the law, so to speak, what was their response?

JP: A little resistance. I guess they talked among themselves, you know. But they knew that I wasn't kidding and like I told, one of the guys "Keep your nonsense up. Remember, my gun can go off accidentally and you're behind if you understand sometime, I can trip and fall, you know." I said, "Don't get funny with me. And if you want to take it to blows, come on, bring it on."

JL: So tell me, what year was this that you started...?

JP: In the 60's, I think I came on in 1962. It changed, starting changing-of course, they got-after a while, some of the younger fellows, the younger fellows who came on after me, I came on in '62, somebody else came on in '65, '66, they were younger fellows. They understood and they were not going on with this racist and all black folks are fools and so forth. And they wanted to get along with people and they had, in fact, some of them had gone to school, quite a few of them had gone to Freeport High School and graduated in with the other school, where they had played football and entered into games with and played with black folks.