How it all started. In 2004, a local resident, Gloria Cannon, had the founding idea to preserve “The Barbershop”—an iconic local gathering place for Blacks in the late 40’s. She wanted to ensure that owner/builder/barber Emanuel Seymore’s legacy be recognized, as well as that of “Fives”—a restaurant and juke joint built and owned by Arthur Robinson—the other iconic establishment where locals who where part of the Great Migration secured as their safe haven. After a dusty day of labor—picking potatoes, scrubbing toilets and floors, ironing, and other domestic work—they would dress up and step high to “Fives”. And on a typical Saturday or Sunday evening, the line up at the infamous hot spot included the soulful sounds of soloist Sylvia Francis “Snooks”Smith, the suit sweating, rhythmic, hip curling, back jerking vocals of Little Curtis (Curtis Highsmith Sr.) and the Big Men, as well as many other local performers. A good time was had by all.
Ms. Cannon’s daughter Bonnie approached another local resident, Brenda Simmons, to help with carrying out her mom’s plan to keep the legacy of the barbershop/beauty parlor and juke joint alive. Brenda gladly agreed to help out, as she was born and raised in Southampton, and is the niece of Evelyn Baxter, the beautician who shared the building with Mr. Seymore.
A personal connection. Brenda often reminisces about being 11-years-old, eager and excited to go to the beauty parlor and answer the phone and schedule hair appointments for her auntie (fondly called Aunt Et). One of her best memories was being excited when asked by her auntie to do coffee runs to the local greasy spoon restaurant at the corner. Her Auntie always told her she could keep the small change. With a big grin, she would have her choice of purchasing her favorite sweets. Brenda also had the generally-forbidden privilege of going to the men’s side of the barbershop when her Auntie would ask to deliver something to Mr. Seymore. Nancy Stevens-Smith also recalls fond memories of getting her Sunday do’s, as the shop was THE spot where most of the black girls and women came to look their best, no matter what the occasion.
To fulfill Gloria Cannon’s heartfelt wish, Bonnie and Brenda went to meet with the Town Supervisor at the time, Linda Kabot, to share their somewhat outlandish proposal of establishing an African American Museum in the world-renowned destination known as “Da Hamptons”. The first thing Supervisor Kabot suggested was to establish the museum as a nonprofit. Secondly, she strongly suggested a campaign to get the museum’s name known through the village and beyond, as this was most likely going to be a long, drawn out process. So the official name African American Museum of the East End and Center for Excellence (AAMEE) was established. Brenda envisioned this iconic space to fulfill the vision of promoting education and excellence, and the task of making that vision a reality was put in motion.