Inspiring nearly all of Sayville’s dedicated community groups is a woman whose story traces the fulfillment of so many different versions of the “American dream” with roots that lead right back to the town.
On Wednesday, Feb. 24, the Sayville Public Library, in conjunction with Sayville Alumni Association, Sayville Historical Society, and Sayville Schools, will be hosting an interview with an esteemed alumna from the Sayville High School Class of 1942, Enid Burton Jones.
The daughter of first-generation Jamaican immigrants, Burton Jones’s family came out east from the city (it is disputed whether their origination in New York was Harlem or Brooklyn) to settle in the popular resort town of Sayville, then the Hamptons.
Following as congregants of the controversial, but internationally known figure of Father Divine, the Burton family was part of a movement that swept through the world with a message of racial unity and charity that was inexplicably mired by the leader’s claims of being a deity. Burton Jones was a strict non-adherent of the church’s leader, teachings, or practices.
Sayville Historical Society president Roy Fedelmen quipped that his mother had actually attended one of the free meal gatherings held by Divine’s church and went to school with Burton Jones and
her brother (an equally successful man who would have also made for a great interview, but passed).
With over 80 people already registered for the interview, and the library utilizing the school district’s corporate Zoom account to allow for up to 300 participants, interest in Burton Jones has become a near frenzy.
The Sayville School District has long been celebrating “Character Education” with seven essential traits, and for this month, diversity is being heralded.
“It’s wonderful to be able to tap into local history to learn about diversity,” Jillian Makris, director of student services of Sayville Schools, said.
Built into the entire K-12 curricula are specials and celebrations of diversity and messages of unity. In elementary school, social workers teach mini-lessons and read books on inclusivity and diversity. The middle school has a Unity Circle, spearheaded by Kellie Lindskog, that has featured different Black community members.
Fedelmen said that while the Black community makes up less than 1 percent of the demographics of Sayville, there has always been a Black presence, dating back to the Burton Jones’s family.
In one instance, Burton Jones won an award in high school, but was the only student who won the award that was not offered a job at a local bank. Despite incidents like this, Burton Jones remains fond of her youth in Sayville and credits her success to her Sayville education.
With a master’s degree in administration, Burton Jones rose up in the ranks of the United States Air Force, with her highest position as deputy chief of contract management, a regional post that covered Seattle to San Diego.
The library interview with Burton Jones will be conducted by Sayville Board of Education member Dr. James Bertsch and Sayville Alumni Association president Hal Burton.
Of Burton, Dr. Bertsch said, “Her attitude is just such a deep appreciation of society. And this is why it has become a multi-organizational effort to tell her story, as a beloved Sayville alumna.”
To register to watch this interview, visit https://www.say- villelibary.org/events/online-community-interview.enid-burton- jones.