New Jersey Celebrates Black History Month with Underground Railroad Sites, Exhibits, Art and More
TRENTON, N.J.-- January 31, 2020: With numerous, easily accessible historical sites and special exhibits found at cultural institutions throughout the state during Black History Month this February and beyond, New Jersey invites visitors and residents to learn more about the achievements of African Americans and the impact they had in shaping the Garden State’s history.
This year’s theme, “African Americans and The Vote,” offers an opportunity to reflect on two key anniversaries and their impact on the lives of black men and women: the 150th anniversary of the 15th Amendment (1870), giving black men the right to vote, and the centennial anniversary of the 19th Amendment (1920), granting women’s suffrage. Special events and exhibits throughout the state will examine this aspect of American history.
“More than a million African Americans call New Jersey home, so Black History is our history,” said Secretary of State Tahesha Way. “This February, join me in exploring the rich and meaningful contributions African Americans have made to our state and our nation. Beyond this Black History Month, I look forward to recognizing these stories throughout the year, and I am particularly excited to welcome Cape May’s new Harriet Tubman Museum in June.”
Honoring a key figure in the Underground Railroad during the Civil War, the Harriet Tubman Museum will display artifacts related to the pioneering freedom fighter along with African American art. The museum’s opening coincides with Juneteenth, which celebrates the 1865 executive decree that freed more than 250,000 enslaved African Americans in Texas. More information about the museum can be found here.
Visitors and residents don’t have to wait until June to learn more about African American culture in New Jersey, however. The state will celebrate Black History Month though performances, events and cultural happenings, which can be found here. In addition, visitors are encouraged to explore New Jersey’s many notable African American landmarks and important sites, a sampling of which can be found below:
About: This year marks the 100th anniversary of Negro League baseball; New Jersey is home to the 7,500-seat Hinchliffe Stadium, which opened in 1932 and served as the home venue for the New York Black Yankees. This stadium is the only remaining Negro League stadium in the Mid-Atlantic States.
Afro-American Historical Society Museum
Location: Jersey City
About: Featuring a reproduction of the Jersey City apartment of an ordinary African American family of the 1940s, the museum is filled with artifacts including vintage photos, posters, statues, drums, old street signs and Civil War rifles.
Shady Rest Country Club
Location: Scotch Plains
About: Shady Rest, America's first black-owned and operated country club, opened in 1921 and featured a nine-hole course, tennis, croquet and horseback riding. Prominent figures in the African American community, such as Duke Ellington, Sarah Vaughan, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Althea Gibson, often frequented the club.
Thomas Mundy Peterson Memorial
Location: Perth Amboy
About: Former New Jersey resident Thomas Mundy Peterson was the first black man to vote in an American election. A former slave, Peterson was the first to act on the Fifteenth Amendment, giving black men the right to vote for the 1870 election. His memorial can be found on the grounds of the historic St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Perth Amboy.
Location: Throughout Southern New Jersey
About: The legendary Underground Railroad (UGRR), which was neither underground nor a railroad, is preserved today at sites throughout the southern part of the state. A full listing can be found here and a sampling of highlights include:
- The Goodwin Sisters House in Salem City, a private residence and the best documented UGRR station in New Jersey.
- Just outside of Swedesboro is Mount Zion A.M.E. Church, built in 1834, in which there is still a trap door where the congregation would hide runaway slaves.
- In Cherry Hill, Croft Farm was another important stop for escaping slaves. According to local oral tradition, the Enoch Middleton House located in Hamilton, Mercer County, was a stop on the UGRR with its owner playing the role of both station master and conductor.
Two ongoing art exhibits are on display recognizing African American art, history and culture. Details are listed below:
Arts of Global Africa
Location: Newark Museum of Art, Newark
About: Travelers can explore an extensive collection (4,000 objects) of ritual, ceremonial and daily-use objects spanning an array of African countries and time periods, as well as historic and contemporary African artwork, textiles, jewelry and decorative objects within the exhibit. It is known as one of the country's most comprehensive African art collections.
The Northside: The Way We Were
Location: The African American Heritage Museum of Southern New Jersey, Newtonville
About: The exhibit features photos and memorabilia starting from the time “Boardwalk Empire’s” Enoch “Knukky” Johnson walked the boards in Atlantic City, to the years when a thriving, elite class of African Americans held high positions and attracted world-class entertainers. The original Club Harlem door and sign, and photos of some of the famous people who graced its stage, are all on display.
About New Jersey
New Jersey offers a wide variety of experiences to visitors all year long. Visitors can enjoy outdoor adventures, renowned culinary offerings, educational opportunities, and a strong arts and cultural scene. With numerous state and national parks, beaches, skiing, tax free shopping, historic sites, museums and more New Jersey blends together its rich history and exciting present. Home to the nation’s first beach resorts and the birthplace of major inventions, New Jersey offers a picturesque escape and dynamic opportunities for visitors from near and far. For more information, visit www.visitnj.org.