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African American Contributions to the History of New Jersey

African Americans of note in the history of New Jersey.

Dr. James Still Homestead and Office

Image result for dr. james still's officeDr James Still, The Black Doctor of the Pines, served a large clientele of both black and white patients from his office in Medford, NJ.  He was also one of Burlington County's largest property owners.


Peter Mott Underground Railroad House


Image result for peter mott house lawnside njThe Peter Mott House is the oldest known house in Lawnside. Built circa 1845, the house was residence to Peter Mott, an African-American preacher who was the first Sunday school superintendent at Mount Pisgah African Methodist Episcopal Church in Lawnside, and his wife, Eliza.

Mott was a free Black man and an agent of the Underground Railroad. The size of his house in what was then called Snow Hill or Free Haven and its method of construction — two stories — reflect Mott's status as a respected member of the community.

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The African American Heritage Museum of Southern Jersey

Image result for The African American Heritage Museum Of Southern New JerseyEmbracing Diversity through Cultural Education

The African American Heritage Museum Of Southern New Jersey brings to life the African American experience of the 20th Century as it documents the struggle of one group of Americans to carve their own place in the wider cultural landscape. With a permanent home in the heart of Southern New Jersey, and a traveling museum with access to over 3,000 historical and cultural artifacts, the museum offers a unique opportunity to open a window to the mindset of successive generations of African Americans and provides an understanding to its cultural evolution.

Bridging the Gaps in Our Collective American Experience

The African American Heritage Museum boasts an impressive collection of items, including graphics, drawings, paintings, advertisements, household and decorative items, all depicting blacks in a historical context. In a decade-by-decade account, from Aunt Jemima to Tiger Woods, the museum provides a visual and visceral understanding of how the African American culture has evolved and changed, each item providing the proverbial "thousand words." "...committed to bringing its resources directly to the community."

African American Heritage Museum Of Southern New Jersey

Skunk Hollow

Throughout most of the nineteenth century, a small community of free blacks existed along the New York/New Jersey state line about a mile south of Palisades. Known as Skunk Hollow, it was settled by former slaves and their descendants 60 years before slavery was abolished in New Jersey. The first known deed was to Jack Earnest, a former slave, who, on January 1, 1806, paid $87.50 for five acres and 30 square rods; in 1822 he purchased another six acres.

Read more about the history of Skunk Hollow here.

Lawnside, New Jersey

If you drive through the Camden County borough of Lawnside, you'd be excused for thinking it's no different from any other small town in New Jersey.  The typical appearance of its shops, school, and modest homes belie its history as the first independent self-governing African-American community north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

According to the Encyclopedia of New Jersey, people of African descent began settling in what's now Lawnside in the 1700s.  Both freedman and escaped slaves were drawn to the community, and as the anti-slavery movement grew, Philadelphia abolitionist Ralph Smith began purchasing land in the area.  To encourage further settlement in the place he called Free Haven, Smith divided the acreage into lots and sold it to blacks at reduced prices.  When a group of former slaves from Maryland joined the community, it became known as Snow Hill, after their former home.  The current name of Lawnside was coined in 1907 when the Pennsylvania and Reading Railroad built a station stop there.

All the while, the community was part of the larger Centre Township, with representation on the town council.  As it grew to have its own school, churches, shops, and distinct culture, it was clear that Lawnside should stand on its own.  Through an act of the New Jersey Legislature, Centre Township was disbanded and Lawnside officially became a Borough in 1926.  To this day, Lawnside's population continues to be predominantly African American and extremely proud of our heritage, as evidenced on our Borough seal.

Image result for lawnside nj borough seal

Considering its roots, it's not surprising that the community that became Lawnside made its own contributions to the freedom effort.  Nearly fifty men joined the Union Army during the Civil War, likely in the 22nd U.S. Colored Troops that mustered out of Philadelphia.  The hamlet was also a stop on the Underground Railroad, and its respected resident minister an agent.  Preacher Peter Mott's house was the station, and it's been restored by the Lawnside Historical Society.

Borough of Lawnside NJ

AfroAmerican Historical Society Museum

The Afro-American Historical Society Museum was organized as a committee by Captain Thomas Taylor, President of the Jersey City Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He saw a need to develop an appreciation for the historic and cultural heritage of African Americans. Toward this end he contacted Theodore Brunson, a lay historian in Afro-American history; Mrs. Nora Fant, a long time and active resident of Jersey City; and Mrs. Virginia Dunnaway, a community worker and teacher. Together they formed the Historical and Cultural Committee setting as its purpose the research, collection, preservation and exhibition of Afro-American history and culture. The committee chose February, Black History Month, as the appropriate time to present a program and exhibition on its findings.

Image result for Greenville Branch of the Jersey City Free Public Library

In 1984, the Afro-American Historical Society Museum obtained a permanent location on the second floor of the Greenville Public Library. The space was granted by the trustees of the library. It gave rise to great optimism for the future. As an incorporated entity with a permanent location, it was then possible to qualify for grants and to solicit donations. It also encouraged the further development of the historical and cultural African American exhibitions and programs.

Image result for Captain Thomas Taylor, President of the Jersey City Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

In the beginning the committee operated with very little financial help to obtain artifacts, set up exhibitions or educate itself in regards to preservation techniques and practices. Most of the funds obtained were provided by the NAACP and Monumental Baptist Church. In 1977, in an effort to increase its income, the committee was incorporated. It applied for and received exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service. This made it possible for contributors to receive a tax deduction for their contributions.

Afro-American History Society Museum