Exploring African American History & Culture in New Jersey
The Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum and the 1719 William Trent House Museum, in partnership with the Grounds for Sculpture and the New Jersey Historical Society, hosted an all-day workshop on May 23, 2017 exploring African American history and culture in New Jersey.
Supported in part by grants from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, the Mercer County Cultural and Heritage Commission, and the Princeton Area Community Foundation, the workshop featured key addresses from Dr. Gretchen Sullivan Sorin and Dr. Junius Williams and workshop sessions conducted by staff from the New Jersey State Archives and State Library, the New Jersey Historical Society, the New Jersey Chapter of the Afro American Historical & Genealogical Society, and the Rutgers University Libraries, as well as other individuals with extensive professional experience in research on African Americans in New Jersey.
This workshop followed an invitational symposium organized by the Trent House Museum and the Stoutsburg Sourland African American in January of this year to discuss how to better include and interpret the lives, struggles, and contributions of African Americans in New Jersey.
A frequently repeated theme at that symposium was the scarcity of accurate knowledge and deep understanding about the African American experience. As one of the organizers of the symposium, Beverly Mills of the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum, noted, “I never knew that the system of slavery was right in my own backyard. It’s how America became America. It’s a part of history and we can’t shut our eyes to the fact that it was here also.”
The May 23rd workshop is intended to introduce available sources, methods, and tools for learning about African Americans in New Jersey from colonial times to the present. Carolyn Stetson, incoming president of the Trent House Association, noted, "We know that residents of the house from Trent’s time on enslaved people of African descent and that William Trent owned ships used for transporting slaves. We have to address that in our presentation of the early history of Trenton at the Trent House.”
Keynote speakers at the workshop were Dr. Gretchen Sullivan Sorin and Junius W. Williams, Esquire.
Dr. Sorin is Director and Distinguished Service Professor of the Cooperstown Graduate Program at the State University of New York College at Oneonta. Her books include Touring Historic Harlem, Four Walks in Northern Manhattan with architectural historian Andrew Dolkart, In the Spirit of Martin: The Living Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, and Through the Eyes of Others: African Americans and Identity in American Art.
Attorney Williams is Director of the Abbott Leadership Institute at Rutgers University, Newark. Dr. Williams is the author of Unfinished Agenda: Urban Politics in the Era of Black Power, a political memoir from the 1950s to the present day, and producer of the new website called ‘The North: Civil Rights and Beyond in Urban America’, located at www.riseupnorth.com. In addition to hearing these powerful speakers, workshop participants engaged with experts in the fields of archaeology, archival research, and genealogy in in-depth sessions focused on sources available in New Jersey.
Experts included staff from the New Jersey State Archives and State Library, the New Jersey Historical Society, the New Jersey Chapter of the Afro American Historical & Genealogical Society, and the Rutgers University Libraries, as well as other individuals with extensive professional experience in archival and archaeological research in New Jersey.
Laurie Cleveland, Sourland Conservancy