Mt. Zion AME Church, home of SSAAM
SSAAM's Board and staff at the 2022 Board Retreat
Somerset County announces a new preservation plan benefiting the True Farmstead
Students from the Allegra School of Music & Arts perform an original Juneteenth skit at the True Farmstead
Witness Stone honoring Friday Truehart, an enslaved 13-year-old boy brought to New Jersey from South Carolina, placed in Hopewell
Elaine Buck and Beverly Mills give a tour to a full house inside the newly renovated Mt. Zion AME Church
Joanne Canady-Brown shares her Purple Sweet Potato Pie recipe in a special Black History Month video series
Dear Friends of the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum,
As we approach the final month of 2022, we wish you and your family health and blessings. At this special time of year, we are reaching out to you to make sure you know how grateful we are for your past support. We would also like to encourage your continued support and also your voice in the community to let others know about our important work and mission. With your generous support, and help sharing the urgency of our mission, we will be able to make a great impact in our community. SSAAM has had an outstanding year and we are energized for the work ahead. We are grateful to have the privilege and opportunity to do the critical educational work and community-building that will create a better and more inclusive world for your family, our family, and for future generations.
2022 has highlighted the fact that we live in a world fraught with many challenges, as reckoning was met with some who want to deny our history. At SSAAM we know that challenges are the birthplace of opportunity, and we see ourselves as agents of positive change and good will. We are constantly encouraged and in awe of the enthusiasm and support for our mission from individuals of our community, from Somerset County, and from other organizations and institutions focused on making our world a better place in recognition of our diversity.
SSAAM has so much to celebrate this year. Together with our partner organization, the Sourland Conservatory, and with the support of generous donors who provided a loan, we were able to acquire the True Farmstead, a historic African American farmstead that sits on 5 acres adjacent to the Mt. Zion AME Church, the current home of SSAAM. The Farmstead was once the home of an African American Civil War veteran, and the descendants of Friday Truehart: Spencer and Corinda True. Several generations of the True family lived, raised their families, and ran a successful farm on this property continuously until the mid 1990s. The True Family Farmstead, along with others like it, produced an essential source of fresh food for the region. This property is especially important to SSAAM as it was the childhood home of our board member Patricia Payne, who is the 4th generation granddaughter of Friday Truehart. An incredible part of this story is that Spencer and Corinda True—Pat Payne’s great-grandparents—donated the land to rebuild the Mt. Zion AME church in 1899. Thus, with this acquisition, the story has come full circle. Again, we are so grateful to the generous community members, and community stakeholders such as Jay Watson of New Jersey Conservation and Montgomery Township that provided essential aid in the acquisition of the farmstead.
On Sunday, June nineteenth, SSAAM celebrated Freedom Forward, our very first Juneteenth event at the True Farmstead with live music, classic African American Soul food, community quilt-making, and youth poetry readings and theater! Hundreds of neighbors from across Central New Jersey came together at the farmstead to commemorate freedom from enslavement and celebrate our shared responsibility to create a better and more equitable future going forward. We were happy to collaborate and partner with the Princeton University Art Museum and local artists and educators for this outstanding community celebration.
On September 19th we held a Somerset County celebration ceremony at the True Farmstead called Preservation in Action where the True Farmstead was the recipient of a grant from the award-winning Somerset County Preservation Plan that integrates open space, farmland, and historic presentation. The Farmstead is the first small-scale parcel of land to be the recipient of this grant as Somerset County and New Jersey Open Space is truly excited about the impact of what SSAAM brings to the central New Jersey’s landscape. Jay Watson commented at the event that, “the opportunity to preserve African American history … is just an amazing opportunity for us all.” We could not agree more!
This year, SSAAM received a grant from the New Jersey Council of the Humanities to produce a series of youth historical fiction books that will provide a unique first-hand account of life through the lens of African American children who grew up in the Sourland Mountain Region of Central New Jersey. The initial book will highlight the life of Patricia Payne as a young, curious, brilliant, and sports-loving African American girl who grew up hearing the stories of her ancestors from her grandmother—smitten with literature, the Negro Leagues, Sweet Jersey corn, German cookies, and bucolic and pristine nature surrounding her home at True Farmstead. The writing and illustration team is busy at work, and we are excited to roll out these stories from a child’s perspective to our community in 2024!
This past October, SSAAM was thrilled and honored to invite the entire community out for tours through the newly restored Mt. Zion AME church and the True Farmstead for Somerset County's annual Journey Through the Past event. The restoration was made possible through a county Historic Preservation Grant. Hundreds from our community were able to walk through these historic spaces and meet our shining stars, Elaine, Beverly, and Pat Payne, who gave fascinating talks about local history. The SSAAM board was there to greet the community and we all enjoyed homemade pies, cakes and a bit of home cooking which is a strong component of SSAAM events.
SSAAM has taken on three amazing new board members with phenomenal experience and areas of expertise. With the addition of Jackie Fay, Stephanie Adkins, and Marion Gill, SSAAM’s excellent team is prepared for the growth that 2023 will bring.
The SSAAM community looks upon the year 2023 with great enthusiasm. We have just completed our capital campaign planning study with the renowned Compass Group, and the results were enlightening and energizing!! The study indicated that this community is willing, able, and motivated to support the development of an African American museum complex with an environmental center in Skillman. We are happy to collaborate with the Sourland Conservatory to realize this cultural, educational, and environmental center. SSAAM is confident that by building programs that engage our diverse community in a more complete understanding of our history and our important land and ecology preservation opportunities, we will strengthen our community ties and create a more equitable understanding of our history, our current situation, and OUR future.
SSAAM is happy to lead the campaign that will build a center with programs that are intelligent, courageous, thoughtful, honest, inclusive, affirming, and worthy of the often forgotten and sometimes difficult lessons learned from our shared and unique American heritage. SSAAM’s distinctive surroundings, with its deeply rooted African American history replete with documented larger-than-life characters and their stories, will offer a broader and truer vision of the past, while simultaneously educating on the importance of preserving and protecting the vital stories, traditions, and ecology to inspire future generations. The center will promote social justice and environmental justice, as we believe the goals are inextricably linked. This center will enrich the experience of living in Central New Jersey by showcasing our amazing history, culture, ecology, and plans to preserve the diverse and beautiful natural landscape unique to this region.
We ask that you—our neighbors and friends—join us as we continue the work of building Central New Jersey’s only African American museum dedicated to telling stories of the decedents of formerly enslaved people who lived and worked in the Sourland region during and after the transatlantic slave trade. With your support, we will build a rich legacy for current and future generations. By exploring, uncovering, and preserving our shared past and its stories, and by building a brilliant and uniquely American future, we will elevate the lives of people in our community and beyond.
Please join us by donating generously and then call all your friends and tell them about the exciting cultural innovations that are taking place in Central New Jersey. Please ask them to join you in helping us create this great future, brick-by-brick.
John B. Buck
Founding President | Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum
P.S. It has been my great honor to serve as SSAAM Board President for the past six years. It is with joy and excitement that I pass the baton to the capable hands of President-Elect Catherine Fulmer Hogan. I would like to express my deep gratitude for the dedication and support of the entire SSAAM community.