Oral Histories

These oral history recordings share the stories of people who descended from African American pioneers who settled in the Sourland Mountain region. The oral histories will also be available to the public at the museum’s listening stations.

Special thanks to the New Jersey Council for the Humanities for a grant that made this project possible, and to Cliff Wilson, who generously offered his recording studio and audio engineering expertise.

Evelyn Dunn Brooks

(1921 - )

2015 Interview with Evelyn Brooks

Interviewed by Elaine Buck and Beverly Mills

Narrated by Catherine Fulmer-Hogan, granddaughter of Evelyn Brooks

People from the region have long known Evelyn Brooks as the lady on the mountain with all the kids. Evelyn and her husband Ira Brooks farmed the "sour," rocky soil of the mountain to feed their large family. Known for her quick wit and intelligence, Evelyn and Ira ("Pop Pop") were known for their generosity and selfelessness. Evelyn has been a Second Calvary Baptist Church "Mother" for several years, and it is not uncommon for her to dance up the church aisle to this very day while being "slain in the spirit."

Evelyn Dunn BrooksSSAAM Oral Histories
00:00 / 05:48

Octavia Brokaw Brown

(1914-1960)

Narrative written by Octavia Brown, date unknown

A descendant of the Stives, Peterson, and Brokaw families, Octavia Brown was raised in Skillman and worshipped at the Mt. Zion AME Church. She suffered for years from a debilitating illness but found strength and comfort in her faith. She was a sister of Bessie Grover.

Octavia BrownSSAAM Oral Histories
00:00 / 07:40

Herma Mae Hubbard Fields

(1907-1994)

2017 Interview with Beverly Mills, granddaughter of Herma Fields

Herma Fields was the eldest daughter of Herbert Hubbard and Sarah Matilda Hoagland Hubbard. Her first name was a blend of her parents' first names. A descendant of the Truehart, Bergen, Hoagland, and Hagaman families, Herma was born and raised in Stoutsburg on the Sourland Mountain. At age sixteen, she took over the household after her mother's sudden death from an asthma attack.

Herma FieldsSSAAM Oral Histories
00:00 / 03:56

Lois Geter

(1928 - )

2015 Interview with Lois Geter

Lois Geter is descended from Frost Blackwell and Nancy Vanvactor Blackwell, who were both enslaved in the local area during the Revolutionary War. She was an teacher and firmly believes in the value of education.

Lois GeterSSAAM Oral Histories
00:00 / 06:12

Bessie Brokaw Grover

(1900-1978)

Narrative written by Bessie Grover, date unknown

Narrated by Dolores Varner, granddaughter of Bessie Grover

Bessie Grover was a descendant of the Stives, Peterson, and Brokaw families, some of the original African American settlers on the Sourland Mountain. The Bessie Grover Park, located on Camp Meeting Avenue in Skillman, NJ, was named after her in honor of her heroic effort to save her family members from a house fire in 1974.

Bessie GroverSSAAM Oral Histories
00:00 / 05:02

Marvel Aleta Clark Harris

(1915-2015)

2012 Interview with Douglas Harris, son of Marvel Harris

Narrated by Douglas Harris

Marvel Harris was the eleventh child born to Henry and Pinky Clark, who migrated from Virginia to settle in Pennington, New Jersey.  Marvel was born in the middle of a blizzard and was a very sickly child not expected to live. Defying the prediction of her doctors, Marvel married, raised two children, and lived a full life which included seventy years working within her church. She passed away a mere two months after celebrating her 100th birthday.

Marvel HarrisSSAAM Oral Histories
00:00 / 04:50

Ada Waldron Hightower

(1896-1974)

2017 Interview with Elaine Buck, great-granddaughter of Ada Hightower

Narrated by Elaine Buck

Ada and George Hightower were pillars of the First Colored Church in Hopewell, NJ. The Hightowers were an integral part of the Black community on Columbia Avenue in Hopewell and were among the first African Americans to live on this street.

Ada HightowerSSAAM Oral Histories
00:00 / 03:56

Herbert Albert Hubbard

(1875-1947)

 

2014 Interview with Stanley Stewart II, grandson of Herbert Hubbard

Narrated by Stanley Stewart II

For much of his young life, Herbert Hubbard was raised by J. Hervey Stout and his sister Sarah after Herbert's mother (the Stout family housekeeper) passed away when he was four. Herbert married Sarah Matilda Hoagland and raised their children on the Sourland Mountain where he worked most of his adult life for the Pembleton family on a 70-acre dairy farm in Hopewell, New Jersey. 

 

A brilliant penman, Herbert was, in 1894, the first Black graduate from Rider University, then known as Trenton Business College. Prior to farming, he used his exquisite penmanship to draft documents for his employers. Eventually he grew tired of working out of sight in back rooms where he asked to sit in order not to offend white clients. Herbert Hubbard was a man of many talents; he was a self-taught musician who made his own violins.

Herbert HubbardSSAAM Oral Histories
00:00 / 07:15

James Charles Jennings 

(1949-2015)

2015 Interview with James Charles Jennings

Interviewed by Elaine Buck and Beverly Mills

James Charles Jennings was the great-grandson of Charles Jennings, the longest-surviving Civil War veteran in Pennington, NJ. James and his ancestors were lifelong members of Bethel AME Church in Pennington, where they served as church administrators and musicians. The family operated a general store in Pennington from 1924 to 1955. The family was also related to William Allen, the man who discovered the remains of the Lindbergh baby.

James Charles JenningsSSAAM Oral Histories
00:00 / 06:25

Jacqueline Harrison Smith

(1930 - )

2018 Interview with Jacqueline Harrison Smith

Narrated by Elaine Buck

Jacqueline Smith's father and other African American men with ties to the Sourland Mountain worked for the Reading Railroad, walking the tracks to make sure they were clear of anything that could cause an accident.

Jaqueline Harrison SmithSSAAM Oral Histories
00:00 / 03:25

Leona Hubbard Stewart

(1913-2003)

2017 Interview with Beverly Mills, great-niece of Leona Stewart

Narrated by Beverly Mills

 

Leona Hubbard Stewart, the youngest child of Herbert and Sarah Matilda Hubbard, was born on the Sourland Mountain along with her siblings Herma, Earl, Basil and Hervey.  Leona married Stanley Stewart and raised her children, Janice, Stanley II, and Jeffrey, in one of the oldest historic homes in Pennington, New Jersey.  It was in this house where early followers of the African Methodist Episcopal Church worshiped before the Mt. Zion AME Church church was built on land next door. For a short time this was also the home where the actor Dooley Wilson, who appeared as “Sam” in the movie Casablanca, once lived.

Leona Hubbard StewartSSAAM Oral Histories
00:00 / 05:18

William Stives

(1757-1839)

2014 Interview with Timothy R. Stives, 4th great-grandson of William Stives

Narrated by Timothy R. Stives

William Stives was a Revolutionary War soldier and fifer who joined the 3rd Regiment of the New Jersey Continental Army. William enlisted at the commencement of the war and served under George Washington, as well as with General Sullivan in his expedition against the Indians. William was one of the original African American settlers on the Sourland Mountain. He and his wife Catherine Vanois raised ten children there.

William StivesSSAAM Oral Histories
00:00 / 08:57

Margaret "Peggy" Hughes Tunison

(1938 - )

2016 Interview with Peggy Tunison

Narrated by Elaine Buck

Peggy Tunison is a descendant of the Stives, Brokaw, and Hughes families. The Hughes family were early entrepreneurs and landowners who experienced a horrific tragedy when two of Peggy's sisters perished in a train wreck in 1948.

Peggy TunisonSSAAM Oral Histories
00:00 / 06:08

Albert Thomas Witcher

(1921-2013)

2017 Interview with Susan and Angela Witcher, daughters of Albert Witcher

Narrated by Susan and Angela Witcher

Albert Witcher was a gift to the Hopewell Valley community. Throughout his life he cherished the African American history of this region. Through his selfless devotion to doing what is right, Albert was instrumental in preserving the Pennington African American Cemetery. Albert's daughters remember their father's words: "It's our heritage, you see. You've got to come from somewhere!"

Albert WitcherSSAAM Oral Histories
00:00 / 05:27