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  • Karen Edmond

Why knowing and acknowledging local Black history here in Monmouth County is important.

Updated: May 26, 2022

The Long Branch Housing Authority recently renamed Woodrow Wilson Projects the "John Lewis Commons." The reason is in concordance with the striking down or removal of historical characters' names and images that were notably racist. This is a significant step in the right direction. Especially with the not too long ago segregated history of the apartment complex.

(Below a picture of myself & my five year old daughter Sophia 1990 Grant Court LB)

On a personal note, I still remember in 1990 when the Long Branch Housing Authority Director and manager asked me to relocate from Grant Court to Woodrow Wilson Homes because the said complex was still "resisting integration laws" at the time. I was newly married and had just had twins, plus my eldest daughter, who was five years old. Despite those factors, I could still remember being shocked that Jim Crow Laws were alive and well in Long Branch, NJ, although Civil Rights Laws were passed and established in 1963. The year I was born. They told me that my cousin recently relocated to the area and assured me that I would not be alone. To my surprise, the only people who called me the "N" word were my Greek neighbors. Otherwise, Woodrow Wilson Apartments wasn't so bad and had more amenities than that of Grant Court, and that puzzled my 24 yr old mind because I thought all projects apartments were made equally? But I digress.

(Pictured below my twins Joshua, Jordan, & Judah 3rd year residing at Woodrow Wilson Homes 1993)

Regarding the changing of the name of the apartment complex from President Woodrow Wilson to Congressman John Lewis, is understandable. In this day and time certain institutions, monuments, and titles are in the process of being withdrawn—and replaced with more community-friendly and inclusive representation. Never the less I am writing this critique because I came across a commentary per Facebook where a young man asked why are we not naming sites per the names of local Black history makers and honorable persons who come directly from the community at large? And he has a point. And there is a reason why Black local history makers aren't being acknowledged in Long Branch. I'll use the example of The Bucky James Community Center dilemma of 1987.

(Pictured Below Sam Mills. Long Branch High School Grad N.F.L. New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers Football Player plus United States Football League Philadelphia Stars Football player)

The Bucky James Community Center, was named after a prominent Black figure from Long Branch NJ. He fought for the right to have a community center built for family-friendly and youth-centered activities in a majority Afro-American community in Long Branch. Years later, I, along with my mentor Mrs. Jean Hastings, Mr. David Brown, and Retired Veteran Mr. Avery Grant, had to do everything we could to keep the city of Long Branch from making said site a parking lot. Hence totally razing everything that the Black community and Mr. Adams "Bucky" James worked for as if it never existed.

(Pictured below the beloved tomb stone of Mr. & Mrs. Adam "Bucky" James )

After a meeting of the minds I suggested creating a volunteer project that would provide recreational activities consistently at site & David Brown suggested that we get the N.A.A.C.P. involved by means of a membership drive. Thus Project Hope was born in 1987. As the concept creator of the intervention, I organized volunteers, partnered with AT&T & The P.A.N. African Union Committee of Monmouth County, as well as Count Baise Theater of Red Bank while working at the Long Branch Housing Authority. Later after giving birth to twins plus two more children, I was able to partner with Aslan Youth Ministries of Red Bank, with whom provided at least ten consistent years of family-friendly community activities three days a week. I did this under the supervision and advice of my mentors Mrs. Jean Hastings, Mr. Avery Grant, & Muslim Brother Mr. Hollywood of LB plus words of encouragement from, local pastor Rev Cornelius P. Williams of 2nd Baptist Church of Long Branch, Mrs. Susie Cittadino Mgr of the L.B.H.A., plus an up and coming politician by the name of Frankie Pallone.

(Pictured below Mrs Jean Hastings Mentor & Community Organizer)

I was only 24 years old at the time, but I learned a valuable lesson. When it comes to honoring and protecting the legacy of Black community members in Monmouth County, NJ, you have to fight the powers to be and take a stand to make things happen.

I'm saying all of this because it takes teamwork, commitment, love for one's people, plus strong organizing skills from the Black community, not just to establish institutions and acknowledgments of Black leadership in Monmouth County. But it also takes empowerment of the Black community to do so. Project Hope initiated an N.A.A.C.P. Membership Drive. Everyone who was signed up to be an N.A.A.C.P. member, which totaled approximately 35 to 40 community members, received pre-paid memberships provided by the P.A.N. African Union Committee of Monmouth County led by Mr. Armour.

(Below the NJ Pan African Chambers of Commerce 501C3 established as of 1993)

Once empowering concerned community members said new N.A.A.C.P. Group of 1988 met at the Bucky James Community Center. We were then able to draft community members complaints and submit said articles to the N.A.A.C.P. head office of N.J. These actions pressured racist leadership that sought to raze The Bucky James Community Center to a stand still. Plus provided insight into the mass incarceration plus police brutality reports of Black community members sons & daughters in Long Branch, NJ. This intervention saved the Bucky James Community Center. But moreover developed The Bucky James Community Center as a place that created real jobs for community members and, hopefully, a safe place where children could play. Not to mention a home where The N.A.A.C.P. of Long Branch NJ could reside and continue to serve the public.

I was inspired to name Project Hope after Rev Jesse Jackson's campaign phrase & 2nd democratic presidential nomination speech "Keep Hope Alive" 1988. So with all that stated, Monmouth County has a habit plus history of not acknowledging local Black history and leaders from the area. Sometimes it blatant. And other times it subtle. We can see this with the renaming of the Head Start Program in Red Bank, for example. Head Start has now been renamed "Acelero Learning," this slight of hand seems innocent enough but in fact diminishes its African American origins.

Historically, Head Start was established by S.N.C.C. (The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee,) led by our friend Congressman John Lewis & history maker Stokely Carmicheal. Plus loads of other Black students who attended H.B.C.s & H.B.C.U.s who marched with Rev Martin Luther King during the Civil Rights Movement.

(Pictured below Selma, Alabama. October 7, 1964. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) organized "Freedom Day", an attempt to get residents registered to vote)

Here's the issue. By renaming the program, the true history of the Head Start Program becomes slighted. Because the actual title has been removed or placed in a position of lesser significance. This action obscures the contributions of Black folks who contributed to making the program successful to a past thought. Plus, it removes all acknowledgment of the Civil Rights Movement with the program. All though subtle, this proponent of gently removing Black people's contributions to society for their children becomes more invisible by design day by day. Hence systematically looting said contribution under the guise of inclusiveness. But actually erasing the authentic history behind the name by taking Head Start Programs out of Black churches plus renaming said program.

(Below a picture of John Lewis President of S.N.C.C. Student Nonviolence Coordinating Committee)

These vestiges of systematic racism to either erase or replace local Black history is not a fad but an ongoing issue that even our ancestors had to take a stand on. Systematic racism tactics to ignore or erase people of color contributions plus historical accounts go back to the original sin of slavery. Case and point the renaming of freed Afro-American towns in N.J. Example, Lincroft was once a little Black town named Leedsville. Navesink was once called Riceville, Colts Neck was Scoobeyville, and Tinton Falls & Eatontown replaced the historic 1st nation and freeman's Black towns of Pine Brook & Reevey Town, and so forth. All by design hidden while existing in plan site while their direct descents still occupy the land, but I regret to report that most have no idea of what their ancestors achieved or how they were stolen from by this neat little tactic of non telling of local Black history.

On a side note

The tactic to rename towns may have to do with the redlining of property. Making up new names probably made squatters on the land feel "ok" with illegally residing on property and drinking from wells dug out and constructed by Black property owners who were either pushed violently off of their land or tricked by some form of Black Code processed through by the state. This commentary is in no way a dis towards Congressman Lewis. Everyone respects the fact that Congressman Lewis is the real McCoy!

The young brother's quorum had nothing to do with whether Congressman Lewis was a worthy candidate. His quorum had to do with the purposeful looking over of Black community members' contributions and why towns like Long Branch don't honor them within their community. Like our ancestors made sure to do. And here are some examples:

  • Bowles Ave, Ruffin Court & Squankum Ave in Pine Brook, NJ.

  • Rockwell Ave, Audrey W. Clark Elementary School, and The Bucky James Community Center in Long Branch.

  • Plus streets named after each of William Elijah Rock's children publisher of The Echo in Red Bank.

These acknowledgements happened because local Black communities demanded that said history be recognized & preserved. (Period)

And here's another fun fact.

Mr. William Elijah Rock's historic newspaper, The Echo NJ's oldest Black-owned newspaper, was initially located at 13 Liberty Street Long Branch NJ before he opened the Rock Newspaper Building on West Front St Red Bank with a Custom Stationary Printer Shop that would later become both the custom printing shop & newspaper building on Beech Street now renamed Dr's Parker's Ave in Red Bank NJ.

(Below a picture of Leedsville mentioned on a map that dates back to the late 1700s )

Long Branch has managed to allow historic Black churches to be demolished and Monmouth County has gone out of its way to build illegally on historic 1st Nation and Black citizenship burial grounds. Black community members' ancestors established institutions but have no idea because the history was not,

  • Correctly passed down for generations with the help of the non or improper teaching of Black & 1st Nation history in school systems;

  • Systematic racism and the erasing of Black history in the area

  • Plus, thanks to Reaganomics, the purposeful economic sabotaging & divestment of Black communities by state and local government in the long term have left many Black citizens too busy trying to keep their heads above water economically. And because of those factors the Black community on a whole lacks the time to deal with discrimination tactic dished out to them overtly.

(Below a picture of Trinidadian Stokely Carmicheal S.N.C.C. President, Civil Rights Leader, and advocate of the "Black is beautiful campaign.")

More over the current non-acknowledgement of Black excellence from Long Branch for example deprives the Black community to celebrate great triumphs that their neighbors have achieved. Example Model, singer, and entrepreneur Tony Jones of "TJ Modeling"Long Branch High School Graduate is not acknowledge by the community he grew up in. And that's not right. Mr. Jones and his daughter have modeled all over the world. And he has not as far as I know received any acknowledgment of his achievements from Long Branch leadership.

(Pictured below Tony Jones of TJ Modeling )

Some historic Black institutions date back to the late 1700's. People like Mrs. Julia Stillwell assisted with the freeing and relocation of enslaved people. Julia was a tutor of President Ulysses Grant's children in Fair Haven, plus raised funds to establish Quinn Chapel A.M.E. of Atlantic Highlands that stands till this day. Another prominent character from Monmouth County, NJ, is the Rev Dr. Solomon Porter Hood Pastor of Quinn Chapel A.M.E., who mentored W. E. B. Dubois.

(Below a picture of Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Atlantic Highlands NJ )

Rev. Dr. Solomon Porter Hood was the United States Minister to Liberia from 1921 – 1926. He was born in 1853, died in 1943, and is buried at Quinn Chapel's A.M.E. Crystal Stream Cemetery in Riceville now called "Middletown," NJ. Dr. Hood's career included serving as an A.M.E. Bishop, Academic Dean at Paul Quinn College, leader of the New Jersey exhibition on the progress of the Negro in 1912, and Education and Religious Director in N.J. A.M.E. Conference. Dr. Hood was an active member of I.B.P.O.E.W., Odd Fellows, and Omega Psi Phi Fraternity. And these are just a few Black history makers who have contributed significantly to the Black experience here in Monmouth County that go unreported or acknowledged by both Black & White leadership. (But we can change that.)

In closing, acknowledging honorable and beloved mentors of your local community is essential for the psyche of Black citizenship. These people are more relatable because they're the people from your neighborhood. Example, Samuel Mills, an Afro-American "football linebacker who played twelve seasons in the National Football League (N.F.L.) for the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers. He also played for three seasons in the United States Football League (U.S.F.L.) with the Philadelphia Stars and won two championships." Below is an mural located in Long Branch High School NJ honoring Sam Mills that shares no real image of him in contrast to the below statue honoring Sam Mills located in Ohio.

Why is this happening? And how can we fix this issue?

Black Americans need to acknowledge that a culture war is happening in our midst. And in any war, you must fight to win. For Black folks, that means

  • Strategically organizing and not go along with the pop-culture narrative or main stream agendas that take us off the focus of our people's long-term struggles, crisis issues, and accomplishments.

  • Acknowledge that society may throw what we call in public relations "shiny objects" to take you off of focusing on critical issues and resources that we forfeit, in my opinion, by accident. Shiny objects theory is frequently used as a post-reaction tactic because of wrong things done. And the effort is trying to cover said issue with one good deed.

  • Advocate consistently on behalf of your people's rights and needs for reparations

  • Resist the need to take care of everyone but your own people's issues. We are no longer slaves, and we do not have to carry other people's water for them. They can do it themselves.

  • Understand that Black Americans live in a hostile environment that has gone unchecked for way too long.

  • With that said every day we must speak life & nurturing words over our children, ourselves, and our people so that we can survive every attack of systematic racism that this world all too often throws at us. And make it a point to have an open discussion regarding what you would like to see happen in your communities. Then go out and make it happen.

  • Lastly remember that there are people who are not Black but are aware of the unique long term issues that Black Americans must confront, and they look forward to helping you achieve your goals.

The good thing is that just like our ancestors, who achieved a world of success during and after slavery, we too can do the same as long as we stand up for ourselves and move on agendas that benefit our people unashamedly. This all ties into the concern of the young man's commentary on Facebook. We must support and acknowledge our local history makers & institutions even if they are not as popular or well known. And we have plenty of racist street names in Long Branch NJ that we can replace with local history makers. Here's an idea, how about renaming Washington Ave to Jean Hasting Blvd? Sounds good to me.

Thanks for reading!

Please enjoy Brother Charles Jenkins' gospel tune "This Means War." Peace out!

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