During a trip to Red Bank, NJ, we were compelled to visit two landmarks with deep-rooted history within the area. While these visits were quick and limited in terms of photography, the information we learned was profoundly enlightening. This is the very first of what will be several trips to Monmouth County’s historical African-American landmarks.
T. Thomas Fortune House and Cultural Center
The historical T. Thomas Fortune House and Cultural Center is a preserved property in Red Bank, New Jersey. Once owned by Timothy Thomas Fortune (1856-1928); a speaker, civil rights figure, writer, journalist, and editor; well known for being the editor of The New York Age – one of the leading black newspaper publications in the United States.
Fortune founded the National Afro-American League in 1890; later the National Afro-American Council, with the goals of providing advocacy and support for African-Americans and the socio-cultural injustices that they faced in the late Nineteenth Century and beyond. These organizations became a predecessor for the NAACP. Later, Fortune famously served as an editor for the highly influential Negro World, a publication that reached a circulation total of 200,000.
Fortune moved into the historic house, named Maple Hall, in 1901. Despite the family’s brief tenure in the house (1901 – 1911), the structure still served as a popular destination for local, cultural, social, and political events among the African-American community. Fortune also entertained famous guests, including Booker T. Washington. In 2019, the house was restored and donated to a local non-profit by a developing plan which included a housing complex on the physical property. As the historical structure was facing demolition, this new business development saved the house and all the history associated with it. To that end, the T. Thomas Fortune Foundation and Cultural Center was formed.
We visited the house on a Saturday afternoon after a visit to the downtown Boro of Red Bank. On the ground floor, there are two display rooms featured. First, in the main room to the left is an exhibit detailing the life and work of another famous Red Bank resident, legendary jazz pianist and bandleader “Count” Basie. In the other room to the right is a showcasing of pictures and documentation of Fortune and his family, including some of his most famous publications.
Upstairs leads us to a room converted into an open floor with a podium and chairs for speaking engagements and public events; a common activity at the Cultural Center, and also an exhibit on Drs. James W. Parker; Sr. and Jr., and the Parker family legacy of being among the pioneering African-American doctors in Monmouth County. A truly educational experience of which we should all be so grateful to still have with us – restored, and preserved.
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Cedar View Cemetery, Lincroft, New Jersey
The Cedar View Cemetery at Lincroft is a historic resting place for black veterans and their families. Acquired in 1850 to 14 black men in a land deal from a wealthy farmer and slaveowner, the cemetery is situated along a quiet stretch of land within what is now a residential area within the unincorporated section of Lincroft in Middletown Township, NJ.
The first reporting of the Cedar View Cemetery was in 1900, when former slave Charles Reeves died at the age of 80. The article acknowledging his passing was the first publicized reference for the Cedar View Cemetery, despite being in existence for 50 years.
Over the latter half of the Twentieth Century, Cedar View Cemetery at Lincroft was largely forgotten as development happened around the space, and the decades moved along into the new century. However, some of the local residents and descendants of the former slaves and war heroes buried at the site would continue to uphold the historical integrity of the location.
In present day, thanks to the dedicated efforts of the Friends of Cedar View Cemetery, the site is now known among locals and historical travelers alike. The Friends have done their part to raise awareness and education for the importance of this location. Every Memorial Day, a ceremony is held at the cemetery, acknowledging the sacrifices made from the veterans and citizens buried there.