Black History in Morris County
Deepen your understanding of Morris County’s Black history
Every February since 1926, Black History has been celebrated in America. That year historian Carter G. Woodson created Negro History Week, which evolved into Black History Month. Woodson selected the second week in February for its association with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (2/12) and Frederick Douglass (2/14). Black History Month was recognized officially by President Gerald Ford in 1976.
This month, in Morris County, there are very interesting local events and programs that will help deepen your understanding of its black history. For instance, on Sunday, February 9th at 2:00 pm at the Bickford Theatre inside the Morris Museum, there will be a panel discussion curated by the Reverend Dr. Sidney S. Williams of the Bethel Church of Morristown: “Anchoring African American Identities in Morris County from 1600 to 2020”.
While Morristown is best known for George Washington’s encampment in revolutionary times, there are many voices yet to be heard and stories yet to be told. Like any community, Morristown has multiple layers of unique, yet intersecting historical narratives.
Now through March 29th at the Morris Museum check out the traveling exhibition on view:
The Ties That Bind: How Race Relations Shaped Morris County, 1600-2018. This exhibit, formerly at the Morristown-Morris Township Library and at the Morristown National Historical Park, explores over 300 years of race relations between blacks and whites in Morris County and greater New Jersey.
Celebrate and explore the life and work of the poet Phillis Wheatley at the Methodist Library at Drew University. There will be a multimedia presentation on Wheatley, the first black woman-and a slave-to be published in America. Original music inspired by Wheatley’s poems, and composed by Maestro Robert Butts, will be featured. Drew University undergraduates will recite some of Wheatley’s poems. The program will conclude with the viewing of a signed first edition of her poems from the Morristown National Historical Park’s collection. Works from the Methodist Library will also be featured. The program will take place on Wednesday, February 12, 2020 at 6:00 PM at Drew University, 36 Madison Avenue, Madison.
This is an encore of a program we co-sponsored last October. Personally, I found Wheatley’s life story to be fascinating, the Drew students reading her poems inspiring, and the poems set to music spiritually uplifting. Not a bad way to expend an hour.
In 1992, a number of oral histories with members of Morristown’s black community were done, and collected into a book called “Setting up our Own City: The Black Community in Morristown: an oral history project”. The book is now available digitally. We have librarian Cheryl Turkington to thank for collecting the oral histories for us and for future generations. Read the book here.
In 2018 the Bethel AME Church of Morristown celebrated the 175th anniversary of its founding. African American members of the Presbyterian Church on the Green, led by Frances Jane Freeman Ray, established the church in 1843. It served as a schoolhouse for colored children, enslaved people worshiped here, veterans of the Civil War were members, and during the Great Migration new members came from the South and the West Indies. Take a look at the information panels in front of the church at 59 Spring Street to learn more of their history.