The New Jersey Historical Commission is pleased to present Exploring Black History in New Jersey: New Research and Discoveries, a webinar exploring projects that uncover and share African American history in the Garden State.
President Jonathan Holloway announces plaques will be installed at four New Brunswick locations this spring
Rutgers is taking new steps to acknowledge its connection to slavery and racial injustice with the creation of four additional historical markers that tell the story of its early benefactors whose families made their fortunes through the slave economy.
The markers shed new light on some of the most prominent names memorialized on the Rutgers-New Brunswick campus, including the university’s first president, Jacob Rusten Hardenbergh, and New Jersey’s first governor, William Livingston.
“These markers are an invitation for us to talk about the complicated legacies of namesakes and the complicated ways in which blood money from slavery is woven into old institutions like Rutgers,” Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway said at the Board of Governors meeting today. “They are a result of the excellent research shared in the Scarlet and Black volumes that acknowledge our own legacy.”
Holloway, Rutgers’ first African American president in its 254-year history and a leading Black history scholar, recently published The Cause of Freedom, an examination of Black history starting with the arrival of the first slave ship on the shores of Jamestown in 1619 through the Black Lives Matter movement of today.
The legacy of racial injustice is long and must be addressed by colleges and universities throughout the country including Rutgers, among the oldest land-grant universities in the United States, Holloway said.
The new historical markers – recommended by the Committee on Enslaved and Disenfranchised Populations in Rutgers History as part of the Scarlet and Black Project – will contribute to discussions confronting the past while recognizing steps to take to move forward, Holloway said.
The new markers will be at the following locations:
Hardenbergh Hall, built in 1956 and named for Jacob Rusten Hardenbergh, the founder of Queen’s College, later renamed Rutgers College, who was appointed its first president. Research for the Scarlet and Black Project revealed Hardenbergh’s family owned abolitionist Sojourner Truth and her parents, Bomefree and Mau-Mau Bett. The Dutch Reformed minister, who came from a prominent slaveholding family in Ulster, New York, forced enslaved people to work in his house.
Frelinghuysen Hall, also built in 1956, was named for the Frelinghuysen family, including Frederick Frelinghuysen, a United States senator and state legislator, who enslaved Black people. He was a trustee and the first instructor at Queen’s College (later renamed Rutgers College). His grandfather, Theodorus Jacobus Frelinghuysen, who also enslaved Black people, was instrumental in Rutgers’ founding. Frederick’s son, Theodore Frelinghuysen, a congressman and leader in the American Colonization Society, advocated for the forced removal of African Americans. Most names of those the Frelinghuysen family enslaved are unknown. However, Ukawsaw Gronniosaw’s experience was documented in his 1772 world-renowned autobiography that describes being captured in West Africa and enslaved by the Frelinghuysens in their Raritan Valley home. This marker honors Gronniosaw and all the women, men and children enslaved by the Frelinghuysen family.
Wood Lawn Mansion, built in 1830 for Col. James Neilson, an early trustee who profited from enslaving Black people and whose family funded the estate through inherited wealth created over generations of deep involvement with slavery. The marker honors 13 African Americans enslaved by the Neilson family and the countless others whose names are unknown.
Livingston Campus, site of the former Livingston College, was named after William Livingston, the first governor of New Jersey whose family made a fortune trafficking human beings in the transatlantic slave trade. The family collectively enslaved hundreds of people and William’s brothers, Philip and Robert, two of Rutgers’ founding trustees, bought and sold hundreds more. When William Livingston moved to New Jersey, he enslaved at least two people, a woman named Bell and her son Lambert. Though William Livingston later advocated for gradual abolition, he continued to represent the legal interests of his slave-trading family’s wealth throughout his career.
The metal plaques will be erected this spring as part of the ongoing effort to complete Rutgers’ historical record. They will join other landmarks that contribute to the university’s story, including Will’s Way, the walkway from the Old Queens building to the Voorhees Mall, named for an enslaved man who laid the building’s foundation in 1808; the Sojourner Truth Apartments, named for the abolitionist who, as a child, was owned by the Hardenbergh family; and the James Dickson Carr Library, named for Rutgers’ first African American graduate.
“These markers and the three volumes of Scarlet and Black is not the end of Rutgers recognizing its history,” said Deborah Gray White, committee co-chair and a Board of Governors Distinguished Professor of History. “It is a process. This is not something that is a be-all and end-all, but an acknowledgment that African Americans not only contributed to the founding and the building of Rutgers but also a recognition that we have been here all along even though we have been shut out of classrooms.”
Frank Wong, assistant vice president of University Planning and Development, is working with White and the Committee on Enslaved and Disenfranchised Populations in Rutgers History on the creation of another eight historical markers, including one acknowledging Colonel Henry Rutgers, the university’s namesake who was an early trustee and the son of a slave-owning family. He is remembered for donating the interest on a $5,000 bond in 1826 that put the college on a solid financial footing.
Since 2015, when the committee’s Scarlet and Black Project was launched as part of the commemoration of the university’s 250th anniversary in 2016, scholars have explored the experiences of two disenfranchised populations at Rutgers: African Americans and Native Americans. Under the direction of White; Maria Fuentes, associate professor of women’s and gender studies and history; and Camilla Townsend, Distinguished Professor of History, undergraduate and graduate students carefully pieced together lost stories from the pages of the university’s early history.
White says Volume 3, a historical narrative from 1945-2020, details how Rutgers’ Black and Puerto Rican students revolted against the university’s admission policies, Eurocentric curriculum, and its primarily white faculty and insisted that Rutgers diversify. This was during the Black campus revolution that swept across the nation in the 1960s and changed the student population, curriculum, faculty and cultural environment to reflect the diversity of American culture.
The release of the last volume due in May arrives during a time when the Black Lives Matter movement is creating a space where people seem to have more of a desire to learn about African American history, she said.
“As the pandemic has given all people more time to think and reflect on the way law enforcement deals with Black lives, books and videos reflecting Black life have increased in consumption,” White said. “For New Jersey residents, Rutgers is a local story and what better way to begin to learn about Black lives than waking up to what is happening and has happened in one’s own backyard.”
The local arts organization coLAB Arts has created a mural series in Alice Jennings Archibald Park in New Brunswick. The work celebrates the legacy of Mrs. Archibald in relation to the students of McKinley Community School. The mural draws inspiration from Mrs. Archibald’s motto: “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” Designed by local artist RH Doaz, the mural aims to convey Mrs. Archibald’s values: educational rigor, community service, and social justice.
On January 29, 2021, coLAB Arts and the City of New Brunswick held a virtual unveiling of the new mural series, with Scarlet and Black Postdoctoral Associate Alexandria Russell participating as one of the speakers. The event was streamed live on Facebook, and you can view the video recording. The event includes oral history content speaking to the life of Alice Jennings Archibald from the point of view of her family and an interview with the artist, RH Doaz.
Check out the local press coverage of the new mural:
This collection consists of photographs, manuscripts, church histories, and financial records from the Alice Jennings Archibald History Library at the Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church of New Brunswick. Founded in 1827, Mount Zion AME is the oldest African American institution in Middlesex County, New Jersey. The Scarlet and Black Project has partnered with Mount Zion AME to digitize select archival materials and make them available as part of our digital archive.
The Alice Jennings Archibald History Library is dedicated to the memory of church historian Alice Jennings Archibald (1906-2002). For many decades, Mrs. Archibald led the efforts to collect and preserve archival materials documenting African American life in New Brunswick. She was instrumental in founding the history library at Mount Zion AME.
Alice Jennings Archibald was an educator and a civic leader. A life-long New Brunswick resident, Mrs. Archibald was also a Rutgers alumna. She was the first African American woman to receive a graduate degree from Rutgers. She earned a master’s degree from the Rutgers School of Education in 1938. In those days, Rutgers College only admitted men for undergraduate study, while women attended the New Jersey College for Women (later called Douglass College). But the graduate program at the new Rutgers School of Education was coeducational.
In 2017, the Will Power Student Retention Scholarship was created to help address the financial element that impacts student retention, particularly for black male students. Since then, alumni and friends have come together to help award over two dozen students. Join the Paul Robeson Cultural Center to hear the impact this fund has had on student awardees and the future of this initiative from Jakora Holman RC’07, PRCC Director, and lead alumni supporter, Frank McClellan RC’67.
This fund was named after an enslaved man, known only as Will, who helped lay the foundation for the Old Queens building in the fall of 1808. Today, Old Queens houses some of the university’s most prestigious offices including the Office of the Chancellor. The Scarlet and Black Project uncovered Will’s story.
Just as Will, and countless unnamed enslaved people, laid the foundation for this University, the Will Power Retention Fund helps ensure that promising Rutgers students are able to attain the degree that will provide the foundation for future success.
We are thrilled to present our new digital exhibit Rutgers African American Alumni Gallery: The Forerunner Generation, by Beatrice J. Adams and Jesse Bayker. This exhibit brings together photographs and brief biographical sketches of all twenty-five African American men who attended Rutgers University before the end of World War II.
The research into their stories began with the chapter “The Rutgers Race Man: Early Black Students at Rutgers College” by Beatrice J. Adams, Shaun Armstead, Shari Cunningham, and Tracey Johnson, in our book Scarlet and Black, Volume 2: Constructing Race and Gender at Rutgers, 1865-1945, where seven of these men are profiled in more detail. They were “the forerunner generation,” entering an exclusive white men’s school in Jim Crow America before the movement for Civil Rights and desegregation reshaped the university into a more diverse and accessible institution. Paul Robeson, who graduated in 1919 and whose legacy we have celebrated with centennial commemorations in 2019, is the most famous of these early alumni. In the epilogue to the book, Deborah Gray White calls on us to “recover, acknowledge, and celebrate all of the forerunners of desegregation at Rutgers.” The Rutgers African American Alumni Gallery exhibit seeks to answer that call.
If they were daunted by their exceptionalism or exclusion, they did not and could not show it. Rather they competed fiercely, completed their degrees, and many went on to leadership positions in the race and nation.
— Deborah Gray White in Scarlet and Black, Volume 2, “Epilogue: The Forerunner Generation”
The article provides a glimpse of the history that the new book brings to light, plus reflections from Deborah Gray White and Marisa Fuentes on the significance of this research:
As evidenced by the extensive archival research, Rutgers has not always been on the right side of history, but by acknowledging this past, we hope it’s a step forward in ensuring that all feel welcomed in the Rutgers community today. Rather than a simple indictment of the past, this work is one method of redress by recognizing how students of color have fought for a place here and have excelled.
Co-editor Marisa Fuentes, Presidential Term Chair in African American History
Our second book Scarlet and Black, Volume 2: Constructing Race and Gender at Rutgers, 1865-1945, edited by Kendra Boyd, Marisa J. Fuentes, and Deborah Gray White, has been published by Rutgers University Press. This latest volume includes: an introduction to the period studied (from the end of the Civil War through WWII) by Deborah Gray White; a study of the first black students at Rutgers and New Brunswick Theological Seminary; an analysis of African-American life in the City of New Brunswick during the period; and profiles of the earliest black women to matriculate at Douglass College.
We are excited to announce a new collection: Slavery Era Newspaper Clippings. This collection consists of New Jersey newspaper clippings from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, including runaway ads, slave sale ads, and articles that highlight the activities of Rutgers trustees.
Many (though not all) of these newspaper clippings mention a location, such as the residence of the slaveowner who offered a reward for a runaway’s capture. Whenever possible, the primary location associated with the newspaper clipping has been pinned to a map. Occasionally the location mentioned is precise, such as the Middlesex County jail, which historical records indicate was located in New Brunswick on Prince (now Bayard) Street between George Street and Queen (now Neilson) Street. More often, the newspaper mentions only the city, village, or county where the person involved resided. For this reason, the geolocation pins on the map are approximate, typically pointing to a central location in the city or village mentioned.
A group of undergraduate students in Jesse Bayker’s Digital History course collaborated to create Campus Namesakes, a new digital exhibit for the Scarlet and Black Project. This exhibit features the founders and benefactors of Rutgers University whose names are emblazoned on campus buildings—such as Frelinghuysen, Rutgers, Hardenbergh, Livingston, and Neilson—and explores their relationship to slavery. The exhibit also highlights the recently dedicated landmarks of Sojourner Truth Apartments and Will’s Way.