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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ–Inside a stately, four-columned building overlooking Livingston Avenue rests a partial repository of the New Brunswick African-American experience.
The exhibit a the New Brunswick Free Public Library is part of the New Brunswick African-American Heritage Committee’s celebration of Black History Month, which also included a panel discussion on February 21 led by professors, lawyers, and teachers about racism and African American history.
Curator Marilyn Herod has an eye for history: New Jersey’s often-overlooked legacy of slavery is on full, vivid display at the library.
Beneath a glass covering lies the 1858 insurance policy taken out on Jordan, the slave of Joseph Myers, and a printout informs readers that New Brunswick was known to be one of the most dangerous Northern cities for runaway slaves to pass through.
One can then see a timeline of the development of the city’s African-American community, from the 1790 census, which showed African slaves making up 1/12 of Middlesex County’s population.
In 1918, Dr. Otis Carrington established New Brunswick’s first African American-run medical practice, and in 1945, the Urban League of Greater New Brunswick was launched.
Importantly, the exhibit does not shy away from portraying the multidimensional, complex New Brunswick Black experience in an honest light.
Interspersed with newspaper clippings describing the Urban League’s efforts to revitalize the community and announcing a 66% increase in the number of black-owned businesses are graphs that show African-American overrepresentation in prisons and underrepresentation in advanced high school classes.
“Highlights of the New Brunswick African-American Experience from the Library Collections” is at times a triumphant celebration of New Brunswick’s African-American community and at others a difficult reckoning with the issues that have been plaguing it for decades.
The exhibit will be available for viewing through March 27.