Black History Events for the Montgomery Township Area
By Rebecca Koblin | February 1, 2022
In honor of Black History Month, the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum (SSAAM) and the Somerset County Library System will be hosting a "cook-along," a gospel music playlist, meet-the-author events, movie nights, and other virtual events centered around black history and culture.
Evelyn Brooks, who turns 101 later this month, is the matriarch of five generations of residents of the Sourland Mountain area. Her interview is part of the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum's Oral History Project, which will be shared on February 22.
The Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum (SAAM) will hold other events, as noted below.
The Somerset County Library System (SCLS) is also sponsoring events throughout the month of February. Local residents will have the opportunity to connect with authors such as Rick Geffken, Jerry Craft, Richard Bell, Sheryll Cashin, and more.
"Most will be held online giving anyone the chance to tune in to riveting discussions from the comfort of their own homes," said Darryl Voorhees, manager of SCLS adult services programming and collaborations, public services.
Geffkin grew up in Hudson County and completed his master’s degree at Montclair State.
“In all that time no one ever mentioned that there was such a thing as slavery in New Jersey,” Geffken said.
Geffken stumbled upon the information for himself while exploring New Jersey historical records from hundreds of years ago. The documents included wills from residents at the time bequeathing their slaves to their offspring.
"It is common that people are surprised to hear that slavery existed not only in New Jersey but in their specific county or township," Geffken said, noting that people are often shocked at his talks when he discusses the history of slavery in New Jersey.
“It’s what motivates me to do these talks,” Geffken said. "The message that I am trying to get out there is that the problems and the cultural and social issues we are dealing with today have their roots in 400 years of enslaved Africans in this country. Unless we understand that, I don’t think we have much hope of getting to a better place.”
Geffken’s book is about slavery in Somerset County and the history of the impact Black people had in both the American Revolution and the Civil War.
Geffken writes about Samuel Sutphin, a man who served as a Revolutionary War solider — in place as Casper Berger "who'd purchased him for about ninety-two pounds. Sutphin was born an enslaved man around 1747. He was enlisted in the Continental Militia in exchange for the promise of his freedom. He served multiple tours, one of which had him stationed in Rocky Hill.
“Because he had little documentation of his military service,” Sutphin never received a military pension. “To add further insult, Sutphin didn’t receive the freedom he’d been promised… Ultimately, Samuel Sutphin realized he’d have to purchase his own dignity,”according the book (page 133).
Sutphin’s story is one of many. “We have to face the truth that there was slavery everywhere,” said Geffken, “and we also have to acknowledge that this part of our past, which we are in the process of repairing, contributes to what a lot of people’s attitudes are [today].”
If you want to learn more about the history of slavery in New Jersey, then make sure to attend Geffken’s presentation on Tuesday, Feb. 1 from 7-8 pm.
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Other Library Events
The library’s young readers will have the opportunity to connect with New York Times best-selling author/illustrator Jerry Craft. His graphic novel’s “New Kid” and “Class Act” have won him numerous awards including the Kirkus Prize, the Coretta Scott King Award, and the John Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature.
Craft was inspired to create his graphic novels based on his own experiences, and the experiences of his sons. “I make the books I wish I had when I was a kid,” Craft said. “Jordan Banks [the main character in ‘New Kid’] is a combination of my experience in high school where I was one of the few kids of color in a prestigious private school in Riverdale; and a lot of my two sons’ experiences from middle school.”
“Drew [the main character in ‘Class Act’] is more of a combination of a lot of kids who I grew up with, as well as kids who I see when I do school visits,” Craft said. “I like the two of them because they have a lot in common, but also a lot of differences.”
Craft will be discussing his graphic novels on February 22 at 4:30 pm for any students from grades 2-7 who want to digitally connect with him. He will be sharing his creative process as well as providing a drawing demonstration during the Q&A session. Sign-up here.
“The Library welcomes our young customers to a full line-up of Black History Month programming,” said Karen Telesco, system program coordinator, youth services. “Explore your musical side with an African drum circle at our Bound Brook, Bridgewater, Manville, and North Plainfield branches and discover a variety of instruments from West Africa and get ready to dance. Virtually learn stories of hope, triumph, and tragedy through storytelling in the African oral tradition virtually. There is a little something for everyone to explore.”
For a complete list of Black History Month programs and events, please visit https://sclsnj.org/