Celebrate Black History Month by touring these Jersey sites!
Did you know that the first African American to vote in the nation was from New Jersey? Our local area is packed with historical sites and monuments that echo some of the most amazing stories in Black History. So, check out these 4 places to visit this month and experience their significance in an up close and personal way.
Thomas Mundy Peterson Gravesite
The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution (1868) granted African Americans the rights of citizenship. However, this did not always translate into the ability to vote. Black voters were systematically turned away from state polling places. To combat this problem, Congress passed the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870.
Thomas Mundy Peterson, a Perth Amboy resident who became a school custodian a few years after slavery was abolished, became the first African-American to vote under the new Amendment. His vote was cast on March 31, 1870 just 1 month after the new Amendment passed.
To honor him, the citizens of Perth Amboy raised $70 ($2100 in 2021 dollars) to award him with the Abraham Lincoln Gold Medal.
A local elementary – the very one he worked at over a century ago – bears his name. In 2021, Middlesex County named its newest park along the waterfront in Perth Amboy Thomas Mundy Peterson Park.
In 1998, the state legislature declared March 31st as Thomas Mundy Peterson Day in New Jersey.
Location: 188 Rector St, Perth Amboy, NJ 08861
Hinchliffe Stadium is the first National Historic Landmark that honors baseball and the over 20 Hall of Famers that graced Hinchliffe’s grounds, many of whom played in the Negro Leagues.
It opened in 1932 and was home to the New York Black Yankees, New York Cubans, and on occasion, the Newark Eagles.
In 1942, future Hall of Famer Larry Doby, a graduate of Paterson’s Eastside High School made his debut at Hinchliffe Stadium & then graduated to the Major Leagues as a Cleveland Indian – the first African American player in the American League, just weeks after Jackie Robinson entered the National League.
Over the years, Hinchliffe was home to auto races and boxing, though its primary use was as a venue for Paterson high school sports. It closed in 1997 and deteriorated to the point of possible demolition…until the people of Paterson stepped in to restore it.
It became a Paterson Historic Landmark in May 2013. The same year, legislation was passed in Congress to include it in the Great Falls National Landmark District. Renovations began in 2021, and Hinchcliffe Stadium is now home to the New Jersey Jackals and will play their first games in May 2023.
Location: Liberty & Maple St Paterson, NJ 07505
Shady Rest Golf & Country Club
Originally built in the 1700s, the Ephraim Tucker Farmhouse later became the Westfield Country Club. On September 21, 1921, a group of black investors purchased the former Westfield Country Club and created the Shady Rest Golf and Country Club making it the first black owned and the first African American country club in the United States.
This private club was established to provide recreation and entertainment for all ages, and became a center for African American society at the time.
The dining room hosted some of the era’s most prominent musicians such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and the great Althea Gibson played tennis here. John Shippen, the first African-American professional golfer called this club home for many years and was the Club’s Pro. He golfed with legends like Teddy Rhodes, Bill Spiller and boxer Joe Louis.
In 1964, the township of Scotch Plains acquired Shady Rest Golf and Country Club. However, the main part of the old Shady Rest Clubhouse still remains.
Location: 820 Jerusalem Rd, Scotch Plains, NJ 07076
Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church and Mount Zion Cemetery
Founded in 1799, Mount Zion was a black church built on land set aside for a freed black settlement by anti-slavery Quakers.
The building was constructed in 1830s, and served as a stop on the Springtown Underground Rail Road route. The church still holds a trap door under the vestibule and is said to have been a hiding place for escaped slaves.
Two additions were later added to the rear of the church, providing a fellowship hall, restrooms and kitchen.
Once located in a rural setting, the building is now surrounded by track housing and a modern school and ball fields. The church was acknowledged as one of New Jersey’s endangered sites in 2005.
Location: 172 Garwin Road, Woolwich Township, New Jersey
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