July 4th is nearly upon us, so I’ve been interested by patriotic actions which might be enjoyable for the entire household: fireworks, parades, barbecues, tearing down statues, the entire gamut. I imply, if we’re going to have a good time the nation, let’s have a good time what’s good about it, not 400-plus years of slavery, brutality and racism. There’s just one drawback – there aren’t any statues in Montclair to tear down. I checked.
Not solely are there no Accomplice monuments (which you’d anticipate since New Jersey fought in opposition to the insurrectionists within the Civil Battle), however there are hardly any statues, interval. There’s considered one of Yogi Berra on the Yogi Berra Museum at Montclair State, however that’s not in Montclair. Nearly none of MSU is in Montclair, which is why it needs to be known as Montclair Adjoining State College, however that’s a subject for one more column.
The statue on the high of the column in Edgemont Park is Winged Victory, whereas the figures on the backside are some Doughboys (not the Pillsbury form – it’s a World Battle I memorial). Other than that, all we’ve are some crappy plaques, together with one that claims (roughly) “George Washington slept right here” and one other that claims that Basic Lafayette stood there.
However lest we get too smug about the entire “we had been with the Union” factor, you need to know New Jersey was the final northern state to finish slavery, solely fully eliminating it in 1866. In 1804 the Legislature handed a regulation charmingly titled “The Gradual Abolition of Slavery Regulation,” however that solely freed enslaved kids after they reached the age of 21 (girls) or 25 (males). Any adults remained in bondage. Which means on the primary Juneteenth, in 1865, there have been nonetheless legally enslaved folks in New Jersey.
However hey, that’s Jersey, we dwell in built-in, liberal Montclair.
Yeah, about that…
There may not have been “Whites Solely” indicators wherever, however this city was segregated. Properly into the Nineteen Sixties, Montclair had neighborhoods and companies that had been de facto off limits to Black folks. Among the many companies had been the Bellevue Theatre and Bond’s Ice Cream on Valley Street in Higher Montclair. (They made an exception for Black members of the soccer crew.)
The primary Black residents of Montclair had been right here in opposition to their will, together with the enslaved folks owned by Israel Crane, whose 1796 home is the focus of the Montclair Historical past Heart. That home is an embodiment of our difficult historical past. Within the Nineteen Twenties it was offered and have become the house of the Montclair YWCA, the one unbiased African American department of the segregated YWCA, established and run by a neighborhood of profitable, middle-class African American girls.
You’ve heard of HBCUs (Traditionally Black Schools and Universities)? Our Fourth Ward, created by segregation and redlining, is a historic Black neighborhood, an incubator and residential for profitable African American households. That neighborhood made Montclair what it’s, however right this moment it’s being whittled away by the forces of gentrification and improvement, as a result of, you understand, cash.
And whereas we’re celebrating historical past on July 4th, take a break from grilling meat and blowing issues up and think about the Lenni Lenape, the unique inhabitants of this space, who had been pushed out or killed by European invaders and forcibly eliminated to Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Canada.
Besides not all. The Lenni Lenape are nonetheless right here. There are three Lenape communities in New Jersey, together with the Ramapough Lenape Nation, whose homeland as soon as prolonged from the Raritan River to Albany. Brookdale Park is assumed to have been the location of considered one of their seasonal campgrounds.
In 2019, the Presbyterian Church transferred the deed to a church in Stony Level, New York, to the Sweetwater Cultural Heart, an Indigenous-led group related to the Ramapough. Now, I’m not saying we should always give Brookdale Park again to the Lenape, however what in regards to the pickleball concession? Nonetheless an excessive amount of?
OK, child steps. Let’s begin with a land acknowledgment, a proper assertion recognizing that all of us dwell (and play pickleball) on Lenape land. Montclair Adjoining State College has taken the primary steps to try this for his or her campus, that means we’re getting proven up, as soon as once more! Now, when ought to we do it? How about Indigenous Folks’s Day, Oct. 10, 2022? Perhaps we may even have fireworks.
As for the statues, since we don’t have any to tear down, possibly we should always put some up. We may begin with Alice Hooe Foster, first African American graduate of Montclair Excessive, graduate of Howard College and founding father of the native YWCA. Or possibly Mary Hayes Allen, who led a profitable protest that stopped the exhibiting of “Beginning of a Nation” on the Clairidge after which the Bellevue.
Statues received’t cease the continuing destruction of the city’s historic character, however at the least they are going to remind us of what we’re shedding. And we received’t need to tear them down.
Richie Chevat is a author, activist and Montclair resident for greater than 30 years. He’s the creator of the comedian sci-fi novel “Price Me Purple,” the play “Who Wants Males?” and the younger reader model of “A Queer Historical past of america,” amongst different works. He can usually be seen working errands round city on his bike.