A new exhibition in Morristown explores 300 years of race relation in New Jersey through the lens of Morris County, New Jersey. This is the first comprehensive exhibition to trace the sometimes fraught history of the relationship between blacks and whites in Morris County. It traces early days of slavery to visits from civil rights pioneers including Frederick Douglas, Booker T. Washington, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The exhibition, The Ties That Bind: How Race Relations Shapes Morris County and New Jersey, 1688-2018, asks visitors to take a hard look at the history of race relations in the past and consider ways of moving forward in the current climate of racial tension in America.
The exhibition is now on view at The Morristown & Morris Township Library’s F.M. Kirby Gallery through January 5. Organized by the Bethel Church of Morristown and curated by Claudia Ocello of Museum Partners Consulting, the exhibition frames race relations through topics including religion, education, and housing.
Pastor Dr. Sidney Williams of the Bethel Church of Morristown, a driving force behind the creation of this exhibition has said, “Before I came to Morristown in November of 2010, I served in a missionary in Cape Town, South Africa. There, I learned before justice is ever possible, we must first focus on truth and reconciliation. I have been trying to find ways to bring this information and knowledge to the Morristown community.” This exhibition is one of his efforts.
Drawing on resources from the North Jersey History Center at The Morristown & Morris Township Library, Drew University Archives, and recently conducted oral histories, the exhibition takes an unflinching look at the relationship between blacks and whites in Morris County.
At the height of slavery in Morris County, 856 enslaved blacks were recorded in 1810 and there were still slaves living in New Jersey, including one in Morris County at the outbreak of the Civil War. An 1846 New Jersey law abolished slavery ONLY for those born after 1846, other enslaved blacks became “apprentices for life.” The exhibition includes examples of runaway slave advertisements from Morris County newspapers as well as the efforts of local abolitionists.
Tracing tensions between blacks and whites right through 2018, the exhibition includes instances of racial tensions coming to a boil such as protests in the 1960s when a Madison barber shop refused to cut a black man’s hair. The exhibition also highlights instances of cooperation and support between blacks and whites. For example, Morristown schools were integrated in 1884, years before the Supreme Court issued its “separate but equal” ruling.
The exhibition is meant to provoke viewers to consider questions about the issues surrounding race relations starting with “How can cooperation and collaboration today uplift everyone?” and ending with “How far are you willing to go to activate change within the ties of our communities?” A series of takeaway cards provide concrete actions that visitors can take from donating food and clothing to joining a group to end modern day slavery encourages people to leave not just with thoughts about what they have seen, but concrete actions that they can take.
Curator Claudia Ocello said, “I hope the exhibit content and images open people's eyes to untold stories, open their minds to diverse perspectives, and open their hearts to action towards all of us getting along better. The questions in the exhibition and on the take away cards are meant as catalysts; sometimes we need a nudge to get moving and thinking and talking with others.”
The exhibition is on view now through January 5, 2019 at the F.M. Kirby Gallery on the second floor of The Morristown & Morris Township Library. The library is open daily and the exhibition is free and fully accessible, visit www.jpfl.org for daily hours. The exhibition was made possible with the support of the Friends of the Morristown & Morris Township Library and the Morris County Heritage Commission. The exhibit is made possible by a grant from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, a state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.