RED BANK, NJ: The New Jersey chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and the T. Thomas Fortune Foundation are pleased to announce that the Red Bank home of T. Thomas Fortune, one of the most influential black journalists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, has been named a National Historic Site in Journalism by the Society of Professional Journalists.
"We were so happy to hear this news, and we hope this national designation will help the people at the T. Thomas Fortune Foundation with their invaluable work of resurrecting the legacy of an important black journalist who, sadly, has been largely forgotten,’’ said Miriam Ascarelli, president of the New Jersey chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. “This is one of those under-reported stories that needs to be told.''
Fortune was co-owner and editor of The New York Age, one of the leading black newspapers of his day. He used his newspaper as a vehicle to speak out against lynching, black disenfranchisement and other injustices and to nurture important black voices like those of Ida B. Wells and W.E.B DuBois.
“I’m thrilled that finally T. Thomas Fortune is getting the accolades that he so well deserved, including this national honor," said Gilda Rogers, vice president of the T. Thomas Fortune Foundation.
Fortune had a home in Red Bank, N.J., where he lived from 1901 to 1910. His vision helped create one of the most inclusive middle-class communities for immigrants and African Americans, defying the prevailing era of racial segregation nationwide, said Walter D. Greason, a Monmouth University professor of education and the president of the T. Thomas Fortune Foundation.
“Fortune’s vision of a multi-racial democracy inspired thousands of people around the United States in the creation and the expansion of towns like Red Bank between 1881 and 1920,’’ Greason said. “Before the Great Migration and the Harlem Renaissance, his words laid the foundation for the world we know today.”
Over the years, Fortune’s Red Bank home – which he called Maple Hall – gradually fell into disrepair and was in danger of being torn down.
Maple Hall was saved from the wrecking ball in 2016, thanks to the efforts of local activists and developer Roger Mumford, who came up with a plan to restore the house and convert it to a cultural center and to build 31 luxury apartments in the style of the home in the back of the property. The restored home, at 94 Drs. James Parker Blvd., re-opened as the T. Thomas Fortune Cultural Center this spring.
Maple Hall was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 and the New Jersey Register in 1979. In 2016, NJ SPJ named the T. Thomas Fortune House to its then newly established state Registry of Historic Sites in Journalism. Earlier this year, the New Jersey chapter nominated the T. Thomas Fortune House for national recognition. The efforts paid off, and the SPJ national headquarters announced the Fortune House's national designation last week.
This is the second New Jersey site to receive SPJ’s National Historic Sites in Journalism designation. The first, the Union Hotel in Flemington, was added to SPJ’s registry in 2018. The hotel served as a media hub for journalists who came from around the world in January 1935 to cover the Lindbergh baby kidnap-murder trial at the Hunterdon County Courthouse across the street.
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