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Rutgers looks to confront slave-owning past, renames 3 different sites

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October 27 ceremony at The Yard @ College Avenue. Credits: Daniel J. Munoz
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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Rutgers dedicated three sites in its campus to African Americans who were involved with the university’s history, in an effort to reconcile with its’ slave-owning past.

One of the sites, the apartments at The Yard @ College Ave, formerly known as the College Avenue Apartments, were dedicated to slave abolitionist Sojourner Truth, who as a child, was owned by Rutgers’ first president.

The walkway from Old Queens building to Voorhees Mall ​i​s ​now ​dedicated as Will’s Way, after an enslaved man who helped lay the foundation of Old Queens in 1808.

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Lastly, Kilmer Library Area on Livingston Campus in Piscataway was renamed the James Dickson Carr Library, after Rutgers’ first African-American graduate.

The three dedications were made at a ceremony on October 27 in the lawn of The Yard @ College Ave. The ceremony include​d​ a libation, similar to those in African cultures, in which water was poured on Will’s Way for the three honorees, a reading of Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise” and a performance of “Life Every Voice and Sing” by the student-choir, the Liberated Gospel Choir, ending with a ringing of the 200-year​-​old Old Queens Bell.

The name changes followed a recommendation by the Rutgers-New Brunswick Committee on Enslaved and Disenfranchised Populations in Rutgers History, which spearheaded the Scarlet Black Project in a move to examine the university’s ties to slavery and the displacement of Native Americans.

They were approved by the Rutgers Board of Governors at ​its' February meeting.

At the ceremony, Rutgers-New Brunswick Chancellor Deba Dutta highlighted the importance of reflecting upon a dark segment of its own history.

“The dedications will help the university take the next step in its reconciliation with this history,” Dutta said. “Will, Sojourner Truth and James Dickson Carr deserve their place alongside the other historic figures memorialized on our campus.”

As part of the changes, Will’s Way was marked with a sign near the center of the walkway, along with a plaque at the north-facing door of Old Queens. Inside the lobby will be a copy of the 1808 accounting book detailing the college’s payment for Will’s labor to his owner.

The James Dickson Carr Library will hold an archival gradebook on display, which features his grades throughout his time at Rutgers.

During October and November, Rutgers students who’ve been taking part in the Public History Internship Program will lead Scarlet and Black historical walking tours on the College Avenue Campus.

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