WESTFIELD, NJ — From a slave auction site located in Downtown Westfield during the 18th and 19th centuries to the formation of Bethel Baptist Church and the contributions of Langston Hughes and Paul Robeson, African Americans have long been a part of Westfield’s history — but have often been overlooked.
Earlier this week, that changed as the town announced a walking and online tour of prominent Westfield sites in African American history. The African American History Committee of Westfield 300, which is celebrating the town’s 300th anniversary with a series of happenings, organized the tour and researched the history.
“Of all the events that we’ve hosted this year, to commemorate our 300th anniversary it’s this one: acknowledging the important contributions of African Americans to Westfield’s history, which feels the most significant and personal to me,” said Mayor Shelley Brindle, at Tuesday’s ceremony during which officials announced the self-guided walking tour.
“Perhaps it’s because it’s the first time we’ve done so. Perhaps it’s because it comes at a time when our country and our community are facing our own racial reckoning against the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement.”
Brindle said she hopes the acknowledgement could be “a critical step forward towards becoming the anti-racist inclusive community that I know that we aspire to be.”
Donnell Carr, leader of the Westfield 300 African American History Subcommittee and also a Westfield 300 steering committee member, was among people at the ceremony to describe the walking tour and historical booklet, “African Americans in Westfield, New Jersey from 1720 - 2020,” as a starting point.
“What this tour is about is telling at least some of the story and by just telling a tidbit here and there will perhaps excite and inspire some to explore more deeply this story — the ultimate benefit being a better understanding of the depth and the breadth and the magnanimity of a human family and a deeper appreciation of the richness of the human experience whether African or Asian or European, whether native American or immigrant, whatever and wherever our origins, we are all part of one human family,” Carr said. “And we must each of us must, each of us must, avoid the tempting argument that my skin is better than yours.”
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The historic narrative and maps are being made available in various formats including the following:
A free booklet with an abbreviated history can be picked up at Ahrre’s Coffee Roastery, 104 Elm Street. In addition, the first 100 participants will receive a complimentary cup of coffee to take along on the journey, courtesy of the African American History Committee.
The digital tour booklet can be downloaded and printed from the Westfield 300 website at or here on the website of the Westfield Historical Society. A timeline of African American History in Westfield can be accessed at this link.
The walking tour is also available on the location-driven interactive history map website and mobile application, The Clio. Members of the public can follow the tour by downloading the free app and then searching for “African American History in Westfield Walking Tour,” or by accessing the tour on the Clio website at www.theclio.com/tour/1585.
Robert Wendel, Westfield’s town historian, said it was critical that the African American story in Westfield be told from its beginning.
“One of the hopes that I have is that this year we will have the answers to not repeat the problems of the past or the issues of the past, but that we take what we’ve learned from the past and move forward into the future for a better town and a better country,” Wendel said.
Email Matt Kadosh at firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: @MattKadosh
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