Spotlight on Local African American HistoryPosted on March 21, 2019
Photo Caption: Montgomery Mayor Sadaf Jaffer (standing, center) and author Elaine Buck (right) joined the audience to watch “The History of the Slave Trade in Two Minutes”, a sombering video shown at Montgomery’s March 5th talk by Mills and Buck, authors of If These Stones Could Talk. It indicated by dots in time-lapsed video the paths of hundred and hundreds of ships carrying enslaved humans from Africa to the Americas beginning in the 1600s through the mid-1800s. Go to: https://youtu.be/ra6Bs_VpsBw
Montgomery, NJ – On March 5th speakers Elaine Buck and Beverly Mills presented their talk, “A Proud Heritage: The African American Contribution to the Sourland Region,” to a full courtroom at the Montgomery Township Municipal Building. Buck and Mills are the authors of a new book on local African American history titled, If These Stones Could Talk, which outlines the history of black settlers of the Sourland Mountains going back to the 1700’s. John Buck, the president of the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum Association, also joined the authors. They were introduced and assisted by Montgomery Mayor Sadaf Jaffer.
The local African American narrative dating back to colonial times was presented warmly but without sugar-coating, accompanied by gospel songs, slides, photographs, and fascinating stories. Buck and Mills highlighted the accomplishments of prominent African Americans who served in the military and the agricultural contributions of African Americans working as slaves on the plantations in Hopewell Valley. They discussed the work of African Americans in peach orchards, basket making factories, saw and grist mills, rock quarries and more. The construction of schools and churches by slave labor as well as entrepreneurial businesses owned by African Americans was detailed. The local history of African Americans was shared through photographs, information from county manumission papers, site location maps and oral histories.
Elaine Buck and Beverly Mills conducted a decade of research before writing If These Stones Could Talk. They are founding board members of the Stoutsburg Cemetery Association for 35 years. The cemetery, located in Montgomery on the north end of Provinceline Road, was purchased by three Black men in the early 19th century to bury African Americans with honor and dignity.
These authors named their book If These Stones Could Talk in part to reflect the ‘wall’ that they and other researchers often face when trying to trace African American heritage through historical records. Individual slaves were given the last name of the slave-holding family and sometimes were not even named at all. Unlike birth and death records of white citizens, the only records kept might be a household goods inventory or when the enslaved person was passed on as inheritance property. The speakers explained that their mission is to connect African American history to local and national history books, where they feel it is still largely absent from the most visible narratives of New Jersey’s and the nation’s past. They have also developed a Facebook page which enjoys a wide fan base called “Friday’s Memory” named after Beverly’s 4th great-grandfather who was brought to Hopewell from Charleston in the 18th century by his master, Reverend Oliver Hart. Beverly Mills is the first African American woman to hold the elected position of Councilwoman, Pennington Borough, and Elaine Buck is Church Clerk for the Second Calvary Baptist Church of Hopewell, NJ.
The talk was also timely in that the three speakers are integral to the process of creating the first museum of African American history in Central New Jersey here in Montgomery. The Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum (SSAAM) will be situated within the now empty African Methodist Episcopal Church on Hollow Road in Montgomery. The church is being restored and adjoining lands preserved through a partnership with the Township of Montgomery and Sourland Conservancy and D & R Greenway. Its purpose will be to preserve local African American history and culture in the Sourland Mountain region, as well as preserve and sponsor programs and events regarding the sourland’s unique ecology.
The talk was presented by One Montgomery, Montgomery Mosaic, and the Van Harlingen Historical Society.