On Saturday, October 10, 2009, Bergen County, NJ celebrated what is certainly the first monument to the Africans who perished during the Middle Passage in NJ. In fact, it may be a completely unique local memorial-stone in the entire United States. Earlier this year the Bergen County branch of People's Organization for Progress, together with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Observance Committee of Bergen County convinced the County Executive, the Board of Chosen Freeholders and the county's African American Advisory Committee of the need for such a monument. In April it was placed on the Court House lawn. It shares the northwest corner with similar monuments to the Armenian Genocide, The Irish Potato Famine, and the Nazi Holocaust.
Lawrence Hamm, state Chairman of POP, along with other speakers spoke extensively about the history of slavery in NJ and its legal abolition after the Civil War. "Many people don't know that the NJ State Assembly voted to nullify Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, even though it didn't apply to New Jersey. The Emancipation Proclamation was a Union Army recruitment document and only freed slaves in the area under Confederate rule and then only those who escaped bondage and joined the Army of the Republic," Hamm informed the crowd at the Court House. Larry also discussed Perth Amboy and Camden's roles as major slave ports, "larger at one time than the Port of Charlestown in South Carolina!" Chairman Hamm also linked the struggles of African people in the U.S. to slavery's origins with the voyages of "Admiral of the Ocean Seas" Christopher Columbus, as the country began this Columbus Day weekend.
The crowd responded enthusiastically to Larry and all the speakers. There were also cultural presentations by local poets, spoken-word artists and musicians. Clif Arrington and Margaret White, Chair and Co-Chair of POP's Bergen County Branch, introduced other speakers including the former Bergen County Chairman of the NAACP, other Hackensack-area clergy, and others who spoke with intense passion about both the struggles of African-Americans in Bergen County history, the struggle to erect this monument and the ongoing battles for Peace, Justice, and Freedom.
This wan't simply a memorial event, it was an educational and agitational forum as well: Participants promoted a variety of upcoming events including POP's Sesquicentennial Celebration of the Harpers Ferry Raid and the Legacy of John Brown this coming Thursday evening in Newark.
The plaque on the new memorial stone at the Bergen County Court House reads (in part):
"In memory of the millions of African people who perished during the Middle Passage, suffered the horrors of slavery, and endured the inhumanity of racial segregation.
We also remember the heroes who have struggled and continued to work for freedom, peace and justice."
As both this commemorative monument and the ceremony on Saturday indicate, the Struggle Continues!!!