The Business of the City: Miscellaneous

Monday, February 27, 2012

Union County's Black Soldiers and Sailors of the Civil War: Plainfield Connections

As one who teaches African American literature of the 19th and 20 century, I am excited to have another text about our too often overlooked history of the Civil War to add to my library. This past Sunday, the Historical Society of Plainfield (housed in the Drake House Museum in Plainfield's 4th Ward at 602 West Front Street) hosted a Black History Month exhibition and book signing reception featuring historian Ethel M. Washington, author of the new book, Union County's Black Soldiers and Sailors of the Civil War. ($19.99, published by The History Press, 2011).  

The book has several comprehensive appendices which list the names, birth/death dates, and military records of those who served in the war.  In her talk, Ethel spoke of the Plainfielders who served, many of whom are buried in the Baptist/Methodist Evergreen Cemetery (below), located on Plainfield Avenue between West 5th and 6th Streets.
Ethel, a longtime Plainfield resident, is the History Programs Coordinator for the Union County Office of Cultural and Heritage Affairs--her previous book, Union County Black Americans (Arcadia, 2004), highlights the contributions of African Americans to our county's history and heritage since its founding in the mid-19th century. I served with Ethel as a commissioner on the Plainfield Cultural and Heritage Commission, and remain awed by her wide-ranging knowledge of African American history and culture.  Her discussion of how she meticulously combed through numerous archives on her seven-year research journey, along the surprises she found along the way, was fascinating.

Here's a brief biography of Ethel as well--I am sure you will be impressed by the accomplishments of THIS brilliant Union County Black American and Plainfield resident!

"Ethel M. Washington is the history programs coordinator at the Union County Office of Cultural & Heritage Affairs. Ms. Washington established the African American Design Archive at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution, where she worked prior to assuming her current position. She is a founding board member and vice chair of the New Jersey Black Cultural & Heritage Foundation, Inc. She is a contributor to the Encyclopedia New Jersey, Union County 150th Anniversary Magazine and authored Union County Black Americans and the award-winning African American Design Archive brochure. She is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including induction into the Linden Historical Society's Hall of Fame, Union County Women of Excellence Award, Luminous Award and Raritan Valley Chapter of Links, Inc. She is a graduate of Central State University of Ohio and holds two master's degrees from Teachers College, Columbia University. She pursued doctoral studies at Rutgers University where she also earned a certificate in Museum Studies." 

Reprinted below is a description of Union County's Black Soldiers and Sailors of the Civil War from The History Press

"In Union County, New Jersey, many soldiers and sailors of African ancestry answered President Lincoln's call for troops during the Civil War, and enlisted in regiments organized in Union County, the United States Colored Troops (USCT), out-of-state-regiments and the United States Navy and Marine Corps. They fought not only for country, but also for their comrades in chains in the south and for the promise of equality that they had for so long been denied. Through their stories, never before seen photographs, documents and service records, local historian Ethel M. Washington tells a largely overlooked but riveting history of patriotic Black servicemen in the antebellum north, who defended the nation's ideals on the battlefield, even as they faced discrimination in the ranks and back home."

I hope you all will purchase the book--it is a "must-have" for anyone interested in Plainfield history, in New Jersey's history, and especially in the contributions made by African American New Jerseyans whose sacrifices remain largely unsung.

All best,


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Latino Action Network says YES to Marriage Equality!

Please read this press release from the Latino Action Network on its support for the "Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act.” Click here to read the bill. Labor leader (and Plainfield resident) Christian Estevez, who serves as the Executive Vice-President and Education Committee Chair of the Latino Action Network, has provided a link here for citizens to contact their Assembly representatives and urge them to vote “YES.” The press release is reproduced in its entirety below. Click here to be taken to the Latino Action Network's website.
Latino Action Network Announces Support 
For Marriage Equality

For Immediate Release: February 15, 2012
Frank Argote-Freyre, President – 908-670-0552
Christian Estevez, Executive Vice President – 973-418-7012

            The Latino Action Network [LAN] today announced its support for the Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act and urged quick passage by the State Legislature.

            “We congratulate the State Senate for passing the legislation on Monday and urge the Assembly to do the same tomorrow,” said Frank Argote-Freyre, President of the Latino Action Network. “Marriage Equality is an important civil rights issue and we believe it is long overdue in the state of New Jersey.”

            The members of the Latino Action Network believe that all people deserve equal rights under the law. The rights that are available to one group of people should be available to all people. These rights should extend to marriage. The right to marry the person you love should be available to everyone.
            "There should not be a double standard for same sex couples," added Argote-Freyre.

            The Latino Action Network was founded in 2009 to fight for political empowerment and defend civil rights.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Acrimony vs. Neighborliness

Jim, Rebecca, and John at library grounds cleanup
Even when there are political or ideological disagreements between neighbors, we can still come together for the good of our community.

I am writing regarding an issue that has come up over the past couple of weeks. It seems that civility and Plainfield are oxymorons in the minds of some Plainfield residents. The other night, a few members of the school board (Campbell, Edache, Hernandez, and Phifer) came to the special meeting of the City Council and a couple of them lambasted us (one very acrimoniously) for voting to move the school board election date from April to November. Let's get one thing straight--the election date is not "their" election date--the law provides for either entity (governing body or school board) to move the  date. The BOE members who appeared expressed a desire to have had a prior dialogue and discussion about the change, but it was clear that, aside from their anger about not being consulted, they didn't want the date changed. Even Wilma Campbell's husband, John, who exercised his right as a citizen to speak on the agenda item, didn't want the date changed--for reasons I am still not clear on (more on John later). Oddly as well, Alex Edache called the vote a "catfight"--although there was no fighting or even arguing of any kind--I don't know who was fighting. 

The only board member who attempted to reach out to me was Wilma Campbell, in the form of a cordial phone message--hardly a "cat fight." What was strange to me in the comments, however, was the extreme degree of acrimony directed at my colleague Adrian Mapp. All the council members seemed to be in agreement about the positive aspects of moving the election date, but Adrian was the only one singled out for the nasty-toned invective. Indeed, the council voted unanimously in favor of changing the date. I noted in my comments that the low turnout for Board of Education elections has long been a topic of conversation among members of our local (non-partisan) League of Women Voters organization--long before any of the current members were elected. To be accused of playing politics by people who never even spoke to me or shared their viewpoint about this issue is unfortunate and inaccurate--voter registration, education, and actually getting out the vote has been my mission since I was in my teens. 

What I found truly upsetting, though was the comment John Campbell (with whom I have always had a cordial relationship) made about Adrian speaking English with a Caribbean accent. First, there are many accents from the Caribbean--Dominican, Puerto Rican, Jamaican, Barbadian, etc. A huge number of children in our school system speak or have parents who speak with accents. To deride and disparage Adrian for the way he speaks was the most offensive thing I experienced the other night. To witness the contempt on the part of a school board member's husband for someone who speaks accented English made me wonder about other biases--the lack of sensitivity and the freely-expressed bias was stunning. I remember hearing another Plainfield resident come before the microphone and make outrageous comments about another group. This is not acceptable. What was truly sad was that no one from the board felt the need to apologize for the remarks that John made on behalf of "our" children. 

Criticism on issues is certainly fair, but to just deride is a waste of time and suggests that something else is afoot.

All best,



Tuesday, February 7, 2012

National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

Changing the Course of HIV/AIDS, 

 Today--Tuesday, February 7, 2012--is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. Black people continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS, and today is a day that we can use to talk about HIV/AIDS. Below is a quote from Healthy Black Communities, Inc., on this year's initiative, along with startling information about shrinking resources and support for this continuing health crisis in the black community.

"For 2012, the structure and dynamics of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day was shattered as the support and resources dwindled causing many organizations to reconsider their commitment and ability to manage and direct the initiative as in the past. So, Healthy Black Communities, Inc. with its experience in overseeing the initiative and serving as the lead opted to incorporate it into its organization structure and continue mobilizing Black communities around HIV/AIDS. In addition, the organization is rebuilding the structure to develop a national planning body, regional planning bodies and local planning groups to assist with reigniting the fire within Black community stakeholders to make it a success."

The motto, as always, is: Get educated. Get tested. Get involved. Get treated!

All best,