CAPE MAY COUNTY’S DYNAMIC BLACK HISTORY
Cape May County, NJ 02/05/2023
Black Americans have a rich history in Cape May County, including the Black settlement in Whitesboro, Harriet Tubman’s residency here in the 1850s, and several vibrant organizations.
The county did not escape the scourge of slavery and according to cumberlandcountynj.gov, there were 141 enslaved persons in the county in 1790, dwindling to three by the mid-1800s. Over the years, Blacks from here and elsewhere were able to make progress and, of course, the struggle continues on the shoulders of the forebearers.
Whitesboro is a stand-out among Black communities in the nation. Located within Middle Township, the all-Black community was established in 1901, as a reaction to rampant racism. Its founders include the Rev. J.W, Fishburn, members of the Cape May African Methodist Episcopal Church as well as investors led by Congressman George White of North Carolina. White and his investors purchased 2,000 acres in what is now Whitesboro and sold 50-foot by 150-foot lots to Blacks for about $5 per lot. In less than a decade, the town had two churches, a school, a railroad station, a post office, and a hotel. The school and First Baptist Church still stand in Whitesboro.
Now, Concerned Citizens is engaged in a street marker project. The markers will feature biographical information on some of the founders and notable fore-families of Whitesboro.
For more information about this history, please click this link https://www.concernedcitizensofwhitesboro.com.
For information on upcoming events and educational materials, this month, CLICK HERE.
UNION BETHEL CEMETERY
Near Seashore and Tabernacle roads in Erma, stands the Union Bethel Cemetery, marked by a sign which says “Union Bethel Civil War Veterans Cemetery.” The gravestones name several Blacks buried there and dates back to 1834. But it may be older than that. Not much is known about it and the cemetery deserves more research.
For information, as well as the names on the headstones, visit the cemetery information on INTERNMENT.NET
Among the county’s most notable residents is Harriet Tubman. She lived here in the 1850s and worked as a cook in homes and hotels, using the money she earned to support the Underground Railroad.
On Juneteenth 2021, the Harriet Tubman Museum opened at 632 Lafayette Street in Cape May. It contains artifacts from her time here.
Located at the corner of Lafayette and Franklin Streets is Freedom’s Corner which includes the home of wealthy abolitionist and industrialist Stephen Smith, the Harriet Tubman Museum, Franklin Street School, and the AME Church.
It also is the site of the Banneker House, a Black hotel, owned by Thomas Dorsey and Smith. Among its guests were the legendary civil rights activist and educator, Octavius Catto. He was also an athlete and worked out strategies for baseball games from the beach in Cape May. For more info, please CLICK HERE.
The area’s enduring civil rights organization, the NAACP, is holding its 3rd Annual Freedom Fund Gala on March 11, 2023, at the Wildwoods Convention Center, 4501 Boardwalk, Wildwood. Take a look at their facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/cmcnaacp/ for information on membership, events, and a variety of interesting committees including those addressing education, political action, and legal redress.
Check organizations and libraries for events such as this one:
The Cape May County Prosecutor’s office is sponsoring a community forum called “Stop The Hate,” at 5 p.m. Feb. 8, at the Middle Township Performing Arts Center, 212 Bayberry Drive, Cape May Court House.
The forum is free. Register at this link: https://www.cmcpros.net/news/article/641