Bethel Othello African Methodist Episcopal Church in Greenwich Twp.
The Bethel Othello African Methodist Episcopal Church in Springtown, N.J., has been documented as a stop on the Underground Railroad.
Adam Monacelli, Cherry Hill Courier-Post
VINELAND — Just shy of two years after it was officially proposed, a South Jersey legislator’s idea to create a “Black Heritage Trail” spanning the state is law in New Jersey.
Gov. Phil Murphy on Wednesday signed a version of legislation state Assemblyman Antwan L. McClellan introduced in September 2020. McClellan, R-1st District, also was a primary sponsor of the slightly revised version of the bill introduced in February.
“From Ocean City’s former segregated Westside to Cape May’s new Harriet Tubman Museum, there are so many sites and stories that testify to our state’s important Black history,” McClellan said after the signing. “This trail will highlight Black abolitionists, veterans, artists, entertainers, and other leaders who have made their indelible marks on New Jersey’s history and deserve to be recognized and celebrated.”
McClellan is the first African-American elected to the General Assembly to represent Atlantic, Cape May, and Cumberland counties. He took his seat in Trenton in 2020.
Other South Jersey legislators joining him included state Sen. Troy Singleton, D-7, of Burlington County, and Sen. Michael L. Testa Jr., also R-1, from Cumberland County.
“Black heritage and history has, for far too long, gone underrepresented, and untold despite our contributions to industry, culture and arts,” Singleton said.
“This trail will salute the accomplishments of so many African people and their descendants who have contributed significantly to the fabric of New Jersey history for almost four centuries,” Testa said.
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Under the law, the state will identify sites, link them “by relevant arts, cultural, historical, entertainment, or other tourism destinations,” and publish the information. An interactive Internet site is included in the plan, which has $1 million funding.
Other potential inclusions on the trail include New Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Vineland, Cumberland County and Timbuctoo Village in Westampton Township, Burlington County.
New Bethel AME Church was founded 150 years ago, not long after the city itself.
Timbuctoo Village was started about 1826 as a Black community. Today, it consists of about 18 homes in an area of about 50 acres.
Joe Smith is a N.E. Philly native transplanted to South Jersey more than 30 years ago, keeping an eye now on government in South Jersey. He is a former editor and current senior staff writer for The Daily Journal in Vineland, Courier-Post in Cherry Hill, and the Burlington County Times.
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