fortune-house2011Red Bank’s T. Thomas Fortune House, pictured in a 2011 file photo, is the subject of an ongoing effort to rescue and preserve the property as a community cultural center. (photo by Dustin Racioppi)

From press materials furnished by T. Thomas Fortune Preservation Project

It’s one of only 57 National Historic Landmarks in the state of New Jersey — one of just two related to African American history. Yet for years, the Red Bank property known as the T. Thomas Fortune House has sat boarded up; deemed uninhabitable — even unfit for showing to prospective purchasers — in its current condition.

Here in 2013, an organization known as the T. Thomas Fortune Preservation Project seeks to acquire, stabilize and restore the home at 94 Drs. James Parker Boulevard (formerly Bergen Place), with the aim of developing the Second Empire-style structure into a cultural center that will celebrate the legacy of such borough-based leaders in the arts and community service as William “Count” Basie and the Parker family.

Working in partnership with the Red Bank Men’s Club Foundation and the leadership of the National Landmarks Alliance and Garden State Legacy, the Preservation Project describes its membership as “a group of educators, architects, writers, attorneys, performance artists, and more who have come together to share the legacy of an outstanding figure in American history, for the benefit of all.”

TTFT. Thomas Fortune is pictured during his career as a prominent journalist and newspaper editor, with his home on the former Bergen Place pictured in an undated photo.

A nationally known critic of the rise of Jim Crow and the failure of Reconstruction in the wake of the Civil War, Timothy Thomas Fortune edited and published three Afro American (a term he popularized) newspapers with a national circulation during his career. Born a slave in Florida, and renowned in his time in his time for his agitation, education, and organization skills over a span of roughly 50 years (1880-1928), Fortune organized the first convention of the Afro-American League — considered to be a precursor to the NAACP. At his passing, he was eulogized as the Dean of Black Journalism. He resided in the Red Bank house that bears his name between 1901 and 1911.

Most recently owned and operated by the Vaccarelli family as a bakery, the property was put up for sale in 2007, around the time of its Historic Landmark designation. In a 2011 story that appeared here on redbankgreen, George Bowden of the borough’s Historic Preservation Commission observed that “Fortune as an individual, as a personality, that’s what we’re interested in. The design and the condition of the house is secondary.”

In a press release, the T. Thomas Fortune Preservation Project stated that “We are seeking funds to hold a Spring Symposium that includes scholars in Fortune’s fields of journalism and civil rights, who will speak and discuss the significance of Fortune in American History and the importance of preserving his legacy at a local venue. Donations are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law through the Red Bank Men’s Club Foundation. Further info, email:”

The Project encourages interested individuals to “Become a Fan Fundraiser” by “personalizing your own fundraising page and  sharing your story with your friends.” Go here for more details.