RED BANK: $100K PLEDGE FOR FORTUNE HOUSE

rb fortune house 2 061213A volunteer group hopes to acquire the onetime home of pioneering human rights journalist T. Thomas Fortune for use as a cultural center. Below, an undated photo of Fortune.  (Photo above by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

Timothy_Thomas_FortuneA slow-building effort launched eight years ago to save a historic Red Bank structure from the wrecking ball has gotten a jolt of adrenaline.

A donor has pledged $100,000 to the effort to acquire and revitalize the onetime home of pioneering African-American journalist T. Thomas Fortune, redbankgreen has learned.

rb greason 021014 3Donor and Monmouth University economics professor Walter Greason at a symposium on racial equality held in Red Bank in February, 2014.  (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

The pledge came from the International Center for Metropolitan Growth, a private consulting business owned by Monmouth University economics professor Walter Greason of Manalapan and an unnamed partner.

The donation is contingent on the nonprofit T. Thomas Fortune Project reaching a deal to acquire the long vacant and crumbling house, on Drs. James Parker Boulevard, Greason told redbankgreen.

The project has proposed buying the house from its longtime owners, the Vaccarelli family, and turning it into a cultural center that honors not only Fortune but the concepts of tolerance and justice, said Gilda Rogers, a spokeswoman for the project.

The ICMG pledge “is a good sign that maybe this can happen,” Rogers said. “Maybe people will see it more seriously.”

Timothy Thomas Fortune, born into slavery in Florida in 1856, became a champion of civil rights and racial integration through his pioneering journalism. Greason said Fortune deserves wider recognition for “the best brand of investigative journalism of the 19th century, investigating the actual facts of hundreds of lynchings in the 1880s and 1890s.” He’s often credited with coining the term “African-American.”

Fortune owned the three-story, Second Empire-style house  from 1901 to 1911, when it was sold at a sheriff’s sale. He died in Philadelphia in 1928.

Because Fortune lived there and entertained W.E.B DuBois, Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey and other leading lights of the post-Civil War drive for equal rights for African-Americans, the site is on the National Register of Historic Places as well as New Jersey’s historic list..

The house was cited as one of the “Ten Most Endangered” historic sites in New Jersey in 2006, sparking local efforts to save it.

Last year, the Vaccarelli family initiated steps that would have led to a demolition, but were thwarted by borough officials.

Rogers said the Fortune project has had encouraging discussions with state officials about the possible use of Green Acres money to acquire and restore the house. The next step is to persuade the Vaccarelli family to allow the state to obtain property appraisals, she said, and hopes to get a meeting with family representatives in coming weeks.