Red Bank resident Suubi Mondesir was honored earlier this month at a fundraiser for the T. Thomas Fortune House for significant contributions to save the historic home of the 19th-century journalist and civil rights activist.
Not so many months ago, the T. Thomas Fortune House in Red Bank was a place whose own fortunes were in doubt, prior to the announcement of a development deal (reported here in redbankgreen) that set the deteriorating structure on the path to a new life as a community resource “dedicated to human rights, journalistic integrity, (and) advancement for all people.”
The announcement was certainly a happy one for the volunteers of the T. Thomas Fortune Project Committee — and on Thursday, May 25, the nonprofit entity hosts “a festive night out to celebrate the rebirth, now underway, of the National Historic Landmark and support the opening of our soon to be T. Thomas Fortune Cultural Center,” as well as the legacy of the pioneering 19th century African American journalist T. Thomas Fortune.
The Eastern Branch of the Monmouth County Library in Shrewsbury hosts an exhibit about Red Bank’s T. Thomas Fortune House, seen here during a student tour in July. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)
Press release from T. Thomas Fortune Project Committee
The fourth annual T. Thomas Fortune Birthday Celebration (a fundraiser hosted recently at the Oyster Point Hotel under the title “Fortune . . . Telling the Truth”) kicked off a string of events to highlight the restoration of the T. Thomas Fortune House, a National Historic Landmark, into the T. Thomas Fortune Cultural Center.
While the community-forum series that she’s moderated at Red Bank Public Library just observed its one-year anniversary, Gilda Rogers is scarcely the first Red Banker to issue the invitation “Let’s Talk About Race.” That distinction may go to T. Thomas Fortune (1856-1928), the onetime slave turned pioneer black editor-publisher and crusading journalist — and this Wednesday evening, September 28, Fortune’s former home (on what’s now Drs. James Parker Boulevard) is the focus of a special discussion on the man named Fortune, and the ongoing efforts to recognize and represent his life’s work to the community.
Regular readers of redbankgreen‘s paperless pages have no doubt followed the story of the T. Thomas Fortune House, the National Historic Site that has fallen into a serious state of disrepair in recent years — along with a newly floated proposal to rehabilitate the deteriorating structure as a public-welcome community center, and centerpiece of a residential apartment development. During Wednesday’s 7 p.m. presentation in the library’s downstairs meeting room, attendees will be brought up to speed on the details of the plan, and how such a resource can best honor the legacy of the activist who was credited as “being the bridge to the modern day Civil Rights Movement.”
Regular readers of redbankgreen have been kept abreast of the campaign to rescue and restore the T. Thomas Fortune House, the historic site that was once home to the pioneering African American journalist and publisher whose name adorns the property on Drs. James Parker Boulevard. While much work remains to be done toward the goal of transforming the boarded-up 19th century home into an educational and cultural center, a group of Monmouth County neighbors is also engaged in making the long-deceased Mr. Fortune into a still-vital presence; one with a message to convey to contemporary community members of all ages and backgrounds.
This Saturday afternoon, September 17, Red Bank’s Calvary Baptist Church will be the setting for another in a regularly scheduled series of meetings by the African American Genealogy Group. Beginning at 1 p.m., it’s a special edition of the event that takes place on the third Saturday of each month.
Left to right: Citizens for a Diverse and Open Society founders Gilda Rogers and Sid Bernstein were joined by performing artist and writer Lorraine Stone as special guests of the Summer Slam program at Red Bank Regional High School.
Press release from Red Bank Regional High School
During the height of summer, the Red Bank Regional High School building is a busy place, with a myriad of educational programming designed to better prepare its students for September. As the largest of those activities, Summer Slam saw 110 students attending a four-week session (operated by school-based youth services program The SOURCE) which infuses academic topics (Math, English, Science, Global Studies) with special events like an athletic team-building challenge coordinated by The Community YMCA, as well as visits from influential community members.
This summer’s two-time guest speaker was educator, author and community activist Gilda Rogers of Red Bank, who during her first visit introduced the students to the ongoing project to renovate the historic T. Thomas Fortune House. She returned the next day to discuss ways students could combat racism; accompanying Gilda for that second meeting was Sid Bernstein of Lincroft, a retired businessman with whom she co-founded the group Citizens for a Diverse and Open Society (CDOS).
Red Bank regulars know her from many different settings, and wearing many figurative hats — from faculty member at Red Bank Regional and coordinator of special community outreach initiatives for Two River Theater, to local talk show host, and onetime proprietor of Frank Talk Art Bistro, a much-missed Shrewsbury Avenue storefront that was as delightfully difficult to summarize as the woman who put her stamp on it.
Writer, activist and producer Gilda Rogers remains very visible around Red Bank in the coming days, beginning with an appearance at the Red Bank Public Library on Wednesday, July 13. Scheduled for 7 p.m., it’s the latest event in the library’s monthly Author Talk series; a session that finds the author of “Arrested Development: The State of Black Achievement and Education in Hip Hop America” discussing her debut as a dramatist, with a work entitled “Supernatural: The Play.”
The documentary feature AUGUST WILSON: THE GROUND ON WHICH I STAND receives a free public-welcome screening on August 19 at Two River Theater. The 7:30 pm event is just part of a slate of special happenings keyed to the Two River production of Wilson’s SEVEN GUITARS, opening September 12 as the first show in the new season.
Press release from The T. Thomas Fortune Project
A free documentary film screening, a Birthday Bash fundraiser for a celebrated figure in Red Bank history, a lecture on the legacy of a great American playwright. All this, plus a Soulful Cook-Off and a Bid Whist Tournament — and all of it keyed to the opening of Seven Guitars, the first production of the new 2015-2016 season at Two River Theater.
The latest in Two River Theater Company’s series of dramas written by August Wilson, Seven Guitars goes up in previews on September 12; opening on September 18 and running a limited engagement through October 4 under the direction of frequent TRTC lead actor Brandon J. Dirden. As an appetizer for that main course, the theater invites one and all to a free screening of August Wilson: The Ground on Which I Stand, on the evening of Wednesday, August 19. Scheduled for 7:30 pm inside the main Rechnitz auditorium at Two River, the documentary feature (originally produced as part of the PBS series American Masters) offers an inside look at the Tony- and Pulitzer winning dramatist who examined African American life in the 20th century through his home turf of Pittsburgh’s Hill District. While admission is free of charge, seating must be reserved by calling the box office at (732)345-1400.
The T. Thomas Fortune Project Committee is reminding all Red Bank area residents that on Friday June 12, the nonprofit organization will host a gala fundraiser at the Marion Huber room at Two River Theater.
Presented from 6 to 10 pm under the theme Finding Fortune: Preserving a National Historic Landmark, the event is the latest in a series of benefits geared toward the ongoing effort to rescue and preserve one of the borough’s genuine historic treasures.
On the evening of Friday, June 12, Two River Theater is the scene as The T. Thomas Fortune Project Committee presents another in a series of fundraiser events. Scheduled for the hours of 6 to 10 pm, the benefit will present a distinguished keynote speaker to be announced — and an opportunity for the greater Red Bank community to become involved with the effort to rescue and preserve one of the borough’s genuine historic treasures.
Located at 94 Drs. James Parker Boulevard, The T. Thomas Fortune House is one of only two National Historic Landmarks in the state of New Jersey (from a total of 57 such sites) with significance to African American heritage. Fortune, the pioneering African American journalist and editor, purchased the home in 1901, giving it the name of Maple Hill — and it was there that he began to do some of his most important work to change the social landscape of America. The Fortune Family remained in the home until 1913, and the property has been unoccupied for several years, falling into disrepair.
The 17th-century Parker Homestead in Little Silver is just one of the historic homes on the greater Green taking center stage this weekend. The T. Thomas Fortune House, below, is another. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)
In a season when we’re all a bit more cognizant of old, dark houses, a birthday celebration designed to call attention to one of Red Bank’s most endangered historic structures — the T. Thomas Fortune House — kicks off a weekend that also offers some rare opportunities to step back in time.
“Celebrating Past, Present and Future” is the broad-reaching theme — and New Jersey’s 350th birthday year is the occasion — as the Thompson Park homebase of the Monmouth County Park System hosts a special opening reception in advance of Thursday’s 2014 NJ History and Historic Preservation Conference at Brookdale Community College.
On Wednesday evening, June 4, an assembly of historians, academics, civic dignitaries and preservation-minded members of the general public will convene inside the Thompson Hall administrative building at the county park on Newman Springs Road, for a 5:30 pm event that should be of interest to anyone who’s interested in the rescue and renovation of such historic sites as Red Bank’s T. Thomas Fortune House, and Little Silver’s Parker Homestead. A benefit for the nonprofit New Jersey History Advocates, the event boasts the participation of a uniquely Jersey voice — that of Star-Ledger ace reporter Mark DiIonno.
At their first working session on January 8, 2014, the members of the Red Bank Borough Council unanimously passed a resolution declaring February to be T. Thomas Fortune month in the borough.
The resolution was introduced by Cindy Burnham, who was recently elected to the council. February is nationally designated as Black History Month, and the resolution serves as a formal recognition to a great human rights activist.
Born into slavery, Fortune’s trailblazing rise as a firebrand journalist, publisher and writer rebuked the government’s failed attempt at Reconstruction, which led to the rise of Jim Crow and black code laws. Fortune has been credited with being the bridge to the modern day Civil Rights Movement. In 1880, he formed the Afro American League, which was a pre-curser to the NAACP.
From 1901 to 1911, Fortune resided at the home he called Maple Hill, at 94 West Bergen Avenue (now known as Drs. James Parker Boulevard). While living there, he entertained such black leaders as Booker T. Washington. He also edited the works of Marcus Garvey while living there.