Haddonfield Memorial High School teacher Holly Maiese and the Preserving Black Haddonfield Project Organizing Committee – a subgroup of the Haddonfield alumni society – announced last August a project to preserve Haddonfield’s African American History through interviews with Black seniors.
The essay part of the four-pronged project has come to fruition and the society has announced the works will be published in February.
“Because of this collaborative effort, we can celebrate the lives of elders of our community whose stories might not have been told outside their family,” said Joseph Serico, society president. “We hope that the elders will sense our appreciation for their stories and for their willingness to share them.
“For our students who participated in the project and for those who read these narratives in the future, I am hopeful that they might provide an introspective moment to understand basic human empathy and to think more deeply about our community and its history.”
Students in Maiese’s English class worked together on senior interviews and biographical essays about 10 elders between the ages of 70 and 100 to capture their experiences in Haddonfield.
“What I’ve learned is to be thoughtful of the challenges that people of color face and how we just take them for granted,” said Catherine McCarron, a junior who took part in the summer pilot program and helped freshmen with their interviews.
“It’s taught me to put myself in someone else’s shoes and have empathy for them.”
Adrienne Rhodes, Haddonfield High Class of ‘78 and committee chair for the Preserving Black Haddonfield Project, recounted how she reached out to many elders to be part of the project, but a number of them were either too fragile or reluctant to share their lives.
“Those who came forward, I consider them to be courageous people,” Rhodes said. “You never know how the community will react. These are people born in the 1930s, they were going to the high school in the ‘50s, before there was integration, when segregation was legal in America.
“For them to now come out and tell the truth and be honest was challenging, but we assured them that we were going to provide a safe place for them to have their say.”
The high-school students learned through the interviews about Haddonfield’s history and got to hear directly from people who lived through difficult periods of racial strife. One of those was a star football player who nonetheless was denied service because of his race when the team sat to order milkshakes.
“I think this also allows (students) to have a human face to the struggles and triumphs of the Black population in Haddonfield,” Maiese pointed out. “They read about the struggles, about the segregation and discrimination, but to actually meet someone that experienced that firsthand, you just don’t get from a page in a book.”
But Rhodes noted that while there were many horror stories in the Black community, there were also good things the elders recalled, among them a Haddonfield education.
To celebrate the release of the collector’s edition book of essays, there will be a racial storytelling workshop hosted on Feb. 11 in Haddonfield by the Preserving Black Haddonfield Project Organizing Committee. More details will be announced closer to the date.
The effort to preserve Black history in Haddonfield will continue with a Historical Society of Haddonfield walking tour likely to take place around Juneteenth – the holiday celebrated on June 19 that commemorates the emancipation of slaves – and historical signage around town.
Next year, Maiese and Rhodes hope to continue the project with emphasis on the next generation of elders – those from 50 to 70.
To learn more about the project or any of the upcoming events, email Adrienne Rhodes at