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A walk through time

Preserving Black Haddonfield tour illuminates what life was like for borough Blacks

Special to The Sun
Mount Olivet Baptist Church played a large role in the Black community of Haddonfield and was one of the sites on the tour.

Students, alumni and community members gathered in Haddonfield earlier this month for the Preserving Black Haddonfield History Project’s first “official” walking tour, with 12 sites to celebrate overlooked residents and encourage healthy communication.

“Our goal is to facilitate interracial, intergenerational dialogue that we hope brings the community closer together, and everyone has a better appreciation for each other. And it seems like we’re achieving that goal,” said Adrienne Rhodes, member of the Haddonfield Alumni Society and co-founder of the Preserving Black Haddonfield History Project. 

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The walking tour is part of the project’s four-prong effort to preserve Black history in the borough. Other efforts have included preserving narratives from Haddonfield’s African American Community, an intergenerational effort where Haddonfield Memorial High School students worked with African American seniors in the community to capture their stories. Historical markers will be added around town and a new docuseries is in the works.

The tour began at Centennial Field Park Place, a natural border to areas where most of Haddonfield’s African Americans – current and past – lived. It included a prayer at Mount Olivet Baptist Church; a visit to the Greater Mount Pisagh Church, founded as the Black Methodist Episcopal Church; and Miss Ross’ convenience store, among other businesses past and present. 

“There’s just so much history that has paraded through Haddonfield,” noted Rev. Anthony Talton of Mount Olivet of the tour. “And my hope is that the walking tour would create more of a connection, connecting both the past and present, and give them (participants) a glimmer of hope for future generations through preserving and celebrating Black history and historical events in the community of Haddonfield.”

Talton hopes that future generations will be empowered by the tour experience. 

“We envisioned a town that takes the initiative to acknowledge and take pride in its historical heritage, and that includes the invaluable contributions of the African American community throughout the years,” he observed. “And hopefully, this vision would somehow create space where the richness of Black history is not only acknowledged, but actually celebrated, … fostering a greater understanding, sense of healing and unity within our community.”

Stacey Brown-Downham, advisor for the Preserving Black Haddonfield Club at the high school, explained that the shift in the project from a school activity to a club project has allowed for more student involvement and leadership. The club currently has more than 30 members.

During the walking tour, Brown-Downham was able to commune with multi-generational, interracial families and learn more about the pride they take in the community they built, as well as some of the struggles they faced growing up in town. 

“For me, as a White American immigrant (from Canada), …  the experience for me was very powerful,” she related. “ … It was a vibrant community but it was a strong community despite the struggles.”

The full list of tour stops can be seen on the Haddonfield library website at https://www.haddonfieldlibrary.org/local-history.


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