Home Moorestown News Society event ‘speaks’ to West End center history

Society event ‘speaks’ to West End center history

Lecture focuses on protecting legacy of a gathering place for Black residents

The presentation next month is part of the Historical Society of Moorestown’s “New Jersey History Speaks” lecture series.

The Historical Society of Moorestown and the library will hold a lecture with township native Richard Gray at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 20.

Gray will review the history of the West End Community Center (WECC) and his plan to protect the legacy of a place so important in the history of the township. The presentation is part of the historical society’s “New Jersey History Speaks” lecture series.

“It’s like everything else we do as an organization, the historical society,” said Lenny Wagner, its president, referring to the importance of protecting the WECC. “The preservation of the town’s history and this was a big part of it. I think, for us, it’s to make sure that that’s included with all the other stories that we tell.

“I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that, but we could always do better.”

According to the historical society’s website, the WECC started and was managed by Black women and men in Moorestown’s West End neighborhood as a space for residents to congregate and create programs to build community relationships. They did so in the face of a discriminatory policy that prohibited African American residents from using Main Street’s community house.

“In the early days, when the Moorestown Community House was first established, it was for Whites only,” Wagner noted. ” … A number of African Americans in town who lived in one general neighborhood decided they would establish their own community house, which they called West End Center …”

The WECC was a place of belonging where social ties were deepened through interaction. Despite its historical and cultural significance, many Moorestown residents are unaware of the center, since its building was destroyed after the community house was eventually integrated in the ’60s.

“Richard Gray – whose mother and grandparents were involved with the West End Center – had this idea to put a group together, including the historical society, to try to capture some oral histories and really preserve the history of the West End Center…” Wagner explained.

“ … We’re pretty excited about it.”

The WECC also has ties to a local park. According to the township website, Yancy-Adams Park was dedicated on June 18, 1977, in memory of community organizers Roxanna Yancy and James Adams. They were instrumental in the establishment and successful operation of the WECC from 1944 until 1968.

The Yancy-Adams pocket park is located on the former site of the WECC. In 1977, an endowment of more than $10,000 was presented to the township by the WECC board to finance construction of the park. Former board members wanted the park to be landscaped with a walkway connecting the ballfield at the rear to North Church Street.

“I’m looking forward to hearing Richard’s talk … and to share with the people in attendance our plan for the preservation of the history of the place and how people can help,” Wagner noted.

To register for the lecture, visit the library’s events calendar at www.moorestownlibrary.org.

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