Where Haddonfield’s African Americans walked

Juneteenth celebration in town will feature tour of 12 historic sites

Haddonfield will celebrate Juneteenth for African Americans with a walking tour on Friday, June 14 that will feature 12 sites with long histories and groundbreaking for historical markers at three of them.

“We are very excited this year,” said C. Adrienne Rhodes, of the Preserving Black Haddonfield History Project (PBHHP), adding that the markers will be placed at Mount Olivet Baptist Church, Tarditi Commons (the former Lincoln School) and a New Jersey Black Heritage Trail sign at the Point, where Ellis and Potter streets intersect.

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The first walking tour was on June 19 last year, and it pointed out how African Americans first came to Haddonfield as slaves in the 17th and 18th centuries. By the 1800s, a thriving community of free men and women – along with runaway slaves – made up 10% of the town’s population, according to Rhodes.

They raised their families, built homes and owned businesses around the Point, just above Cooper’s Creek, an area that has been home to a majority of Haddonfield’s Black residents since the 1700s. The neighborhood included the Douglass Avenue Public School for Coloreds; a segregated elementary school; and the residence of Attee Leeman, the borough’s first African American landowner in 1807.

The history project is an intercommunity collaboration between local historians, religious leaders, students and teachers, the Haddonfield Foundation, the Rotary Club Foundation, Haddonfield library, Haddonfield Alumni Society and current and former residents.

Rhodes is a fifth-generation member of the Arthur family, whose descendants have lived in Haddonfield and Lawnside since the mid-1800s. She noted that four sibling slaves ran away together from the Eastern shore of Maryland in the 1840s. One of them was James, whose son John married Mary and took up residence in the borough.

“Now, Black or biracial families make up 1% of the population,” Rhodes said, adding that they “have a rich history in this town.”

According to U.S. Census records, Haddonfield had a total population of 2,501 in 1890 and now has 12,514 people living within its borders. Extrapolating those numbers indicates the borough had about 250 African American residents in 1890 and has about 125 today.

“It matters, the extent of our heritage in Haddonfield,” Rhodes emphasized. “Part of the purpose of this project is for those who live there now to hold up your heads high. You don’t have to feel like you don’t belong.”

In partnership with Haddonfield Memorial High School and the Haddonfield Education Association, the history project also publishes an annual collection of essays. “Preserve: Narratives from Historic Haddonfield’s African American Community,” is available at Inkwood Books and the Haddonfield library. 

Rhodes praised the contributions of library director Eric Zino.

“He was our co-applicant for the New Jersey Black Heritage Trail and has been extremely helpful in exposing residents to The Preserving Black Haddonfield Project through online and live platforms,” she said.

“In these sensitive times,” the library website states, “when improving diversity, equity, and inclusion are priorities throughout the nation, the PBHHP not only celebrates once overlooked residents, it also educates students, teachers, and everyone whose path it crosses.

“We do more than simply recall private memories about Haddonfield’s African American community. We celebrate the value added here through current and past residents’ contributions, ideals and legacy.”

The history project is a sub-committee of the Haddonfield Alumni Society under the leadership of president Joseph Serico. It is spearheaded by Haddonfield Memorial High School alumni and Haddonfield Alumni Society members, as well as current and past residents and their descendants, educators, and like-minded leaders of local institutions.

“Everyone involved shares a commitment to doing his or her part to strengthen Haddonfield’s reputation for being a unique community with a rich history,” the website points out.

The other sites on the walking tour will include the Prayer House, Centennial Field, Blazing Rag Tavern, Whitcraft Farms, Batesville Church, Mount Pisgah Church, Haddonfield Little League fields, Barbershop at the Point and Miss Ross’ convenience store.

To register, go to www.haddonfieldlibrary.org.

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