Rutgers initiates next phase of Scarlet and Black project with dedication ceremony
Today, Rutgers took another step forward in the Scarlet and Black Project by officially dedicating three campus landmarks to Black historical figures who are often overlooked in the University's history.
The facilities being dedicated are the James Dickson Carr Library, Sojourner Truth Apartments and Will’s Way, said University spokesperson Neal Buccino in an email.
The dedication ceremony kicked off at 11 a.m. and featured addresses by Rutgers—New Brunswick Chancellor Deba Dutta, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Felicia McGinty and Chair of the Committee on Enslaved and Disenfranchised Populations in Rutgers History Deborah White.
In the week leading up to the event, the University led a series of guided tours around campus that highlighted the historical significance of the renamed locations. The tours departed from Will’s Way, outside of Old Queens.
“I met with the faculty leads of the Scarlet and Black project, we decided to keep moving it forward. Phase one is done, phase two is almost complete, the research is done — now they’re getting into writing,” Dutta said. “We talked about engaging the Mellon Foundation and Ford Foundation and other foundations so that we can create a highly visible event at the end of phase three.”
Scarlet and Black started out last year as a research project by the Committee on Enslaved and Disenfranchised Populations. The goal was to use archived records amassed in libraries — both at Rutgers and across the state of New Jersey — to learn more about the how slaves contributed to the inception of Old Queens.
Following the initial research, Rutgers shared its findings in a presentation and a book, both with the same name.
“What I hoped was to get an accurate portrayal of that segment of Rutgers history which many people were not aware of," said Richard Edwards, the former chancellor, in an interview last year. "I think my original goal has been accomplished in that we now know a great deal about the role of slavery in the history of Rutgers, but I think there’s more to it and we have to research more."
Now, nearly a year after researchers first embarked on their mission, the next phase of Scarlet and Black is well underway. According to a Rutgers spokesperson, it will include a second volume of the book as well as a series of initiatives and events — all focused on recognizing the individuals who were previously omitted from most narratives.
Sojourner Truth was an abolitionist and women’s rights activist, who was a former slave to Rutgers’ first president, Jacob Hardenbergh. She was born into slavery in Upstate New York around the year 1797 and remained a slave until she escaped with her child in 1826.
While in slavery, she lived at the Hardenbergh estate in Esopus, New York. After Hardenbergh’s death, Truth was passed along to his son, and her family was separated in 1806, according to biography.com. Truth, who was 9 years old at the time, was sold at an auction to a new man named John Neely, who was remembered by Truth as harsh and violent.
Although the State of New York emancipated all slaves on July 4, 1827, Truth escaped to freedom with her daughter Sophia in 1826. She left behind her two other children and successfully fought in court for the custody of her son who had been illegally sold to a man in Alabama, according to biography.com. This court case made her the first Black woman to successfully challenge a white man in a United States court.
Truth spent a large majority of her free life fighting slavery and vouching for women’s rights.
The decision to name the College Avenue Apartments after Truth was made in February, after the Board of Governors voted in an effort to move forward to “enact recommendations by the Committee on Enslaved and Disenfranchised Populations in Rutgers History,” according to Rutgers Today.
Former Chancellor Richard L. Edwards said that naming the building on College Avenue was particularly important because it is a focal point for the campus, and student attention is naturally drawn to it.
The Board of Governor’s decision also included naming the path leading from Old Queens to Voorhees Mall “Will’s Way.” It is named after a slave, described only as Will, who helped lay the foundation of Old Queens.
Student researchers transcribed documents during their research for Scarlet and Black, and found records of Will in one of the first pages of the receipt book, when it revealed payment to local New Brunswick resident Jacob Dunham “for the labor of his negro,” according to Rutgers Today.
Without Scarlet and Black’s research, it is likely that the story of Will would not have been discovered.
The last building being dedicated is Kilmer Area Library, which is being renamed in honor James Dickson Carr — the first Black graduate of Rutgers College. He graduated in 1892 and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa honor society.
“Having Mr. Carr’s name on a building that is a core part of academic life where students go to study and where research is conducted is an important way to recognize his accomplishments,’’ Edwards told Rutgers Today.
Born in 1869, Carr decided at the age of 18 to pursue a higher education by entering the Rutgers College Grammar School. According to bestofnj.com, Carr was known by his classmates as extremely friendly and sincere.
An archived edition of The Daily Targum from hundreds of years ago described him as having a jovial spirit.
During his junior year at Rutgers, Carr was selected to speak on Commencement Day. He was known as being intelligent and very gifted at public speaking, according to Scarlet and Black.
After graduating from Columbia Law School, Carr became an assistant district attorney of New York County and held other offices in New York City government.
In 1985, the Carr Scholarship Program was created at Rutgers in his honor, and over 1,000 students have used the scholarship.
“The Libraries are honored that one of our spaces will be named for James Carr,” Jeanne Boyle, interim assistant vice president for information services and director of New Brunswick Libraries told Rutgers Today. “By all accounts, he was an excellent scholar and we hope students who use the Carr Library in the future …”
Edwards said the University made a decision to rename certain buildings without taking off the names of founders, such as Hardenbergh, who was a slave owner.
“I think it would be a mistake to take away part of our history,’’ Edwards said. “You can’t deny that Jacob Hardenbergh was our first president and taking his name off a building doesn’t make it not so. But I think we can give a fuller picture of our history and show we are not sweeping it under the rug.”