Representatives Speak to Preserve Historic Landmark

Gilda Rogers and Sarah Klepner, representatives from the Timothy Thomas Fortune Project, gave a presentation on social activism and Timothy Thomas Fortune, a renowned journalist and civil rights activist, on Wednesday, Feb. 26.

Rogers and Klepner spoke at the event to discuss Fortune’s accomplishments during the civil rights movement and their effort to preserve his home in Red Bank, NJ as a national historic landmark. The house is located on Dr. James Parker Blvd and is one of only two African American historic sites in NJ.

Rogers, a University graduate and current professor at Brookdale Community College, emphasized the importance of historic preservation. “We have to be able to look at history and apply it to the present. There are so many things we can learn from history and so preserving it is vital to our society,” said Rogers

The Timothy Thomas Fortune Project is supported by the Red Bank Men’s Foundation, a non-profit organization. The main goal is to spread awareness about the history of the privately owned house, which is currently vacant, in hopes that it will be bought and restored.

The Second-Empire structured home, which was inhabited by Fortune’s family from 1901 to 1907, was built in 1883. It was recognized as a historic site in 1976 but has since then been considered “endangered,” according to Rogers.

The one-acre property has been on and off the market since 2007 and, though it is currently owned by the Vaccarelli family of Red Bank, it remains boarded up and abandoned.

“We want to get people interested in Fortune’s story and establish a link between them and hopefully harness that energy into producing results,” said Klepner.

Many students agreed that the house is certainly worthy of being a historic site. Alyssa Riley, a sophomore business major, said, “It was so interesting to hear that someone so influential lived right in Red Bank. That house has so much historical significance and it would be a mistake not to preserve it so that people around here can be more aware of his story and our area’s culture.”

Fortune was a highly influential American journalist, publisher and humanist in the late 1800s. He was the founder and editor of various national newspapers including, The New York Globe and The New York Age, which were used as a means to shed light on the social issues of the time, according to Rogers and Klepner.

He advocated for equal rights for all people, regardless of gender or race. In addition, he founded the Afro-American League, which served as a precursor for many organizations, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), according to the Black Heritage Commemorative Society.

Rogers related the struggles Fortune faced to current issues. “The LGBT community is now facing similar discrimination and it is incumbent upon young people to thwart these prejudices,” Rogers said. She emphasized the importance of people speaking out against issues that they are passionate about in the same way that Fortune did.

Imari Patel, sophomore biology major, said, “I agree with everything [Rogers] said about using our voice to advocate for change. Regardless of the cause, being active in social issues is essential if we want to have progress.”

Various organizations are currently working to have the house restored, according to Red Bank’s Historic Preservation Committee is seeking potential buyers and working closely with the Vaccarelli family to ensure that their preservation plans come to fruition. Klepner and Rogers encouraged any students interested in saving the Timothy Thomas Fortune House to write to their local officials and continue to spread awareness about the cause.

PHOTO TAKEN from Thomas Fortune Facebook page