By CAROL GORGA WILLIAMS
The Asbury Park City Council seems poised to join a project sponsored by Interfaith Neighbors and Springwood Avenue Rising to create an African American Heritage Trail.
The trail would document and celebrate the Springwood Avenue corridor prior to 1970 when violence broke out essentially destroying the center of Black life here.
“Fantastic,” said Mayor John B. Moor after hearing a proposal by Diane Shelton of Interfaith and Pamela Major of Springwood Avenue Rising. This idea was born out of a desire to commemorate the 50th anniversary of events in the city between July 4 and July 10, 1970 in which temperatures were elevated and black young people began advocating for job opportunities, recreation and other measures to equalize circumstances in which the city had a population of 17,000, 30 percent of which were African American. The young people also wanted representation on the school board. Their requests had long been ignored by people in power. When the week was over, 180 people were injured and 5.6 million in damages and cleanup costs had been accumulated. Many residents of the West Side were displaced from their homes and that section of the city had waited for generations for the inequities to be addressed.
Because Covid hit in 2020, the project was downgraded but sponsors believed it was too important to abandon.
African American Trails exist in New York, Philadelphia and Westfield. City Councilwoman Eileen Chapman noted she has visited Tulsa, OK where one of the worst race disasters has been recorded. The Tulsa race massacre, also known as the Tulsa race riot or the Black Wall Street massacre was a two-day-long massacre between May 31 and June 1, 1921 that saw mobs of white residents, some of whom had been appointed as deputies and armed by city government officials, attacking Black residents and destroying homes and businesses of the Greenwood District. The attackers burned and destroyed more than 35 square blocks of the neighborhood—at the time one of the wealthiest Black communities in the country, colloquially known as “Black Wall Street.
More than 800 people were admitted to hospitals, and as many as 6,000 Black residents were interned in large facilities, many of them for several days. Although statistics disagree, the Bureau of Vital Statistics officially recorded 36 dead while the 2001 Tulsa Reparations Coalition examination of events identified 39 dead, 26 Black and 13 white, based on contemporary autopsy reports, death certificates and other records. The commission gave several estimates ranging from 75 to 300 dead.
“There is so much that can be done with this,” Chapman said. “I am so excited.”
This project “would allow our children of Asbury Park to know an Asbury Park that used to be and is coming back in a new way…and that they too will not be forgotten,” Moor said. said
It would also provide role models.
Shelton, who also serves on the board of Springwood Avenue Rising, said creating this trail – to be delineated by signs or plaques accompanied with QR codes with details of each site’s history and contributions, would go from Memorial Drive to Ridge Avenue, documenting the history of the area’s jazz and blues clubs and could one day be extended to document the music heritage of the entire city.
It has the support of Monmouth University’s history and communications departments and the African American Music Project.
“There is almost no sign of what Springwood Avenue was like before 1970,” Shelton said. It has the effect of making people feel invisibility, she said.