October 18, 2018
It is time to remember them.
Simon and Margaret – who were both already free
Not fictional characters. People with real lives: deceived, stolen, sold back into slavery, removed to a place with no promise of emancipation. Real people, with real lives, and real names:
Regina, aged just 6 weeks
And many more. It is past time to re-member them.
This year marks 200 years since a travesty took place right here in Middlesex County.
I am Reverend Karen G. Johnston, the minister of The Unitarian Society in East Brunswick. East Brunswick is the town where the corrupt Middlesex County Judge Jacob Van Wickle lived and used his home and property to hold captive African Americans, some of them free, some of them soon to be free. It is there he held a kangaroo court, abusing his power and a strange loophole in the law that said if someone – and let’s be clear, it was someone Black – consented to being sent to the Deep South, it would be okay.
This is how he called before his court a six-week-old baby, “asked” her if she would like to go South, at which she cried, at which he took this as her consent. Then he turned to her mother with the same “choice.” Your daughter is going South – and you?
These enslaved people were members of our larger community, some lived locally, some were from further afield, but all were lost to us, sold down the river, leaving on four ships that sailed from Perth Amboy February through October. It is around this time in October, 1818, that the fourth and final ship sailed and why I read you some of their names tonight.
Final ship, because good people of this region came together, bringing this travesty to an end. Because of their outrage, their organizing, and their lobbying, a law was passed in the NJ Assembly on November 3, 1818, outlawing the sale of enslaved people from this state to other states in this nation.
The Lost Souls Public Memorial Project is an all-volunteer effort, made up of community members working towards ensuring these souls lost from our community are RE-membered. We are working towards building a public memorial that will include all the names and ensure this history cannot be erased, forgotten, or white-washed again.
We are thankful to the NJ Council for the Humanities for granting us an Incubation Grant this year so that we can hold community conversations and grow community awareness. We welcome the support of the Middlesex County Freeholders, and any other folk present today. We invite you to look for our Facebook page where we post updates. We hope you will attend our Day of Remembrance at the East Brunswick Public Library on Sunday, December 16 at 2pm.
At a time in our nation’s story when some communities choose to keep statues that glorify a past of harm and oppression, this public memorial can be an act of healing. We hope you will help us build it. We hope you will help us re-member these lost souls.