Press / Media
Documenting the Monmouth County Freedom Story Oral History Series
Gilda Rogers introduces William Paterson
T. Thomas Fortune Cultural Center Named a National Historic Journalism Site.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Miriam Ascarelli, president of the New Jersey chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, 862-576-1256 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Gilda Rogers, vice president, T. Thomas Fortune Foundation, 732-383-5483
RED BANK — The New Jersey chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and the T. Thomas Fortune Foundation will join together on Oct. 26 to co-host an afternoon of festivities to celebrate the African American journalist T. Thomas Fortune and SPJ’s recent designation of Fortune’s Red Bank home as a historic site in journalism.
The celebration, to be held at the T. Thomas Fortune Cultural Center, 94 Dr. James Parker Blvd., Red Bank, will run from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. The cultural center — which opened this year — once served as the home of Fortune and his family. The family lived there from 1901 until 1911.
Although Fortune’s story has been largely forgotten, Fortune was co-owner and editor of The New York Age, one of the leading black newspapers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He used his newspaper as a vehicle to speak out against lynching, black disenfranchisement and other injustices.
In addition to the unveiling of a bronze plaque from the Society of Professional Journalists designating the Fortune home as a historic site in journalism, the celebration will feature a talk by Dr. Walter Greason, president of the T. Thomas Fortune Foundation, about how the organization hopes to restore Fortune’s place in history and also add to existing scholarship about the historical role of the black press in America.
After the ceremony, there will be house tours and story-telling performances by actors in period costume.
Fortune’s home — which he named Maple Hall — was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 and the New Jersey Register in 1979. However, by the early 2000s, the house had fallen into disrepair and was slated for demolition.
It was saved from the wrecking ball in 2016, thanks to the efforts of local activists and developer Roger Mumford, who came up with a plan to restore the house and convert it to a cultural center and to build 31 luxury apartments in the style of the home in the back of the property. The restored home re-opened as the T. Thomas Fortune Cultural Center at Fortune Square this spring.
The Society of Professional Journalists’ National Historic Sites in Journalism program is completely separate from the historic site registries administered by the state and federal governments. Thanks to a nomination by the New Jersey chapter, SPJ named the Fortune House a National Historic Site in Journalism this summer.
A Man & His Music Exhibit
Gilda Rogers | Honoree
AAUW members know Gilda best for her work to save the T. Thomas Fortune House in Red Bank. She is Vice-President of the T. Thomas Fortune Foundation Board, the grassroots organization that led the effort to save and preserve this historic site, home to one of the greatest African American journalists and newspaper editors of the 19th and early 20th Centuries. Gilda describes T. Thomas Fortune as a courageous social justice crusader, who helped change the landscape of this great nation. He has been called “The bridge to the modern day Civil Rights Movement.” When opened in late summer or early fall, the T. Thomas Fortune House will provide a place for the community to meet and learn more about our history and one another.
Gilda is co-founder and leader with Sidney Bernstein of the Red Bank group Citizens for a Diverse and Open Society (CDOS). Gilda and Sid report that they met on the street, started talking, and decided that the rest of the community should be invited to join their conversation. Three years later CDOS provides a place where communities of all colors and life experiences can meet once a month to share concerns, challenges and support. Gilda also connects the community through Frank Talk MultiMedia Network – connecting art, culture and entertainment to the community.
Gilda holds an MA degree from Monmouth University and teaches composition and research writing as an adjunct professor at Brookdale Community College. She is the proud mother of a daughter and ends every message she sends with Peace. (by Marian Wattenbarger)
Bank: Unity Rally Draws a Murphy – by John Ward, Red Bank Green
a member-at-large of the T. Thomas Fortune Foundation
gives an eventful talk pertaining to T. Thomas Fortune at Marshall University in West Virginia.
Lehman Lecture Explores Historic Preservation
Red Bank citizens discuss saving the T. Thomas Fortune Home on May 9th, Gilda Rogers and Roger Mumford visited MBS to tell the amazing story of how a group of determined Red Bank citizens and a generous developer preserved the T. Thomas Fortune house, a national historic landmark devoted to African-American heritage.
Their presentation, “From Failure to Fortune: The Battle to Save and Develop a National Historic Landmark,” was part of Morristown-Beard School’s Lehman Lecture series.
“This project speaks to what humanity is all about,” said Ms. Rogers, a journalist, teacher, historian and playwright who lives in Red Bank. “Whenever I drove by that house, there was something about it that drew me in, and I would stop by the house and admire it — even when it was in disrepair.”
As she learned more about the home, she became passionate about saving it. The stately 1870s house, which was dubbed “Maple Hall,” was the home to T. Thomas Fortune, an activist newspaper editor and crusader for social justice, from 1901-1915.
Ms. Rogers was instrumental in forming a group of concerned citizens who fought to preserve the home. She said the group’s first goal was to educate the community about the historical significance of T. Thomas Fortune and the home.
“We spoke at libraries, churches, schools…wherever we could go and sing Mr. Fortune’s praises. We had big mouths, but not deep pockets,” she recalled.
Through the Green Acres program, the group was able to make an offer to the owner of the home, but it was refused. All seemed lost until Ms. Rogers received an email from homebuilder Roger Mumford, whom she had never met.
“I didn’t know Roger from a can of paint, but the first time we met he pulled a book from his bookshelf, The Warmth of Other Suns, about the great migration of African Americans leaving the South, and I knew that we immediately had a connection,” she recalled. “He told me, I think I may have a solution to your problem.”
Mumford’s solution, which was approved by the Red Bank zoning board, was to restore and donate the home as a cultural center and also create 31 apartments on its one-acre property. “To me, it was a logical solution to a multi-faceted problem and it aligned with deeply-held beliefs that I had,” said Mumford. “We are fortunate that Red Bank had the wisdom to understand that being creative with zoning can be appropriate if you’re responsible about it.”
The painstaking renovation of the T. Thomas Fortune House is currently underway, and Mumford said he expects the cultural center to open in the spring of 2018.
The T. Thomas Fortune Foundation was one of the organizers of this event.
Tammy Murphy reacts as her husband, Governor-elect Phil Murphy, calls her while she’s delivering a speech at Saturday’s Unity Rally in Red Bank. The event drew a full house to Pilgrim Baptist Church, below. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)
By JOHN T. WARD
Ignoring biting cold, dozens of Red Bank-area residents participated in a “unity” march and rally Saturday in honor of two civil rights champions: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and journalist T. Thomas Fortune.
Anchored at Pilgrim Baptist Church, the event featured a cameo appearance by the spouse of Governor-elect Phil Murphy as part of a whirlwind, pre-inaugural tour of New Jersey.
Gilda Rogers, who helped lead the effort to save the T. Thomas Fortune House for use as a cultural center, addresses the rally. Below, Mayor Pasquale Menna beside an image of Fortune, the civil rights activist and journalist who lived nearby a century ago. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
“Dr. King taught us that we don’t have to worry about our enemies in life,” Rabbi Marc Kline of the Monmouth Reform Temple told the crowd packed into the church’s basement community room. “We have to worry about our friends who remain silent in the face of hate.”
Gilda Rogers, an event organizer and vice president of the T. Thomas Fortune Foundation and Cultural Center, began her remarks by asking everyone in the audience to express love to someone seated nearby.
“It’s easy to spew hate,” she told the audience. “It should be even easier to tell someone you love them.”
Tammy Murphy, slated to become the state’s First Lady with the inauguration of her husband Phil Murphy, as governor on Tuesday, was among the speakers.
King, if he still lived, would surely see progress in terms of justice and equality, she told the audience, “but he would also see, as we all do, how far we still have to go.”
She quoted King: “If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. But whatever you do, do what you can to keep moving forward.”
Murphy chairs her husband’s inaugural committee, and her stop in Red Bank, just a short distance from their home across the Navesink River in Middletown, was part of a pre-swearing-in tour of the state to highlight transit concerns.
Starting together in Hoboken Saturday morning, the family split up, with the governor-elect heading off in one direction with two of their four children, and Tammy Murphy traveling with the other two, en route to an eventual meet-up at the end of the day in Cape May.
Her appearance here was lightened by an unexpected interruption. Reading her remarks from her cellphone, Murphy paused and laughed.
“You can’t make this up,” she told the audience. “I just had my husband calling. I decided I wouldn’t answer it.”
Dr. Greason has been named Dean of the Honors Department – Monmouth University.
President of the T. Thomas Fortune Foundation