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Department of State

New Jersey Historical Commission

The Hon. Tahesha Way, Lt. Governor and Secretary of State
African American History Program

African American History Program

Welcome to the webpage for the African American History Program!

Part of the New Jersey Historical Commission, the African American History Program champions and partners with universities, historical societies, schools, and other institutions, groups, and individuals in a collaborative statewide effort to develop African American history in New Jersey. Founded by the late Giles Wright in 1983, it was recommenced at the Commission in 2021.

The African American History Program’s work includes a speaker and panel series to preserve, educate, and engage the public about New Jersey history and historical sites (many sessions are made available on the Commission’s website). It also stewards the Black Heritage Trail; directs administration of the Mildred Barry Garvin Prize; consults on Historical Commission and other Department of State initiatives and collaborations, including RevolutionNJ, as well as public partnerships such as the Annual Marion Thompson Wright Lecture (MTW) series at Rutgers University – Newark.

This site is under development and there is much more to come. It is our goal to make it a helpful and enriching space for learning more about African American history in New Jersey. Please join our mailing list, in addition to following our social media channels for updates on the African American History Program and all of the Commission’s work.

We hope that you will join us on this incredibly important mission.


Noelle Lorraine Williams
Director, African American History Program and the Black Heritage Trail


Black Heritage Trail email:

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African American History Program
The New Jersey African American History Program hosts virtual and in-person events including the "Black Is: African American History and Sites in New Jersey” series. Please visit the New Jersey Historical Commissions YouTube page for more information.

Selected Essays, Publications and Books from the African American History Program (1989-2021)

Juneteenth: New Jersey, The Last Northern State to End Slavery (2021)

New Jersey's underground railroad heritage : "Steal Away, Steal Away--" : A Guide to the Underground Railroad in New Jersey (2002)

Afro-Americans in New Jersey: a short history

Black Heritage Trail
The New Jersey Black Heritage Trail was proposed by State Assemblyman Antwan McClellan with bipartisan support and signed into law by Governor Murphy on September 7, 2022. The legislation calls for the New Jersey Historical Commission to establish a Black Heritage Trail “to promote awareness and appreciation of Black history, heritage, and culture” that will “highlight Black heritage sites through historical markers and a trail-like path that connects the stories of Black life and resiliency.”

Under this program, the Historical Commission will work in cooperation with other state agencies, such the Historic Preservation Office, the Division of Travel and Tourism, as well as local governments, owners or operators of Black heritage sites, and others to identify a series of sites. The bill also names the New Jersey Black Cultural and Heritage Initiative Foundation as a principal collaborator, due to its mission that includes broadening, deepening and diversifying statewide participation in and appreciation for Black arts, history and culture.

The New Jersey Historical Commission recognizes the contributions of the inaugural African American History Program director Giles R. Wright, New Jersey historian Robert Craig and the Sankofa Collaborative on their work around Black history in New Jersey.

New Jersey Black Heritage Trail page
New Jersey Black Heritage Trail Legislation

New Jersey Black Heritage Trail Sites
In March 2024, the NJHC Black Heritage Trail team received over 60 responses to their first call for nominations. After passing eligibility and historical accuracy reviews, 32 sites were brought before the New Jersey Historical Commission at their public meeting on April 19, 2024. All of the recommended sites were approved in a unanimous decision.

New Jersey Black Heritage Trail 2024 Approved Nominations
New Jersey Black Heritage Trail Press Release

RevolutionNJ (RevNJ)
RevNJ is a partnership between the New Jersey Historical Commission, a division of the New Jersey Department of State, and the nonprofit Crossroads of the American Revolution Association to plan the commemoration of the 250th anniversary of the American Revolution in New Jersey.

The African American History Program is developing research and educational materials on African American and Indigenous ideologies around freedom, land ownership and citizenry during this period.

Mildred Barry Garvin Prize
The Mildred Barry Garvin Prize is an award of $1,000 to a New Jersey teacher, guidance counselor, or school librarian for outstanding teaching of Black American history in kindergarten through high school or outstanding performance in a related activity such as developing curriculum materials.

Marion Thompson Wright Lecture
The Annual Marion Thompson Wright Lecture (MTW) series was co-founded in 1981 by Dr. Price and the late Giles R. Wright, who served many years as the inaugural director of the Afro-American History Program at the New Jersey Historical Commission. Mounted in observance of Black History Month in New Jersey, the MTW Series is one of the nation’s most remarkable and longest-running scholarly conference series devoted to the historical literacy of a community.



New Jersey Black Heritage Trail

The New Jersey Historical Commission, a division of the Department of State, is now accepting applications for its inaugural, statewide Black Heritage Trail Program.

For more information including guidelines, application link, and recorded webinar follow this link Black Heritage Trail page

Following the signing of the historic bill for the creation of the Black Heritage Trail program in New Jersey by Governor Phil Murphy in September 2022, the New Jersey Historical Commission hosted three community input meetings to receive various perspectives and visions for the framework and implementation of the program.

This video features a welcome by Lieutenant Governor Tahesha Way, Esq. In addition to her role as Lieutenant Governor, Ms. Way also serves as New Jersey’s 34th Secretary of State — a position she has held since the beginning of the Murphy Administration.

As Secretary of State, Ms. Way leads one of the nation’s oldest constitutional offices and directs a department with a diverse portfolio. In her capacity as New Jersey’s top election official, she has overseen the state Division of Elections and its work in securing our democracy and ensuring broad, fair access to the right to vote. In addition to the critical work protecting what Lieutenant Governor Way calls the “fraternal twins of democracy,” she also oversees the state government offices supporting New Jersey’s vibrant arts, culture, history, and business communities, which includes the New Jersey Historical Commission.


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