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The Sourland Conservancy and the Stoutsburg Cemetery Association will be hosting its second Annual Camp Meeting Reenactment to benefit the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum. This year, the event will be held on August 26 from 11am-2pm in Skillman Park and will feature renowned gospel music from Bertha Morgan and Capital City Gospel Singers.

Bring friends, family, blanket or chair, beach umbrella and picnic lunch.  Wear your Sunday best or come as you are – all are welcome! Tickets are on sale now: $25 Adult ($30 at the gate); $10 Children 7-12; Children under 7, free. Proceeds benefit the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum (SSAAM), the first African-American museum in central New Jersey. To purchase tickets, click here. For more information, follow the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum’s Facebook page, call 609-309-5155 or email info@sourland.org.

The Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum, currently in the planning stages, will be housed in the charming one-room Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church on Hollow Road and is one of the most historic buildings in the Sourlands. Constructed sometime before 1850, on Zion Road near Province Line on Sourland Mountain, the AME Church served the black population of the East Mountain area. When the peach blight at the turn of the century took away their livelihoods, members of the church moved to Skillman at the base of the mountain. They brought their church with them, disassembling the structure and rebuilding it where it stands today. The congregation worshipped in that location for decades before it eventually stopped holding regular services there.

The building had fallen into disrepair, so Sourland Conservancy conducted a fundraising drive to repair and paint the church, now one of two exciting annual fundraising events: the Gospel Brunch and the Camp Meeting Reenactment. These help fund the creation of the museum as well as provide participants with updates, information and entertainment. The initial repair work was completed in March 2012 with the help of a Montgomery Township Landmarks Commission grant to help pay for materials needed for the project.

Elaine Buck and Beverly Mills, Stoutsburg Cemetery board members, have long dreamed of creating a museum to highlight the important untold story of African Americans in the Sourland region. Buck and Mills are currently writing a book, “If these Stones Could Talk,” to tell this story of New Jersey history and to celebrate their ancestors and other African-Americans in New Jersey.

“The story of the African American experience in the Sourlands and Hopewell Valley has been grossly underrepresented — the past contributions of the African American slaves and free people in this region, including military service, beginning with the Revolutionary War up to the present. This was a community of people who thrived against startling odds and their history is rich with compelling stories,” said Mills.

The Stoutsburg Cemetery Association and the Sourland Conservancy have teamed up to make the museum dream a reality. The Sourland Conservancy’s mission is to protect, promote and preserve the unique character of the Sourland region.

“We accomplish our mission through education and advocacy,” says Caroline Katmann, Sourland Conservancy’s executive director. “The museum will host programs, events and demonstrations to highlight the important contributions of African Americans to the history and culture of this region. We are currently working with Hopewell Valley Regional School District to enhance the existing social studies curriculum by integrating many of the stories and facts uncovered by Elaine’s and Beverly’s research into African American history in the Sourlands and Hopewell Valley. School and community groups will have educational, cultural and community-building experiences, and the identity and special character of the Sourland region will be enriched and expanded to include the African-American story.”

Grant awards from the Somerset County Historic Preservation Office and the NJ Council for the Humanities will fund curriculum writing, the development of educational and cultural programs, the creation of museum exhibits and historic preservation work on the historic AME Church. These funds also supported the vision planning workshops that were held this spring to develop mission and vision statements for the museum as well as a plan of action for the museum exhibits and programs.

SSAAM’s mission is to tell the story of the unique culture, experiences and contributions of the African-American community in the Sourland Mountain region. The newly-formed museum board is working now to plan the careful renovation and conversion of the building. The board consists of members from various background who will bring their expertise to the project: John Buck, Marylou Millard Ferrara, Jack Koeppel, Bruce Daniels, Kevin Burkman, Jonathan Lloyd, Edwin Lloyd, Catherine Fulmer-Hogan. Ms. Mills, Ms. Buck and Ms. Katmann serve as Museum advisory board members. “We see this project as more than an African American History project – we see it as an American History Project,” said Museum Board President, John Buck.

 

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