George Floyd died at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020. His death was the spark that ignited global protesting for justice for Black Americans. One week later, protests in cities from Princeton to Osaka, Japan are growing. However, the roots of injustice for the Black community are deep. Protestors say that this is just one of the multiple systems that uphold white supremacy and further the oppression of the Black communities in America.
For Hopewell Valley residents Beverly Mills and Elaine Buck, co-authors of the book If These Stones Could Talk and co-founders of the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum, the worldwide struggle for justice is all too familiar.
“To me, it’s like reliving 1968,” said Mills. “This is 1968 all over again. I couldn’t really imagine that 52 years later we’d still be struggling with the same issues.”
Buck explained that watching the video of George Floyd’s death, an experience she shared with millions across the world, was life changing.
“When I first saw on tv what really happened with the police officer and watching this man die right in front of my eyes,” said Buck, “I’ll tell you it changed me. I’ll never be the same. It really has changed the way I see things now.”
It is now a week after Floyd’s death and all 50 states have seen active protesting in a movement that does not appear to be slowing down. As for the Hopewell Valley, a proclamation-turned-petition – orchestrated by community member Catherine Fulmer-Hogan*, for justice for people of color received more than 30,000 signatures just since Friday.
The Hopewell Valley is home to several groups, like Hope Rises Up, that advance and spread awareness of racism and the need for diversity acceptance. Additionally, the Race and Diversity Discussion Group meets monthly to address important topics such as racial issues and inclusivity, and are a space for hard conversations. However Mills mentioned the participants in these meetings are usually the same ones with each meeting.
“When we would have these meetings, it would pretty much be the same players that show up all the time. Sometimes, it would vary based on what happened in the news,” said Mills. “I think now, and because of our proclamation, hopefully that will stir the pot to the point that it needed to be stirred ages ago.”
According to Buck, the Hopewell Council of Churches is trying to become more involved in sending the proclamation to their church members, families, and friends to open up more opportunities for conversations about race and diversity.
Buck and Mills emphasize the differences in experiences between the Black community and the White community in the Hopewell Valley. Mills expressed her hopes of people wanting to learn and grow more, and maybe this tragedy will plant that seed.
“They don’t have to really do this because we live in an all-white town, so we’re the ones who have to know their culture. As Black Americans, we know how to navigate through a white world. That’s the way it is. They don’t know anything about the Black world or our history.” said Mills.
Buck added, “You would think we would be sheltered since we live in suburbia and we’re not right in the thick of things in the city. That is so not true. All we have to do is drive one town over where people don’t know us and we live the same way you see people on tv right now.”
Mills said she thinks that, for Hopewell Valley, the time to change is now. However, she added that, in order to move forward, the community must first learn about its own African American history.
“Speaking from the standpoint of Pennington Borough, they have this idyllic idea of the town and how racially blind everyone is, and how everybody gets along,” said Mills. “Why is it that the black people only lived in a certain part of town, and could not, even if they wanted to, move into a different area?”
Buck believes America needs to educate themselves and politicians need to know their communities. She urges people to educate themselves about what has been happening in their own communities regarding racism.
If you are interested in learning more about the history of African-American residents of the Hopewell Valley, you can visit the Stoutsburg-Sourland African American Museum (SSAAM) and read If These Stones Could Talk.
*Article edited to include Catherine Fulmer-Hogan’s name 6/5/2020