A new exhibition in Morristown explores 300 years of race relations in New Jersey through the lens of Morris County.
The exhibit, “The Ties That Bind: How Race Relations Shapes Morris County and New Jersey,” is on view at The Morristown & Morris Township Library’s F.M. Kirby Gallery through Jan. 5.
It is the first comprehensive exhibition to trace the sometimes fraught history of the relationship between blacks and whites in Morris County. It traces early days of slavery to visits from civil rights pioneers, including Frederick Douglas, Booker T. Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It asks visitors to take a hard look at the history of race relations in the past and consider ways of moving forward in the current climate of racial tension in America.
Organized by the Bethel Church of Morristown and curated by Claudia Ocello of Museum Partners Consulting, the exhibition frames race relations through topics including religion, education and housing.
Pastor Dr. Sidney Williams of the Bethel Church of Morristown, a driving force behind the creation of this exhibition, has said: “Before I came to Morristown in November of 2010, I served in a missionary in Cape Town, South Africa. There, I learned before justice is ever possible, we must first focus on truth and reconciliation. I have been trying to find ways to bring this information and knowledge to the Morristown community.”
This exhibition is one of his efforts.
Drawing on resources from the North Jersey History Center at The Morristown and Morris Township Library, Drew University Archives, and recently-conducted oral histories, the exhibition takes an unflinching look at the relationship between blacks and whites in Morris County.
Tracing tensions between blacks and whites right through 2018, the exhibition includes instances of racial tensions coming to a boil such as protests in the 1960s when a Madison barber shop refused to cut a black man’s hair. The exhibition also highlights instances of cooperation and support between blacks and whites. For example, Morristown schools were integrated in 1884, years before the Supreme Court issued its “separate but equal” ruling.
The exhibition is meant to provoke viewers to consider questions about the issues surrounding race relations, starting with “How can cooperation and collaboration today uplift everyone?” and ending with “How far are you willing to go to activate change within the ties of our communities?”
The library is open daily and the exhibition is free and fully accessible, visit www.jpfl.org for daily hours. The exhibition was made possible with the support of the Friends of the Morristown and Morris Township Library and the Morris County Heritage Commission. The exhibit is made possible by a grant from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, a state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.