Letter to the editor:
It was both an honor and a very humbling experience to be the guest speaker at last week’s official opening of the T. Thomas Fortune Cultural Center in Red Bank.
It was striking to see that just as Red Bank itself changed in many ways in both prosperity and challenge, it has always retained its role and character as the town at the center of a still diverse area, one rich in both agriculture and residential neighborhoods.
The T. Thomas Fortune house exudes those very same changes. It stands here with a new life of retaining history, while remaining a home for the passionate pursuit of the essential values of its builder. It is an example that while others are remembered with granite monuments and marble statues, T. Thomas Fortune will be remembered for the ideals he championed that are as alive and vital today as they were during his lifetime. The Cultural Center will continue to be alive with voices that echo his values for many years to come. That is the highest purpose of historic preservation – to keep our past alive. And this magnificent Cultural Center does it well.
It is important to note that it was 119 years ago when William McKinley was waging his second campaign for President against William Jennings Bryan. Among his supporters was a 44-year-old journalist, a leading voice for civil rights and an active participant in the Reconstruction Movement namely, our own T. Thomas Fortune. Less than two years later, McKinley was assassinated, and Theodore Roosevelt became president. Mr. Fortune left New York City and purchased a piece of land in what was still rural New Jersey. Here he built a home for his family in a town of just 5,500 people. He brought with him his passion for civil rights and helped to weave it into the fabric of a growing community at the beginning of the Century of Suburbanization.
I thank both the T. Thomas Fortune Foundation and Roger Mumford of Roger Mumford Homes for maintaining the historical integrity and contributing to the authenticity of the lovely “Maple Hall.” They continue to epitomize what I firmly believe, “People without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture are like a tree without roots.”
Thank you for firmly establishing a place that makes available the knowledge of firm and stable roots.