February is Black History Month! It is the time of year where we, as a nation, celebrate and remember the central role African Americans have had on the development of our country. Journey Through Jersey wishes to honor the legacy of notable African Americans with ties to the Garden State. 

Now, are you ready to test your knowledge? 

  • Do you know who is regarded as the “the bridge to the modern-day Civil Rights Movement?” 
  • Do you know who established the first Afro-American League (AAL) in 1887? 
  • How about, who coined the term “Afro-American” to emphasize the physical make-up of the race? 

The answer? Timothy Thomas Fortune. 

Born into slavery, T. Thomas Fortune used the power of the press to become a leading activist for African American civil liberties. He used his literary work to, “protest discrimination, mob violence, lynching, and disenfranchisement.” Fortune contributed to leading papers including the New York Globe (1881-1884), New York Freeman (1884-1887), New York Age (1887), and Negro World (1923-1928). Negro World was the “most widely distributed newspaper in the world at that time,” reaching the U.S., Canada, Europe, Africa, the Caribbean, and Central America.  

 In addition, Fortune is notable for his establishment of the first Afro-American League (AAL) in 1887 (later known as the National Afro-American League (NAAL)), which is the precursor of the Niagara Falls Movement and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). According to the National Register nomination, “the League worked against the political and civil suppression of the black man's rights in the South; fought inequalities in education and the prison system; and attacked discrimination in public accommodations nationwide.”  

 From 1901 to 1915, Fortune lived in an eclectic example of a high Victorian Age house in Red Bank, New Jersey. The house was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 and was designated a National Historic Landmark (NHL)—the nation’s highest honor for historic properties. The NR and NHL listings seek to honor and preserve the history of a leading African American journalist and civil rights advocate from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: T. Thomas Fortune.    

 Today, the house, located at 94 Drs. James Parker Boulevard, is home to the T. Thomas Fortune Cultural Center. The Center opened in 2018 with a mission, “to preserve and further the civil rights and social justice legacy of T. Thomas Fortune through community outreach, education and public programming.” The Center offers art exhibits, movie screenings, author readings, and professional development opportunities.    

 Want to learn more about T. Thomas Fortune and the T. Thomas Fortune Cultural Center? Check out these resources!  

Thomas T. Fortune Cultural Center

T. Thomas Fortune Cultural Center, Journey Through Jersey

T. Thomas Fortune House, Preservation New Jersey

T. Thomas Fortune Cultural Center, National Historic Landmark, Facebook