Group has mission to shed light on what’s reported to be New Jersey’s only documented lynching

A national effort to memorialize the victims of racial violence resulted in new light being shed on a dark moment in New Jersey history – the state’s only documented lynching.

News 12 Staff

Feb 18, 2023, 4:02 AM

Updated 511 days ago

Share:

A national effort to memorialize the victims of racial violence resulted in new light being shed on a dark moment in New Jersey history – the state’s only documented lynching.
In Eatontown’s Wampum Park stands a reminder of a racial attack that had nearly faded into obscurity. A historic marker installed last summer sits at the site of the only documented case of a lynching in New Jersey back in 1886 – the murder of Samuel Johnson.
Johnson was nicknamed “Mingo Jack” after the champion horse he rode as a jockey.
He was arrested for an attack on a local white woman who did not identify him but said her attacker had mentioned his name. Johnson was taken to a small lockup that sat next to the lake in what is now Wampum Park.
He didn't make it through the night. Attackers broke in, beat him to death and hung his body from the doorway. The killers were never identified.
“He was a father. He was a husband. All those things we take as dear to our faith traditions. We try to lift those up by recognizing him as a human being,” says Rev. Terrence Porter, of the Community Remembrance Project.
Johnson's death had largely faded into history by the late 20th century until new efforts to tell the stories of lynchings nationally took hold in New Jersey.
“The sheriff had his suspicious that Samuel Johnson might be the target of violence,” says Rabbi Steven Sirbu, of the Community Remembrance Project.
Sirbu and members of his congregation from Temple Emeth in Teaneck traveled to the Legacy Museum in Alabama, which is dedicated to the memory of enslaved people and victims of racial injustice. The museum includes a monument to lynching victims. There are 800 steel column monuments - one for each county in southern states in the United States where lynchings took place. But there is not a monument to the one that happened in New Jersey.
“That’s when I learned for the first time…that there was a lynching in New Jersey. I was shocked,” says Sirbu.
Sirbu joined forces with Porter and others to form the New Jersey Social Justice Remembrance Coalition, a local partnership that's part of the Alabama museum's effort to create memorials to lynching victims not just in Montgomery, but also in the communities where they occurred.
“There's still a sense that the place where this injustice happened…then was veiled in silence, is holy ground,” says Sirbu.
The sign they erected last summer tells the story of Johnson on one side and the larger story of lynching in America on the other. A few miles down the road, a jar of soil collected from the site is on permanent display at the T. Thomas Fortune Community Center in Red Bank, along with artwork honoring the life of Samuel Johnson.
“I believe that if we don’t continue to have conversations about American history, then we are as a society we may go back to repeating some of the atrocities that occurred years ago,” Porter says.


More from News 12