‘History Detectives’ – Lifelong friends bring Black history to life in The Sourlands
Halfway up Sourland Mountain in Hopewell sits Stoutsburg Cemetery – officially founded as a burying ground for slaves, free Blacks and veterans in the 1850s when rules prohibited Blacks from being buried in white cemeteries.
As generations passed, the stories of those buried there slowly faded like the engravings on the stones themselves. Until Elaine Buck and Beverly Mills got to work.
The lifelong friends, who trace their own ancestry back four and five generations in the Sourlands region, spent years digging through wills, deeds and court records to recover the area’s forgotten Black history. Like the stories of the 10 Civil War veterans buried there.
“We said you know what, we'd better put this in a book,” said Buck.
In 2018, they published "If These Stones Could Talk: African American Presence in the Hopewell Valley, Sourland Mountain and Surrounding Regions of New Jersey.”
They are currently working on a second book, and founded the Stoutsburg Sourland African American History Museum in the old African Methodist Church in Skillman. It opened in 2018 and is now under renovation, funded by donations and a grant from Somerset County with plans to purchase the adjacent property, once owned by the Black family who founded the church in 1899.
“We are living in a region that is absolutely rich with African American history and a region that's rich in enslaved people who made this region what it is,” said Mill.
BLACK HISTORY MONTH