The memories are fruitful, like the blackberries we once ate. Or the inchworms, millions, that hung green, blocking our shortcut to school. Peach, apple and pear trees guarded childhoods that ranged generations, creating neighborly friendships that seemed genetic. A community in the truest sense of the word. Doors were rarely, if ever, locked as houses seemed more like rooms of a larger entity we called home. We sledded on the double bunker, played hide the switch, ran from Dosie, cheered the Bombers and ate healthily. We fought, made up and fought again. Only to make up once more. We enjoyed the school ground (the epicenter), the pipe, the monkey bars, the links, the hut, the woods, Park Place, Hamlette Place, Rocky Road…We felt relieved when we arrived at dead man’s bend, or Morse Ave. or exited the woods.
Delegated to Blacks during Jim Crow, it blossomed into a town within a town creating what’s in its offspring’s hearts today. Home to the world’s first Black owned golf course, its clubhouse, Shady Rest, hosted Cab Calloway, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Chick Webb-amongst others. Althea Gibson practiced there enroute to Wimbledon history. John Shippen, the first American *note not African-American to play in the U.S. Open called Shady Rest his home.
I was fortunate to grow up in Jerseyland as part of the last generation of residents that spanned nearly 100 years. My grandparents and others as part of The Great Migration settled in a small part of Scotch Plains, NJ and helped establish this beautiful community. What I find remarkable is its humbleness and simplicity as a part of American history. We never heard of the pain that must have existed in creating this utopian society. Not until I matured and learned of the evils of racism, did I gather an idea of what my elders must have experienced in this newfound land. My memories, full of bliss, contrasted to the isolation and trepidation they must have felt in this new environment unbeknownst of the future. But they persevered and were determined to create an eden-esque society for the next generation. Which they did. My mom’s generation, the civil rights era, never reminisced of where they were when Kennedy, Malcolm, King or Kennedy was assassinated, they regal of the time Ella Fitzgerald stepped off the bus on Jerusalem Rd and handed all the kids shiny new quarters. Or a time when they rode around in a car with the windows up just to appear as if they had air-conditioning. They didn’t sedate us with tales of sit-ins, police run-ins or race consciousness of their upbringing; they fed us stories of dog chases, parties and family gatherings hosted within the protection of Jerseyland. I often wonder, was it instinct or planned their shielding of negativity from us. The positivity seemed too prevalent, too common to be that calculated. Either way, a testament to my predecessors…
Thus the essence of Jerseyland:
Beginning with hope,
translating to hard work,
understanding with unity,
persevering with dedication,
resulting in love everlasting.