Historical Society of EO kicks off Black History Month

Photo by Chris Sykes
Historical Society of East Orange members, including President Goldie Burbage, right, and East Orange Chamber of Commerce President Patrick Reid, second from right, stand in front of the traveling local history exhibit on Monday, Feb. 5, during the city’s official Black History Month observance kickoff ceremony inside City Hall. The exhibit will be on display inside the City Hall rotunda until Friday, Feb. 9. From there, it’s scheduled to make stops at Calvary Baptist Church, from Friday, Feb. 9, to Sunday, Feb. 11; Clark School, from Monday, Feb. 12, to Friday, Feb. 16; Faith Temple OFW Baptist Church on Sunday, Feb. 18; and the East Orange Public Library, from Friday, Feb. 23, to Wednesday, Feb. 28.EAST ORANGE, NJ — The Historical Society of East Orange and Mayor Ted Green kicked off the city’s official Black History Month observance by unveiling the group’s traveling local history exhibit in the City Hall Rotunda on Monday, Feb. 5.

The Historical Society of East Orange exhibit will be on display at City Hall until Friday, Feb. 9. From there, it’s scheduled to make stops at Calvary Baptist Church, from Friday, Feb. 9, to Sunday, Feb. 11; Clark School, from Monday, Feb. 12, to Friday, Feb. 16; Faith Temple OFW Baptist Church on Sunday, Feb 18; and the East Orange Public Library, from Friday, Feb. 23, to Wednesday, Feb. 28.

“I’m proud to have the Historic Society of East Orange here today to share some of the great folks from East Orange that broke barriers and paved the way,” said Green on Monday, Feb. 5. “And there are many people who paved the way for us in East Orange and we just witnessed it with Sheila Oliver, who was the first black lieutenant governor. I’m very proud of the lady I call ‘The Queen,’ Miss Goldie Burbage, who has been outstanding when it comes to the Historic Society, and who has been on the forefront of making sure that, when it comes to the history of East Orange, it’s not just preserved for posterity, it’s also on display for everyone today to see, understand and enjoy.”

Burbage is not only the president of the Historical Society of East Orange, but is also a part of the Black History Month exhibit, since she made local history as the first black woman to work as a secretary in City Hall for former Mayor William S. Kelly. And although she hails from the nearby city of Orange Township, she’s dedicated to East Orange. Green and others, including City Council Chairman Romal Bullock, said Burbage deserves to be featured in the exhibit among other local luminaries, including: Althea Gibson, U.S. Rep. Donald Payne Sr., Mayor William S. Hart, Mildred Barry Garvin, Evora A. Thomas, actor John Amos, singer Dionne Warwick and Grammy Award-winning singer and actress Whitney Houston.

“It’s a month that’s been an important part of what we do here civically in East Orange. I notice the picture of my council colleague, 3rd Ward Councilman Bergson Leneus, the city’s first Haitian-American elected official, picture and profile is on display upstairs,” said Bullock on Monday, Feb. 5. “What I always try to impress on everyone when we talk about Black History Month is that it shouldn’t just be about African-Americans and our contributions to this country; it really needs to be about people of African descent throughout the world and their contributions to the world. From Haiti’s overthrow of slavery, representing the first real movement toward freedom in the western hemisphere, to all the way back to ancient Egypt, ancient Mali, ancient Songhai and all the great republics and empires in Africa that have driven society and civilization forward.”

Bullock said he’s “proud to join with all of us here among members of our community who are proud to be black, proud to be African-American and proud to be members of this race called humanity and our contributions to its growth and development.”

“We cannot ignore it any time of the year, but this month in particular is the focal point, and so I’m glad that East Orange, as always, and the Historical Society of East Orange, as always, is representing that,” said Bullock.

Burbage said it just felt good to even be mentioned in the same breath as Amos, Warwick, Houston, Gibson, Oliver and the others.

“This is what they call ‘show and tell,’” said Burbage on Monday, Feb. 5. “I’ve been here in the city of East Orange since the early 1960s. I’m 93 years old. I was here with the last Caucasian mayor, Mayor William S. Kelly, so I was the first African-American secretary in the office for Mayor Kelly. That’s part of my history. The rest you will see on the board in the exhibit.”

Patrick Reid, president of the East Orange Chamber of Commerce, is also a member of the society and attended the ceremony along with Green, Burbage and fellow members Patricia Caesar and Florence Johnson.

“I am pleased to be a member of the Historical Society, because it’s important that we preserve our history,” said Reid on Monday, Feb. 5. “Having moved to East Orange around 1981, 1982, I found this community to be one that has so much to share with the world. I was excited to settle here, because it resonates with me. There’s a real diversity in the community and, being of Caribbean descent, I can find anything I need here. We look forward to building this community and adding to its already very rich history.”

Caesar is the chairwoman of the Historical Society of East Orange Black History Month Committee and in charge of the Black History Month exhibit, which has plenty of personal meaning for her.

“I was born and raised in East Orange,” said Caesar on Monday, Feb. 5. “My paternal grandparents settled in East Orange in 1898, so the Caesar family has a distinguished history in this city and I am honoring their legacy.”

Caesar urged those in attendance at the City Hall kickoff to spread the word about the Black History Month exhibit, saying, “I encourage you all to look at this exhibit and spread the word,” said Caesar.

“The only public showing besides a school that has security will be at the Public Library from Feb. 23 to Feb. 28. So I encourage you to spread the word and support the Black History Committee and the Historical Society of East Orange Inc., so that we can continue our public service of bringing this exhibit to schools, to senior buildings, to churches and to other venues in East Orange throughout Black History Month.”

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