In celebration of Black History Month, the library will be hosting a variety of programs and exhibits related to African American history in Westfield. This entire series is presented in partnership with the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Association of Westfield, and located at Westfield Memorial Library. Please register for any and all events you plan to attend as space is limited.
Join us for opening remarks by Mayor Shelley Brindle; Liz Wolf, President of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Association of Westfield, Library Director Allen McGinley; and other local representatives.
Saturday, February 3 at 1:00pm.
A panel of Westfield elders share insights and experiences that span almost a century in our town. Glean perspectives and understanding. Panelists include Mary Withers, Wallace Brown, Gladys Edwards and Joyce Pretlow. Library Director Allen McGinley will moderate the discussion.
About the panelists:
Mary Withers, a longtime resident of Westfield, was one of the founders of the Westfield Neighborhood Council (WNC) in 1967 and is presently on its Board of Directors. She is also a member of the Westfield Historical Society. She is the former owner of Blackberry’s Catering in Plainfield and established in Westfield as a caterer specializing in Southern foods.
Wallace Brown, a Korean War veteran, was born in Westfield in 1931. He was the first African American Special Agent in the Criminal Investigation Division in New Jersey and served on the Secret Service Presidential Detail. He has been a longtime member of the Centennial Elks Lodge and has served as president and trustee of the Westfield Community Center.
Gladys Edwards celebrated her 100th birthday in August 2023 and has lived in Westfield for over 60 years. She served on the Board of Directors of the Westfield Community Center, was the Secretary of the Negro History Club, volunteered at the McKinley School Library, was a cub scout den mother, and has been a member of the MLK Association of Westfield for many decades.
Joyce Pretlow is a lifelong Westfield resident. She has served with the Westfield Community Center for over 40 years as its former President of the Board of Directors and current trustee. She is a member of the Westfield Historical Society, including the Westfield 300 African American History subcommittee, and a longtime member of Bethel Baptist Church.
Saturday, February 3 at 2:00pm
The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Association of Westfield will present their exhibit African American History in Westfield 1720 to Present.
The exhibit will also feature screenings of two short documentaries about Westfield’s Black Professional Zone, and the African American neighborhood that was located in what is now Brightwood Park. Both films were created by Westfield resident Isaiah Anderson.
Monday, February 5, 6:00pm to 8:00pm
No Registration Necessary
Additional exhibit hours include:
- Saturday, February 10, 12:00pm to 4:00pm No Registration Necessary
- Saturday, February 17, 12:00pm to 4:00pm No Registration Necessary
- Saturday, February 24, 12:00pm to 4:00pm No Registration Necessary
Join local fiber artist Lisa Shepard Stewart for a trunk show of her own quilts, wall hangings and accessories created with ankara prints, mudcloth, korhogo fabrics, Ghanaian batiks and more. Lisa will also offer an illuminating look at the mosaic of quilt styles by African American artists, moving far beyond the celebrated Gees Bend quilting style that has become synonymous with the “African American quilting” genre. Prepare to enjoy a colorful evening full of information and inspiration!
Lisa Shepard Stewart is a writer and fiber artist, and the owner of Cultured Expressions Sewing Studio in Rahway. She promotes the creative use of African textiles for sewing, quilting, home decor and crafts. After successfully running her business online for 17 years, Lisa opened CE’s first studio location in downtown Rahway, NJ in December 2017. Here, she offers a curated selection of fabrics and embellishments, plus events and lots of creative inspiration, whether in person, online, or virtually.
Thursday, February 8 at 7:00pm.
Harlem Renaissance authors Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes are two of Westfield’s most famous former residents. But did you know that the two friends collaborated on a play called Mule Bone, which wasn’t produced for another 60 years? Their relationship and collaborative efforts are documented in a recent book Zora and Langston: A Story of Friendship and Betrayal (2019), by Yuval Taylor. Join us for a special black history book discussion of Zora and Langston.
Copies of the book are available to be borrowed for the book discussion at the library’s front desk.
Thursday, February 15 at 7:00pm
A mostly African American neighborhood grew around Turkey Swamp in the “Big Woods” area of Westfield between 1905 and 1960. Many residents were part of the “Great Migration” to the northern states by African Americans in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This is the story of their lives, families, and the events that led to the demise of their neighborhood.
Rob Lombard was raised in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC. He attended Columbia College and majored in architectural history and urban planning. Rob applied these interests over a 40-year career as a historic preservationist, planner, and municipal administrator. He and his wife Rosemary have lived in Westfield for 42 years, raising their three children which included regular walks through Brightwood Park. They are both retired and enjoy spending time with their seven grandchildren, traveling a bit, and volunteering.
Thursday, February 22 at 7:00pm
Learn the language of spirituals while participating in song, presented by Donnell Carr. The African American spiritual is widely recognized as a singular and vitally important form of American folksong. A glossary of terms and phrases will be provided to illuminate the messages embedded in the lyrics.
Donnell has lived in Westfield, NJ for 42 years. He was born in Nashville, TN where he grew up surrounded by music, especially the Blues, Gospel and the African American Spirituals. Donnell lived just a few blocks from the famous giver of the Spirituals to the world, Fisk (then college) University. He attended Pearl High School in Nashville, a then all black school, separated by legal – albeit unconstitutional -segregation, that was known for outstanding academics and athletics. It was also known for its music program that performed the spirituals adopted from Fisk. Donnell was immersed in and enriched by this music of the enslaved, and on occasions over the years has performed it as a soloist.