Casey Ruble: Artwork

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New Jersey has played a critical role in our country’s turbulent history of race relations. Yet many of the sites connected to that history remain unmarked, bearing little to no evidence of their loaded pasts. Today, one passes these seemingly mundane places—hair salons, empty fields, boutique shops, abandoned buildings—without a thought to their historical significance. The following entries, written by Casey Ruble, offer historical background on each of the sites depicted in Everything That Rises.*

Casey Ruble - Untitled (Boonton)

Untitled (Boonton)
2014
Paper collage
6 x 8 inches

New Jersey was known as “the slave state of the North.” In 1846, it enacted an abolition law that freed all black children born after its passage but designated the state’s remaining slaves as “apprentices for life.” With eighteen of these “apprentices” still remaining in 1860, just five years before the end of the Civil War, New Jersey became the last Northern state to enslave people.

Dr. John Grimes, a Quaker, abolitionist, and publisher of Boonton’s first newspaper, was once arrested for harboring a fugitive slave. He lived in several areas of northern New Jersey, including at a house in Boonton that is now home to a Domino’s Pizza, a deli, and a hair salon.

Click to read the Salon.com article “Secret History of a Northern Slave State: How Slavery Was Written into New Jersey’s DNA”

Casey Ruble - Everyone here is aware of what has happened but they also want to forget as quickly as possible (Jersey City)

Everyone here is aware of what has happened but they also want to forget as quickly as possible.
2014
Paper collage
8 x 6 inches

The promises offered by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 stood in sharp contrast to the reality on the ground: widespread housing and job discrimination, incarceration without due process, and police brutality—injustices black communities had faced since the failure of Reconstruction nearly a century earlier. The civil disturbances of the 1960s grew out of those fissures and quickly spread across the country. The 1964 riot in Jersey City was the first large-scale race riot in the state and one of the first to occur in the U.S. after the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

Sunday, August 2, 1964. “A Hard Day’s Night” by the Beatles tops the charts. President Lyndon B. Johnson receives reports that the USS Maddox is under attack by North Vietnamese torpedo boats in the Gulf of Tonkin. Decades of political corruption in Jersey City, New Jersey, have padded public payrolls and devastated low-income areas. Schools in black neighborhoods are crumbling, city sanitation services are absent, and Mayor Whelan has refused to reopen parks that were closed, ostensibly due to city budget cuts. According to police, Mrs. Dolores Shannon, 26, is found drunk and raging at another woman in the Booker T. Washington public housing complex. They arrest her for disorderly conduct. A man sitting on a porch nearby intervenes and is also arrested—with excessive force, according to witnesses. Both are taken to the Fourth Precinct station, where a group of black residents begins marching in protest against police brutality. At around 10 p.m. a crowd swells at the site of the arrests, shouting epithets at police dispatched to the scene, and the night erupts into three days of violence carried out with bricks, baseball bats, guns, Molotov cocktails, baling hooks, and knives. Searchlights sweep over the tenement buildings, black youths on street corners sing “We Shall Overcome” and other civil-rights songs, and local black clergymen with bullhorns drive through the streets urging people to stop rioting. Mayor Whelan refuses to meet with leaders of the black community to discuss ways of stemming the violence. Instead, he tours the area in a limousine, where he is quoted as saying, “If those people are really leaders, if they really represent the Negroes, let them get those rioters back into their homes.” Seven years after the riot, Mayor Whelan—and seven others, including the city police chief, the city-council president, the city purchasing agent, the county treasurer, and former mayor John V. Kenny—stands trial on charges of conspiring to collect kickbacks on city contracts, a scheme that had lined the pockets of the defendants, known as the “Hudson Eight,” with over three million dollars. Whelan is found guilty and sentenced to fifteen years in a federal penitentiary.

Click to read the illustrated Atlantic article on key moments in the 1960s civil-rights movement, including the 1964 riots in Jersey City and Paterson

Casey Ruble - Untitled (Burlington)

Untitled (Burlington)
2014
Paper collage
8 3/16 x 6 ⅝ inches

Located in Burlington, the Wheatley is the oldest continuously operating pharmacy in New Jersey. In the mid-1800s it was owned and operated by William Allinson, a Quaker who used the apothecary as a meeting place for abolitionist rallies. Poet John Greenleaf Whittier is said to have spoken against slavery on the steps of the building. According to oral tradition, escaped slaves were hidden beneath the Wheatley in tunnels that purportedly connected to other parts of the town.

Although secret passageways and safe houses did exist, they were probably far less common than popular thought suggests. In its time, the Underground Railroad was a highly unpopular movement among whites: only about two percent of white Northerners, according to some estimates, were abolitionists, and many of those abolitionists did not support the effort to help enslaved people escape, believing instead that slavery should be ended by legal means. The participants in the Underground Railroad worked more as a loose association of individuals than as an organized network guaranteeing a failsafe route to freedom. Many fugitives made their way north with little or no help, donning disguises, following old American Indian trails, and relying on their own savvy and persistence.

Click here to read the poem “The Moral Warfare” by John Greenleaf Whittier

Casey Ruble - Untitled (Timbuctoo)

Untitled (Timbuctoo)
2014
Paper collage
6 x 8 inches
Collection of Liz Paley

The 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, which made aiding escapees a criminal offense, dramatically changed the landscape for both free blacks and runaways across the country. Slave catchers had carte blanche to kidnap African Americans living in the North, claiming—rightly or wrongly—that they were escapees. Free or fugitive, those kidnapped were not entitled to a jury trial or the opportunity to testify on their own behalves.

The African-American community of Timbuctoo, formed near Camden in the 1820s by free blacks and escaped slaves, was the site of the Battle of Pine Swamp. On a cold November night in 1860, armed slave catchers arrived at the home of resident Perry Simmons, who rushed his family to the garret in the house and armed himself with two guns and an axe. Hearing cries for help from the family, nearby residents came to their rescue and succeeded in driving the men away with guns, knives, and axes.

This incident motivated Timbuctoo residents to join the Union Army when the Civil War broke out just five months later. All that remains today of this vibrant nineteenth-century community is a sleepy cemetery housing the graves of black Civil War veterans and overgrown fields excavated in 2010 by the archaeology department at Temple University.

Click here to listen to the NPR story on Temple University archeological excavation

Casey Ruble - What happened

What happened?
2015
Paper collage
7 x 7 inches

Tuesday, August 11, 1964. Jersey City is reeling from the riot there just days earlier. The FBI issues a memorandum stating that the autopsy of James Chaney cannot determine whether the Mississippi civil rights worker was beaten prior to being shot. Filming of the anti-war movie Shenandoah, starring James Stewart, begins, though public opposition to the Vietnam War is still in its infancy. Capital generated in white-owned stores in the black ghettos of Paterson, New Jersey, continues to enrich white neighborhoods rather than benefit the black communities that desperately need it. Under the pretense of protecting white residents, police are routinely raiding black bars and forcing black citizens off sidewalks and out of other public areas, brutally assaulting those who insist they have a right to peacefully occupy these spaces. At the end of a humid day of scattered thunderstorms, youths leaving an outdoor dance gather on a street corner in Paterson’s Fourth Ward. When police attempt to break up the crowd, the young people resist and violence breaks out. Soon others join the fray, throwing rocks, bottles, and bricks. The chaos has subsided by the early hours of the next morning, and Mayor Graves, at an afternoon luncheon for Miss New Jersey, announces that “Paterson will be completely safe for you tonight.” Later that day, while a news crew sets up on the corner of Bridge and Governor Streets preparing to report that the city is calm, a Molotov cocktail hurled from a third-story window above them explodes into flames. The rioting continues through the morning of Friday, August 14. City officials subsequently agree to respond to pleas from the black community for fair treatment, but ultimately fail to do so.

Click to listen to the New Jersey State Council for the Humanities documentary on riots in Paterson

Casey Ruble - Untitled (Jersey City, 1)

Untitled (Jersey City)
2014
Paper collage
6 x 8 inches

Documentation suggests that the Jersey City area was a birthplace of slavery in the state in the 1600s. Two centuries later, the city stood as the convergence point of New Jersey’s four main Underground Railroad routes, and it was the last stop in the state before fugitives crossed the Hudson River—hidden on coal boats and ferries that landed in Manhattan. New York City was a major abolitionist hub, but by the beginning of the Civil War it also had witnessed white-initiated mob attacks on black residents and white abolitionists. Common across the country, these white-instigated riots lasted through the Jim Crow period. Sparked by anger over abolitionism, fear of loss of racial supremacy, and ongoing economic disenfranchisement, these riots were used, along with lynching, as a highly effective means of racial intimidation.

The home of Dr. Henry D. Holt, located on the Morris Canal Basin near the Hudson River, served as a station on the Underground Railroad for fugitives making their way to Manhattan. The Holt home no longer exists; a locked, gated park and a memorial dedicated to Korean War veterans can be found in the vicinity.

Click to read The New York Times article “After Deadly Draft Riots, a Shared Experience Reshaped Families in Manhattan”

Casey Ruble - The governor answered "no" when asked about any Communist instigation of the riots (Newark)

The governor answered “no” when asked about any Communist instigation of the riots.
2014
Paper collage
6 x 8 inches

By the summer of 1967, the last of what were dubbed the “long hot summers,” John F. Kennedy and Medgar Evers had been dead for four years. Malcolm X had been dead for two. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy would be assassinated in less than a year. Effecting change through sit-ins, marches, and other peaceful means was seen by some as increasingly futile. The country had experienced at least eighteen major riots in three years. The 1967 Newark riot would remain among the deadliest in U.S. history.

Wednesday, July 12, 1967. Pepsi Cola, which had aggressively targeted the black market in the 1940s, has since switched gears and features Miss America Jane Anne Jayroe in its 1967 “ice cold!” advertising campaign. The Supreme Court ruling on Loving v. Virginia, making state bans on interracial marriages unconstitutional, turns a month old. Homes and buildings in Newark’s low-income Central Ward have been slated to be seized by eminent domain for construction of a new medical complex, and several years of high-profile police-misconduct cases are still fresh in the minds of Newark residents. Shortly after sunset cab driver John W. Smith passes a double-parked squad car on 15th Avenue. He is pulled over at 9th Street, arrested, and allegedly beaten on the way to the Fourth Precinct Headquarters.

Click to view the Time magazine cover of cab driver John Smith

Casey Ruble - Music. Even laughter. And always the gunfire.

Music. Even laughter. And always the gunfire.
2015
Paper collage
8 ¼ x 6 inches

Word of Smith’s arrest is conveyed over cab radios, and a crowd forms at the Fourth Precinct Headquarters. Local civil rights leaders arrive and are allowed to see Smith, who is badly injured. Smith is taken out a back door to a hospital, but rumors spread that he has been killed in police custody. A Molotov cocktail explodes on the side of the precinct building, along with bottles and bricks. Two cars are set on fire and several nearby stores are looted, while police attempting to intervene are hit with projectiles. By the next morning, a temporary calm has settled in and Mayor Addonizio calls the disturbance an “isolated incident.” But violence erupts again that evening and the city rapidly descends into chaos. Flames engulf entire buildings, the wail of sirens is punctuated by the sound of gunfire, stores are gutted, and debris litters the streets. The New Jersey State Police and National Guard are called in. When they arrive, Addonizio tells them that “the whole town is gone;” the riot continues to rage for another four days as army tanks lumber down avenues. Unfounded rumors spread that black snipers are shooting from rooftops; police and guardsmen respond by spraying public-housing buildings with machine-gun fire, killing residents taking shelter in their homes. After five days of rioting, 23 people are dead, over 750 are injured, firefighters have responded to approximately 250 fires, and over 13,000 rounds of ammunition have been expended, none of which are proven to have come from anyone other than law enforcement.

Click to watch a British newscast on Newark riot.

Casey Ruble - Untitled (Cherry Hill)

Untitled (Cherry Hill)
2015
Paper collage
6 x 8 inches

In the early days of the country, many Quakers owned slaves and participated in the slave trade, but by the late 1600s the society had become the first corporate body in America to protest the practice on ethical and religious grounds. Thomas Evans, a Quaker, purchased this Cherry Hill house in 1816, and his son Josiah owned it from about 1840. Both were active in the Underground Railroad; fugitives were reputedly hidden in the attic of the home. On one occasion, Josiah bribed a slave catcher to secure the freedom of two of the men he harbored. One of them, Joshua Saddler, subsequently established a settlement of freed slaves in what is now Haddon Township.

Click for information on visiting Croft Farm in Cherry Hill, now an arts center

Casey Ruble - Untitled (Jersey City, 2)

Untitled (Jersey City)
2015
Paper collage
8 x 6 inches

The Hilton-Holden mansion was built by David Le Cain Holden, a banker, amateur astronomer, and prominent abolitionist. Holden is said to have used the gilded astronomical observatory atop the house as a place from which to receive signals about the movement of the fugitives he took in. A bit ramshackle today, the mansion is now ringed by surveillance cameras and “no trespassing” and “beware of dog” signs. It is the only intact Underground Railroad safe house remaining in Jersey City; a streetside plaque describes its importance in the history of the state.

Click to learn about the history of the Underground Railroad in Jersey City

Casey Ruble - They said they'd rather die here than in Vietnam

“They said they’d rather die here than in Vietnam.”
2015
Paper collage
6 ½ x 8 inches

Friday, July 14, 1967. The Newark riot continues to rage. Spacecraft Surveyor 4 is launched to the moon but never lands. Socialite Caroline Lee Bouvier Radziwill graces the cover of Life magazine; Jet magazine’s cover goes to Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, then a member of the California State Assembly and later the first black woman from the West to be elected to the U.S. Congress. The word “nigger” is routinely used to describe suspects over police radios in Plainfield, New Jersey, and although local black leaders have been vocal about police racism, housing segregation, and discriminatory hiring practices for years, their appeals have fallen on deaf ears in city government offices. When a fight breaks out between two young men at the White Star Diner, a popular black hangout, the white Plainfield police officer serving as security refuses to intervene or call an ambulance. Angry at yet another example of police racism, black youths take to the street, marching through the neighborhood for several hours before throwing rocks at police cars and store windows. Violence increases over the weekend, culminating in the shooting of 22-year-old Bobby Williams by John Gleason, a white police officer who had reportedly shot a black child a year earlier and was known in the ghetto as a racist. Gleason is beaten with a shopping cart and dies of his injuries soon thereafter. The National Guard and state police begin ransacking homes in a futile search for a stash of rifles reportedly stolen from a local weapons manufacturer a few days earlier. By midnight on Sunday, streets are strewn with overturned cars, lamppost lights have been shot out, and burned, looted stores smolder in the dark.

Click to listen to the All Things Considered podcast on the Plainfield riot and two residents who experienced it first-hand

Casey Ruble - Untitled (Lawnside)

Untitled (Lawnside)
2015
Paper collage
6 x 8 inches

Often given short shrift in the history books, African Americans played a major role in aiding escapees along the Underground Railroad. Little is known about Peter Mott aside from the fact that he was a preacher, a conductor on the Underground Railroad, and a free black man who lived in Lawnside, the only incorporated municipality in the northern U.S. that was historically African American. Believed to be the oldest exigent house in Lawnside today, the Mott home was slated for demolition in the 1990s but was saved and meticulously restored by town residents. Today, it sits at the end of a cul-de-sac lined by middle-income housing and is open to the public on Saturdays.

Click to read the illustrated article on restoration of Peter Mott House

Casey Ruble - Untitled (Swedesboro)

Untitled (Swedesboro)
2015
Paper collage
8 x 6 inches

African Methodist Episcopal (AME) churches across the North and Midwest were an instrumental part of the Underground Railroad. Still standing today, the Mount Zion AME church in Swedesboro, New Jersey, is located on an area of swamp and forest that was once populated by Quakers and free blacks and ran from the African-American hamlet of Springtown to Mount Holly, near Philadelphia. Church members reputedly ferreted escapees through a trap door in the vestibule that led to a crawlspace under the floor, and in 1836 they staged an armed rescue of a fugitive who had been apprehended by a slave catcher. The church was on the Underground Railroad’s Greenwich line, which Harriet Tubman helped operate. She was just one of many individuals, their names lost to history, who took enormous risks to aid fugitives.

Click to read a newspaper article about Mount Zion AME members attempting to rescue a fugitive slave who had been apprehended by a slave-catcher, originally published in the Constitution in 1836, transcribed on the Mount Zion AME website.

Casey Ruble - Untitled (Allentown)

Untitled (Allentown)
2014
Paper collage
6 x 8 inches

Because those operating the Underground Railroad did so in secrecy and rarely kept written documentation of their activities, verifying the authenticity of safe houses is difficult. Compounding the difficulty, many homeowners who discover a trap door or passageway in the basement erroneously assume the house was part of the Underground Railroad, resulting in hundreds of false claims. Although strong oral tradition may suggest the veracity of some claims, lack of proof leaves many as question marks in history. This is the case with the Imlay House, built circa 1790 by a wealthy shipping merchant in Allentown, New Jersey. In the 1800s, three daughters of the Robbins family may have used what was then the kitchen area of the home to help fugitives escape. The building was subsequently used as a rooming house, a hospital, and a private residence. Today it houses boutique shops that sell scented soap, scarves, and garden ornaments.

Click to watch the video Seven Steps to Freedom: The Underground Railroad, in which historians Dr. Clement A. Price and Dr. Spencer Crew discuss the history and significance of the Underground Railroad in America and south New Jersey

Casey Ruble - The wind was out of the west at 20 mph (Asbury Park)

The wind was out of the west at 20 m.p.h.
2014
Paper collage
6 x 8 inches

Saturday, the Fourth of July, 1970. Thousands attend Honor America Day, a de facto pro-war rally in Washington, D.C., organized by supporters of President Richard Nixon in the wake of the invasion of Cambodia and the Kent State shootings. Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 debuts, ending with the #1 hit “Mama Told Me Not to Come” by Three Dog Night, followed by Kasem’s signature signoff: “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.” Clubs on the West Side of Asbury Park, New Jersey, are drawing racially mixed audiences to their vibrant gospel, soul, R&B, and doo-wop music scene. Local black teenagers are angry about being turned away from boardwalk jobs that were instead given to white youths from out of town. The police are called when black teenagers leaving a dance begin hitting cars with bottles as they walk down Springwood Avenue. The clash spreads as others join in the violence and property destruction. By Monday, the city is in full riot and Mayor Mattice declares a state of emergency. On Tuesday morning, community leaders present a list of demands to the city council that includes “immediate employment of 100 youths from the west side.” By Wednesday, the annex of the local jail is at capacity, the hospital has treated fifty-six people injured in the riot, the city’s West Side has sustained crippling damage, and meetings between black community leaders and the city council have failed to secure meaningful responses to complaints of police misconduct and urgent requests for long-sought improvements in living conditions. Seven days after the violence first erupted, Asbury’s West Side has sustained $4 million in property damage, 167 arrests have been made, 180 people have been injured, and approximately 100 jobs have been lost. Burned-out clubs along Springwood Avenue would soon be demolished or remain boarded up indefinitely. Local residents and the Salvation Army begin picking up the pieces and offer food and shelter to families left homeless by the riot.

Click to listen to a recording of 1970 top hit “War” by Edwin Starr (who later performed the song with Asbury Park native Bruce Springsteen)

* Information on the race riots is compiled from The Encyclopedia of American Race Riots (Walter Rucker and James N. Upton, eds., Greenwood: 2006) and from newspaper articles published at the time of the events. Additional information on the Paterson, Plainfield, and Asbury Park riots is taken, respectively, from The 1964 Paterson Riot: Three Days That Changed a City by George Lipsitz and Richard E. Polton (North Jersey Media Group Books: 2014), from “Riot and Reunion: Forty Years Later” by Peter Dreier (The Nation: 2007) and from Fourth of July, Asbury Park by Daniel Wolff (Bloomsbury: 2006).

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This exhibition was made possible by a grant from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, a state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this exhibition, website and exhibition catalog do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or the New Jersey Council for the Humanities.