Councilwoman O’Connor Woodbury History Lesson
What is the ‘story’ behind the broken windows on the Old Carpenter Street School?
In May, 2020 the police were dispatched to 55 Carpenter Street for a report of vandalism.
Juveniles were suspected of being the culprits that threw the rocks, breaking a total of eight historical windows.
These were not just your average windows and this building was not just your average structure. It has both local and national significance. A history we are proud to share.
The vandalized property was the Old Carpenter Street School, built in 1840 by Joseph Tatum, a Philadelphian who championed education for African American children. A rare antebellum survivor, this building is believed to be New Jersey's oldest existing schoolhouse and the oldest surviving structure associated with the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Woodbury, a congregation founded in 1817. Eight years later, a larger schoolhouse was built a block away, and the Old Carpenter Street school became a parish house.
The report of vandalism in her community and the 2nd Ward she represents sparked a flame in Councilwoman Karlene O’Connor. She believes that we, as a community and parents, need to reeducate people. “If the young people don’t know why it (the old Carpenter Street School) is relevant, they aren’t going to value it.”
As the city welcomes residents of varied ethnicity, she feels that we need to “be more inclusive to the diversity of our community. Let’s continue our history as a sanctuary city by embracing and respecting each other.”
THE OLD CARPENTER STREET SCHOOL WAS A ‘STOP’ ON THE UNDERGROUND RAILWAY THAT HELPED SLAVES TO FIND THEIR WAY TO FREEDOM
The city of Woodbury was an important ‘stop’ on the underground railway and the Old Carpenter Street School was one of the shelters for runaway slaves on the road to freedom.
A rug on the schoolroom floor was lifted to reveal access to the basement. There, the slaves were housed and fed, usually for a few days, until it was safe to move to the next ‘stop.’
Naomi Nelson, Gloucester County College Grants and Special Projects Administrator and past vice president of programs at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, addressed the concept of helping others of diverse backgrounds when she told NJ.com:
“In the early days when the nation was built on slavery, there were white people, black people and Native Americans who all helped people run away from slavery,” Nelson said. “They all helped people they didn’t even know. Each one made a decision to make a difference in the world they lived in. Anyone today can challenge themselves to also make a difference in the world.” (2011).
Martin Luther King Jr. summed it up when he preached, ““We are not makers of history. We are made by history.”'
source Office of the Mayor