Somerset County to preserve and digitize stories of enslaved people thanks to grant

Crystal Cranmore Image
Tuesday, June 18, 2024
Somerset County to preserve and digitize stories of enslaved people
Crystal Cranmore has more from Somerset County.

SOMERSET COUNTY, New Jersey (WABC) -- Somerset County received a grant to preserve and digitize the stories of former enslaved people in the county's "inventory of assets" books.

The old pages of these inventory books list everything people owned in Somerset County from the past century and a half.

But go through each fragile sheet line by line, you'll find nuggets of hidden history.

"What I didn't know and I think a lot of other people were naive about it is that the inventories kept in our office had a list of all the slaves," said Bernice Jalloh, Somerset County Surrogate.

Jalloh wants their stories to be preserved and told, and soon they will be thanks to a new grant from the New Jersey Council of Humanities.

"We wanted to know what happened to those slaves, where they were when they get freed," Jalloh said.

Jalloh has been following a paper trail of hundreds of slaves, hoping to make their stories available online.

She says so often, African Americans have been unable to trace their histories since records of Blacks weren't systematically kept.

Joy Anderson-Manning is helping with the project, which unearthed some of her family history.

"We didn't relate slaves to New Jersey," she said. "We related slaves to the South."

These books helped her draw the connection between her children and a former slave named Jack Field.

Many of his descendants were buried at New Cemetery in Somerville.

"We are finding out who we are and we are celebrating our contributions," Anderson-Manning said.

As the county prepares to celebrate its annual Juneteenth event on Wednesday evening, Jalloh wants people in New Jersey to be aware of their own history.

"A lot of people do not know that the slaves in New Jersey were not free until 1866, six months after the ones in Galveston, Texas," she said.

As the first African American woman to be Surrogate in Somerset County, bringing these records to light is personal for Jalloh.

"Our stories are not always told the way they should be told and told by us," she said.

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