For Immediate Release
Keynote address at NJ SPJ’s awards lunch will focus on legacy of T. Thomas Fortune, a crusading 19th century black journalist from Red Bank, NJ
The New Jersey chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is pleased to announce that Dr. Walter Greason, historian and professor at Monmouth University, and president of the T. Thomas Fortune Foundation will be the keynote speaker at NJ SPJ’s annual Signature Awards Luncheon June 22.
The event, to be held at Maize Restaurant in the Robert Treat Hotel, Newark, runs from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Tickets are $30 each and can be purchased here.
The luncheon will fete the first, second and third place winners of NJ SPJ’s annual Signature Awards journalism contest. The names of winners – whose work was published across various platforms, be it print, audio or video — will be announced at the event. Also to be announced will be the names of NJSPJ’s Educator of the Year and Reporter of the Year.
In addition, reporter Isaac Avilucea and editor John Berry, both of The Trentonian, will be honored as our two recipients of our prestigious Courage Under Fire award: The newspaper published several exclusive stories that the mayor and his administration were trying to keep under wraps. One administration official reported a burglary to police and suggested —in a supposed ‘joke’—that the reporter could be a suspect. The paper stood by Avilucea, first with the staff un-earthing contradictory statements from police sources, then by filing an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) lawsuit to obtain bodycam footage. In the end, the “burglary” was revealed not to have ever occurred.
Even after the incident, Trenton’s mayor continued to insist that Avilucea be removed from the City Hall beat. The Courage Under Fire award is intended to send a message—to those in NJ and in Washington, DC—that SPJ will not allow public officials to dictate which journalists they will allow to cover them.
Greason’s keynote will focus on a little-known piece of Garden-State history: the legacy of T. Thomas Fortune, one of the most prominent African-American journalists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Fortune was co-owner and editor of The New York Age, one of the leading black newspapers of his day, and was known for using his newspaper as a vehicle to speak out against lynching, black disenfranchisement and other injustices.
Fortune also had a home in Red Bank, NJ, where he lived from 1901 to 1910.
Over the years, that home – which Fortune called Maple Hall – gradually fell into disrepair and was in danger of being torn down.
Maple Hall was saved from the wrecking ball in 2016, thanks to the efforts of local activists and developer Roger Mumford, who came up with a plan to restore the house and convert it to a cultural center and build 31 luxury apartments in the style of the home in the back of the property. The restored home, at 94 Drs. James Parker Blvd., re-opened as the T. Thomas Fortune Cultural Center this spring.
Greason’s talk is titled “T. Thomas Fortune and the future of Media,’’ and will focus on how the creation of the T. Thomas Fortune Cultural Center has brought renewed attention to how Fortune’s poetry and prose helped give rise to the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and 30s and the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 70s. Greason will also discuss how journalists and other content creators can continue to affirm Fortune’s legacy.
Maple Hall was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 and the New Jersey Register in 1979. In 2016, NJ SPJ named the T. Thomas Fortune House to its then newly formed Registry of Historic Sites in Journalism in New Jersey; this year, it nominated the T. Thomas Fortune House for SPJ’s designation as a National Historic Sites in Journalism.