Effort to preserve Trenton’s Black history gets a funding boost from Amazon employees

Representatives from the Amazon Black Employees Network based at hubs in Deptford and Florence present checks totaling $10,000 towards the restoration of Locust Hill Cemetery in Trenton. There will also be a Black history museum constructed on the site as well

Representatives from the Amazon Black Employees Network based at hubs in Deptford and Florence present checks totaling $10,000 towards the restoration of Locust Hill Cemetery in Trenton. There will also be a Black history museum constructed on the site as well. (P. Kenneth Burns/WHYY News)

Black employees at two Amazon hubs in New Jersey collectively donated $10,000 to help preserve Black history in Trenton.

The money will go towards the restoration of the historic Locust Hill Cemetery, the city’s oldest burial site for African Americans, which will also serve as the location of Trenton’s first Black museum. Boosters said it could become a catalyst for neighborhood development.

“We’re going to use this as the centerpiece and expand out to improve the housing on the street, the landscape, the artscape of the street, the lighting, and the parking,” said Algernon Ward, Jr., the president of the 6th Regiment United States Colored Troops reenactors. His organization is overseeing the project. “We’re really excited to not only open this museum to commemorate our ancestors, but also to begin the work of rehabilitating this entire community.”

Algernon Ward Jr., president of the 6th Regiment U.S. Colored Troops, Reenactors, says at least 200 people were interred at Locust Hill Cemetery
Algernon Ward Jr., president of the 6th Regiment U.S. Colored Troops Reenactors, says at least 200 people were interred at Locust Hill Cemetery. (P. Kenneth Burns/WHYY News)
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Before it was a cemetery, the land in modern day East Trenton was known as Locust Grove Hill, a place where the militia in colonial times would practice. Ward said Indigenous people likely used the land long before Trenton came into existence. “We’re finding bits of evidence to kind of strengthen that conjecture,” he said, adding that they are working with archeologists to investigate.

The grove became a cemetery for African Americans after 1860, one of several throughout the city until the sites were consolidated at Locust Hill. Algernon believes more than 200 people are buried at the site, including 10 civil war veterans.

Steve Thomas, a member of the 6th Regiment U.S. Colored Troops, Reenactors, play the Battle Hymn of the Republic on the fife
Steve Thomas, a member of the 6th Regiment U.S. Colored Troops Reenactors, play the Battle Hymn of the Republic on the fife. (P. Kenneth Burns/WHYY News)
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The donation by the online retail giant came from its Black Employee Network, an affinity group within Amazon. D.J. Welch, an operations manager at the company’s Florence hub, said they wanted to make a bigger impact on the community in 2022.

“We made quite a bit of impact throughout Burlington County, even Camden County,” he said. “We were talking, strategizing, like, how are we going to take this to a whole other level?”

For Welch, who was born and educated in Trenton, the project was personal, citing a history of Black veterans in his family.

“I wanted to be able to make sure that they are recognized here,” he added.

Between the Florence and Deptford hubs, each contributed $5,000 to help with the restoration and the construction.

The donation was apparently unexpected. Ward praised the company’s involvement, noting that employees have already volunteered at the site.

“We hear of corporate responsibility and investment in the neighborhood. We rarely see it,” he said. “But here today, it’s been proven to us that, at least at Amazon, they are serious about it.”

Ward said that the money is “going to work us for a little bit” and told the crowd gathered the architect estimates the restoration work and the museum would come to between $350,000 and $840,000.

“But this is the beginning,” he proclaimed. “We are rolling!”

The site of a future Black history museum at the Locust Hill Cemetery in Trenton, N.J.
The site of a future Black history museum at the Locust Hill Cemetery in Trenton, N.J. (P. Kenneth Burns/WHYY News)

Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora said the new museum gives the city an opportunity to create an African American history trail in the capital city, citing several sites in addition to Locust Hill like the Carver Center and the Higbee School.

“This is an opportunity to make it relevant for the citizens in the city, but also for the citizens in the state to come here and not only visit the revolutionary sites, but the other historic sites that really make up Trenton,” he said.

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