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East Brunswick Council honors community project for slave memorial

EAST BRUNSWICK– The Lost Souls Public Memorial Project would honor approximately 200 African Americans who were sold into slavery by Judge Jacob Van Wickle in 1818 by building a memorial at the East Brunswick Municipal Complex.

“East Brunswick extends back in time to when the indigenous people of America once settled along the rivers and the streams of what was used to become the Township of East Brunswick,” Councilman Sharon Sullivan read from the proclamation during the Feb. 11 Township Council meeting. “Whereas, that history includes the time when slavery was practiced around the young United States in the decades prior to the American Civil War. Whereas, the practice of slavery brought untold misery to the lives of our fellow residents, who by the virtue of their race were treated brutality and inhumanity.”

Sullivan said that in 1804, New Jersey passed the gradual emancipation act, which decreed that every person born to parents hold in bondage were themselves free on July 4 of that year.

“In 1818, Local Magistrate Judge Jacob Van Wickle, an East Brunswick resident, used the power of his office to subvert the letter and the intent of these laws by operating the largest and most notorious illegal slave ring in American history,” Sullivan said. “Whereas, his property was described at the time as a ‘slave castle’ where innocent people were held under armed guard and violence used against them all for the purpose of deporting them out of New Jersey to Louisiana and to other areas in the deep South.”

Sullivan said the people who were caught in the slave ring were denied both their legal rights and their human rights by illegal proceedings conducted within the township’s borders 200 years ago. These approximately 200 enslaved Americans consisted of men, women, children and even newborn infants.

“[These enslaved citizens] were members of our community and their illegal treatment received public notice and legislative action at the time but was never corrected or adjudicated,” Sullivan said. “Whereas, there is now a community-based effort The Lost Souls Public Memorial Project to remember these enslaved Africans and their lives. [By] doing so both acknowledge the errors of the past and to serve as a reminder that all people have inherited rights to justice as a society protect.”

In an effort to build a memorial to honor Van Wickle’s victims, Sullivan said the project has brought together The Unitarian Society  and its minister the Rev. Karen Johnston, the New Brunswick Area NAACP, The African-American Historical and Genealogical Society New Jersey Chapter, the East Brunswick Human Relations Council, the East Brunswick Arts Commission and the public.

“Now, therefore, be it proclaimed I, Mayor Brad Cohen, and the Township Council, do hereby acknowledge the fact of the lost souls as part of our history and support the creation of both a public memorial and ongoing educational efforts to ensure that their story will never be forgotten. We urge all to acknowledge, support and educate about the The Lost Souls Public Memorial Project for what began in East Brunswick. Past history should be recognized by all,” Sullivan read from the proclamation.

For more information about The Lost Souls Public Memorial Project, visit its Facebook page.

Contact Vashti Harris at vharris@newspapermediagroup.com.

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