The Black Diaspora in New Jersey

Jesse Fried • Jun 14, 2017

Slavery was a part of 17th and 18th century New Jersey society. Slaves of African ancestry as well as free blacks lived in New Jersey in colonial times.

As far as I understand, NJ's major cities such as Newark always have had black communities, though much smaller before the 20th century. I admit I'm not especially clear on their histories.

In the 20th century, The Great Migration from the South brought many times more African-American families to the state than ever before. The black populations of NJ's industrial cities grew exponentially, starting around WWI, with growth peaking between WWII and the 60's.

Discriminatory housing policy at the federal level, the practices of local real estate agents, and bank lending policies ranging from unfair to criminal blocked many of NJ's black residents from joining the mass movement to the suburbs as homeowners. As a result, many suburbs became artificially white, and many people became trapped in declining cities. Another dimension of this story is the rise of a fair number of predominantly black suburbs. In the Newark area these include East Orange, Irvington, Hillside, and some neighborhoods of Union and Maplewood.

In more recent decades, Afro-Caribbean immigration has been substantial, mostly to these same cities and black suburbs.

A great variety of Caribbean restaurants and Southern-style restaurants - often of better quality and value than food options in the nearby suburbs - today stand as culinary testaments to the backgrounds of these New Jerseyites.

Slavery in NJ
Max Miller
March 17, 2017, 3:06 p.m.

(Not so) fun fact: New Jersey was the last state in the North to abolish slavery, in 1804. This was a gradual abolition, however. There were enslaved people in New Jersey up until 1865, when the practice of forced labor was abolished nationwide.