Looking Back:
The African-American Community
of Camden, New Jersey


Gee Whiz! This is a page that I've looked forward to beginning for quite some time, and to a great extent dreaded as well- there simply far too many parties with an ax to grind and/or with an agenda to make this a topic to attempted carelessly.

A lot of what I've learned about Camden as a whole came from looking at census sheets, which don't have opinions, merely report things as they are found to be. More of what I've learned was from being married into a large African-America family here in Camden, and from simply asking questions and talking to friends, neighbors, and bar patrons during the 13 years I worked as a disc jockey in various South Camden bars. 

For most people alive today in the city, it would take a great leap of the imagination to imagine a time where African Americans were not a large percentage of the population. Ask, lets say, 20 people at random when there family came to Camden and where from that the answer will be after 1920 and from any of the coastal states - Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware. That being said, one can infer that in a practical sense one should look at black life in Camden in three or perhaps for different stages; one being lets say before roughly 1880, a second from that time until 1920, a third from about 1920 though 1960, and the last being after 1960.  

Segregation was a fact of life in America prior to World War II and for some years afterwards, the degree and extant varying widely all over the country. In Camden it followed a peculiar pattern. Public Schools were segregated at the elementary levels, but the High Schools never were. The city was simply not large enough to afford to build a separate high school. An examination of census records, which are available up to 1930, show that neighborhoods may have had a majority of one ethnic group or another, one would be hard put to find an entire block anywhere in the city that was all-Black, all-Italian, all-Jewish, or all-anything. The current assumption of most people on the street that Parkside was all Jewish, Whitman Park all Polish, and Centerville all black, simply does not hold water. A more realistic picture could be had by taking a virtual walk from Broadway east on Kaighn Avenue to Seventh Street, north on Seventh Street to Chestnut, and East on Chestnut to Eight Street. This walk, only four blocks, mind you, would take you from a block or so with a lot of Jewish people on Kaighn Avenue, though a block or so with a lot of Black residents on 7th Street near Sycamore and Chestnut, then up Chestnut to another pocket of Jewish people.... the bar at 789 Chestnut was the Jewish owned Weisfeld's Cafe for something like 50 years, and there was a synagogue at 8th and Sycamore. What one has to understand is that Camden was (and is) so geographically small, and that there were so many different ethnicities here, that it was literally impossible for anyone to disentangle oneself from another.  

One in retrospect very bad thing happened in the mid 1930s when public housing came to Camden. One project, Westfield Acres, was built for whites only, while another, Branch Village, was built as all-Black. This was repeated in the 1940s when the Ablett Village and Chelton Terrace projects were built. Never before had there been enforced segregation in the city in terms of housing, and although segregation in Camden Public Housing ended in the mid 1950s, this very bad idea of keeping people apart gained a whole lot more traction than it was ever worth, to the city's detriment.   

As times changed, as the nation as a whole changed, as the percentage of population changed, and as the community itself changed, African-American life in Camden and the roles that African-Americans played evolved, especially in the realm of politics. Camden politics prior to the 1920s had been a pretty homogeneous affair, after that point, every ethnicity in town had its own Democrat and Republican Club in just about every ward. With the influx of Black voters from the South in the 1920s and 1930s the African-American vote, while not anywhere close to a majority or even close to being the largest ethnic block in the city, had become significant to the point that its leaders were able to gain increased city services and two large public works projects. By 1951 it was politically feasible for Dr. Ulysses Wiggins to run for a place on the five person city commission. He was defeated, but within a decade Elijah Perry achieved that position. 

Most of my source material for web-pages is from before 1950, or from my times working in African-American owned bars here in town. With that in mind, please note that I am open to suggestions about topics for this and any other page on the website. Have fun!

Phil Cohen
Camden NJ
March 2005

African American Life in Camden before 1880

Medal of Honor
John Lawson, Landsman, United States Navy

John Lawson received a new tombstone on April 24, 2004
Click above to see photographs from the ceremony


A pamphlet published by the Camden County Historical Society in the 1940s
relating the slavery issue among Camden's early settlers. 

A Search For The Soldiers And Sailors from the Civil War
in Camden County NJ
William P. Robeson Post No. 517, Grand Army of the Republic


Lost In The Line Of Duty


Wite 60 Minute Cleaning Service

Hunton Branch YMCA - South Camden YMCA

Philadelphia Inquirer - March 4, 1898
South 5th Street - Chestnut Street - South 8th Street - Sycamore Street
Maennerchor Hall - Kayser's Hall - Newton Hall

Camden Courier-Post - January 13, 1928

Reports Indicate Excellent Work Done Among Girls of City

The annual meeting of the Young Women’s Christian Association was held last evening at their headquarters, 821 South 8th Street. This work includes the activities among the colored women and girls which is conducted under the auspices of the central association on Stevens Street, and is carried on largely through voluntary contributions and other sources. Mrs. W.W. Fry is the chairman of colored work. There are 142 members and 81 juniors. 

Miss E.L. Sawyer, the secretary, is presenting her sixth annual report set forth in detail the work which has been accomplished during the past year. This included classes in education, the Bible, dressmaking and art needlework. 

Special emphasis was laid in the Girl Reserve movement which, in addition to the clubs at the building, have organizations in the Sumner and Homestead, the junior and senior high and grade schools. Other important work among the girls is conducted by the Phyllis Westley and Francis J. Coppin clubs, both named in honor of two colored women, the former a poetess who lived in Boston during.

The period of the colonial days, and the latter a noted educator and poetess, also the founder of the Frances J. Harper School of Philadelphia. The amount raised for conducting this work last year was $2,000, which was found inadequate to meet their increasing needs.

The following committees were elected:

Management, Mrs. C.T. Branch, chairman; Mrs. A.W. Claphan, vice chairman; Mrs. Blanche Nutt, secretary; Mrs. S. Wright, Mrs. W. Marshall, Mrs. M.O. Lee, Mrs. J. Alston, Mrs. S. Teal, Mrs. M. Garnett, Mrs. E. Buck, and Mrs. H. Cornish, honorary member.

Membership, Mrs. J. Alston; girls’ work, Mrs. B. Nutt; house committee, Mrs. S Teal; hospitality, Mrs. M. Garnett; finance, Mrs. S. Wright; education, Mrs. A.W. Claphan; religious, Mrs. E. Buck, Miss Bessie Peaton and Mrs. A. Copper.

Camden Courier-Post - January 23, 1928

Committee Named by Mayor Plans Pageantry Group

The meeting of the sub-committee of colored citizens appointed by the mayor to participate in the city centennial was held Saturday evening at the parish house of St. Augustine Protestant Episcopal Church, Ninth Street above Kaighn Avenue. This committee is composed of forty representative persons of Camden. M.D. Cornish was appointed chairman by the mayor and H.W. Brown was elected secretary.

It was stated that its particular duty was to select talent to represent the group in a pageant and to assist in staging the program to be rendered during the week of February I3. An interesting discussion took place as to the character of the program. It was decided to refer the matter to a smaller committee of nine persons, who worked out a scheme that will fit into the plan of the pageantry director of the centennial committee.

This plan included the organization of a chorus of fifty persons from the city who would present each evening one or two numbers of the best negro spirituals and such other musical contributions as will best represent the group contributions to American life. G. Dorsey was selected director.

The members of the program committee who will assist in working out this plan are: Chairman, F. J. Handy; secretary, H. W. Brown; J.J. Merrill, H. Johnson, W. J. Johnson, D. Mitchell, R.L. Mack, C. Rhoades and G.E. Morris.

Camden Courier-Post - June 15, 1933


The Third Ward Colored Democratic Club was organized last night at 650 Locust Street with the election of Charles Johnson as president. 

Joseph Bennie, jury commissioner, was the principal speaker. Other officers elected were James Riley, vice president; Minnie Gray, chaplain; Edna Taylor, secretary; Jack Mason, recording secretary; George Bryant, treasurer, and James H. James, sergeant-at-arms. 

The club will meet again tomorrow night with Charles Salvaggia, county committeeman, as speaker.

Camden Courier-Post - June 16, 1933


The second anniversary of the Emmanuel Four, a colored quartet frequently heard in Camden and South Jersey churches, will be observed with a special concert tonight in St. John's Baptist Church, Thirtieth and Mitchell streets. 

Lewis Johnson is manager of the quartet. .

Camden Courier-Post - June 28, 1933


A membership campaign by the Hunton Branch Y.M.C.A., Sixth and Mechanic Streets, will open to night and continue until July 9.

The association has sponsored considerable activity among colored boys and, young men and has organized a women's auxiliary. Educational, musical, club, religious and athletic programs have been conducted.

The campaign organization is headed by General C. T. Branch. Three divisions headed by Majors H. W. Brown, J. C. Rooks and W. A. Jones will vie for the honors in the campaign. The workers of the campaign are: S. T. Spence, captain; Yorke Rodgers, Dr. J. M. Vaughan, George B. Hill, Anthony P. Taylor, C. R. Handcock, captain; J. A. Jones, John Houston, W. J. Townsend, captain; L. Harding, William Coleman, S. D. Buell, A. W. Smith, Louis Stevens, captain; Dr. U. S. Wiggins, I. T. Nutt, G. L. Eggleston; John Blackson, captain; L. Allen, Dr. H. E. Primas, Edward Moore, H. S. Smith, G. H. Dorsey, captain; S. Seymore, Raymond Griffin, Leon Martin, Lawrence Lawson. The drive has the backing of the Ministerial Alliance of Camden and vicinity. A. E. Flournoy is director of the campaign.

Camden Courier-Post - June 28, 1933

State Lodge to Elect Today; . Ball at Convention Hall Tonight

More than 2000 members of the I.B.P.E., Colored Elks, participated last, night in a colorful parade here as climax to, the opening day of the tenth annual state convention of the order.

The marchers were reviewed from a stand at the courthouse by J. Finley Wilson, of Philadelphia, grand exalted ruler of the order and his staff.

Pride of Camden Lodge, No. 83, which is acting as host to the visiting members, was led by G. A. Gerran, exalted ruler. Thousands along the line of march applauded their fine appearance in blue and white uniforms.

Among lodges represented were Atlantic City, Orange, Plainfield, Quaker City and O. V. Catto of Philadelphia, Chester and Wilmington lodges and Manhattan Lodge of New York.

Music was provided by many bands, fife and drum corps and string organizations.

The convention was opened in the Kaighn Avenue Baptist Church, Ninth Street and Kaighn Avenue.

William C. Hueston, former assistant solicitor of the U. S. Post Office Department, and Elks' commissioner of education; addressed the meeting, reporting that the organization spends more than $9000 a year for scholarships for colored students.

The delegates were welcomed to Camden by, Assistant Solicitor Lewis Liberman.

Speakers also included William C. Russell of Atlantic City, second vice president of the state association; Ira Hall, past state president; and W. L. Carter, general chairman of the state association committee.

The business sessions are being held in the home of Pride of Camden Lodge, 711 Kaighn Avenue, while the temples are meeting in Wesley A. M., E. Church.

Elections will be held today and the convention will close tonight with a ball at Convention Hall.

Camden Courier-Post - August 19, 1933
Click on Images to Enlarge

Camden Courier-Post - February 5, 1938


"Negro Youth in the World Today" will be the subject of a panel discussion to be held at the Frances Harper branch Y. W. C. A. at 5 p. m., tomorrow, under the auspices of the Young People's Lyceum.

Charles Whittington will lead the discussion. Miss Orphelia C. Hall will discuss the subject from the viewpoint of education. The religious angle will be taken up by Miss Elizabeth Robins; economics by Robert T. Johnson, and crime by Alphonso Davis. Carl A. Egerton is president of the Lyceum and W. Garfield Wilkerson is secretary. The meeting will be public.

"Gone With the Wind" will be reviewed by Miss Ardelia Moore at the first meeting of the Booklovers' Group at 8 p.m., Monday.

Five members were re-elected to serve on the committee of management at the annual meeting of the Frances Harper Y.W.C.A. which was held recently. They are Mrs. Katherine Martin, Mrs. H. E. Primas, Mrs. James Richardson, Mrs. A. G. Shockley and Mrs. Harrison Whittington. Members elected to serve on the 1938 nominating committee include Miss Elizabeth Addison, Miss Lillian Kennamon. Mrs. Wallace Parham, Mrs. Elmer Congo and, Mrs. Oliver Miller.

Camden Courier-Post - February 7, 1938

Delegates Hear Pleas for Christian Co-operation to End Conflict

Joint application of the teachings of Christ by the white and Negro races to meet full responsibilities in a changing social and economic order was urged here yesterday at the eighth annual laymen's conference of Colored Y.M.C.A.'s in New Jersey.

 Citing the lack of practice of the teachings of Christ as conducive to conflict, Dr. G. Lake Imes, director of public relations of Lincoln University, Lincoln, Pennsylvania, declared that "the social application of Jesus is needed in these times, and not battleships and guns to set the world in order."

Delegates to the conference, held in the Camden Y.M.C.A., Federal Street near Broadway, numbered 142 from Newark, Orange, Montclair, Plainfield, Summit, Princeton, Trenton, Camden, and various counties of the State. The Camden delegation of 31 was the largest in attendance.

Employment problems and their affect upon Negro youth were out lined by W.A. Smith. Jr., director of colored activities for the New Jersey National Youth Administration,

The successful movement for a Negro housing project in Atlantic City, which now affords modern living standards for 374 families, was related by C. V. Cain, manager of the $1,540,000 project.

The afternoon session was devoted· to planning for observance of the 50th anniversary of the Negro Y.M.C.A. History of the association was related by Dr. C. H. Tobias, senior secretary of the national council, and plans for expansion through a $125,000 fund now being raised, were explained by Dr. Leslie Pinkney Hill, principal of the Cheyney Teachers' College. The expansion will benefit New Jersey associations.

A committee of laymen and association secretaries for New Jersey's share in the 50th anniversary was appointed.

Other speakers were G. W. Barnes, temporary secretary of the State Y.M.C.A. headquarters; William P. Partenheimer, general secretary of the Camden Y.M.C.A.; W. R. Valentine, of the Slate Colored Work Committee, A. E. Flournoy, executive secretary of the Hunton Branch Y.M.C.A., Camden, and Irwin Roundtree, chairman of the local entertainment committee.

The Misses Alma and Jessys Jones served as secretaries of the conference. The WPA Orchestra provided dinner music, led by James Wheeler. Partenheimer praised the Hunton branch for the work it accomplished "with so little equipment."

The local welcoming committee comprised Roundtree; H. W. Brown, Elmer Congo, Dr. M. F. Wheatland, J. S. Brooks, Foster Meekins, W. S. Ashley, Charles Whittington, Alfonso Davis, John Robbins, George L. Eggleston and Louis Pugsley.

The 1939 conference will be held in Summit, the first Sunday in February.

Camden Courier-Post - February 14, 1938

Race Relations Committee of Camden Y. W. C. A.
Plans Extensive Program for Week; Mrs. Harold Bennett to Broadcast


THE committee on race relations of the Camden Young Women's Christian Association, whose endeavor it is to promote greater understanding between the races, is participating in the nation-wide celebration of Negro History Week now in progress.

The committee is sponsoring an extensive program covering both the youth and adult membership and including three broadcasts. Today, Mrs. Harold W. Bennett, of this city, will speak over Station WCAM at 2.15 on "Race Relations and Good Neighbors." On Wednesday, Mrs. Wilda Townsend will broadcast over the same station at 2.30 on "Contributions of the Negro to the Culture of America." A recital will be given over WCAM at 2.30 on Friday by James Marshall Wheeler, pianist, and Lawrence Lawson, tenor.

Following a short business meeting of the board of directors of the Camden Association tonight in the headquarters, Miss Marjorie Penney, executive secretary of the Young People's Interracial Fellowship of Philadelphia, will speak.

Girl Reserves have been invited en masse to a meeting on Thursday night in the headquarters, to hear Allan Freelon, one of the nation's leading artists, and supervisor of art in the Negro schools, of Philadelphia. Mr. Freelon, who will speak at eight o'clock, will also exhibit some of his work.

The Frances Harper branch committee of management will be piloted by the following new officers for 1938: Mrs. C. T. Branch, chairman; Mrs. Sadie Wright, vice chairman; Mrs. Howard Primas, secretary; Mrs. Louis Smith, assistant secretary. Dr. M. O. Lee will speak on "The Makers of Negro History". next week before the Phyllis Wheatly Club of the branch..

Camden Courier-Post - February 16, 1938


The Club Esquire, a Negro civic organization, with headquarters at 907 Kaighn avenue, will hold a cabaret party Monday night in Eagles Hall, 415 Broadway.

Funds will be used to aid Negro students obtain college educations. J. Maxwell Griffin is president of the organization.

Camden Courier-Post - February 3, 1959

CSCS Group Addressed By Educator


Josiah C. Conwell Jr., of Palmyra, principal of Camden's Fetter's School was guest speaker Monday night in the First Methodist Church, Westville.

Addressing the "guest night" meeting of the Women's Society for Christian Service on "Character Building," Conwell said the church is the greatest of all character-building institutions.

Conwell is a steward in the Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church, Riverton.

Mrs. W. R. Stocton, 233 Chestnut Street, Westville, vice president of the auxiliary, and program chairman introduced the speaker.

Guest WSCS groups attended from Methodist Churches in Almonesson, Brooklawn, Chew’s Landing, Colonial Manor, Mt. Ephraim, National Park, Thorofare, Verga and Gloucester,

Mrs. Francis Goss is president of the host society.

* * *

By proclamation of Mayor Brunner, Camden will join in celebrating National Negro History Week, February 8-15.

Clubs and groups win pay tribute over the nation to Negro Americans who have made contributions to the existence of the United State's as a free and independent nation.

Service Guild of the Tenth Street Baptist Church, 1860 South 10th Street, is spearheading local I programs for the week's anniversary.

John M. Gray, 1112 Van Hook Street, announces availability of speakers for such programs from a special bureau set up by the guild. He may be contacted at his residence, or by telephone: WO 6-3724.

Climaxing the week's celebration, the guild is sponsoring a mass meeting, February 15, at 8 p. m., in the Tenth Street Church. Local citizens who have made outstanding contributions to race advancement, during 1958 will be presented awards.

Gray announced as main speaker, Thomas Okelo-Odongo, acting executive secretary of the All-African Student Union of the Americas, and a student lecturer at Howard University, Washington, D, C, He is a native of Kenya, and will speak on "Africa Today”.

The Rev. J. A. Nimmo is pastor of the host church.

* * *

Numerous Camden residents attended the annual National Freedom Day celebration in Philadelphia. By a 1948 act of Congress February 1 was made a legal holiday, National Freedom Day..



This section is excerpted from the Interesting People of Camden page. I thought I'd make pages about almost anyone mentioned in the news, or if I ran across an interesting obituary. It is a very much random assortment of people from all walks of life. Being interesting doesn't necessarily mean you were a saint- I've included more than a "notorious" characters, and a few whose deeds were less than sterling. If you see a relative- don't shoot the messenger.

To make things easier, I have color-coded some of the cells, to make it easier to find people. As always, suggestions are more than welcome! 

Law Enforcement Medicine Firemen
Real Estate & Construction Education Funeral Directors
Lawyers Journalism & Writing Government & Politics
Bars, Brewers, & Bottlers Lumber & Hardware Banks, Finance, Insurance
Businessmen & Shopkeepers Show Business, Musicians, & Entertainment Notorious Characters
Religious Leaders Ship Captains &
Naval Heroes
Musicians Artists & Sculptors Barbers & Beauticians
Labor Leaders Scrap Merchants Science & Invention
Sportsmen Community Leaders Transportation
Prince Badi Ajamu Clarence Adkins Clarence Arthur
John Wesley Beckett    
Carla L. Benson Cindy Birdsong John F. Blackson
Dr. Clement T. Branch Leon Branch Pierce Brown
Willa Mae Brown Dwight Braxton
Dwight Muhammed Qawi
Elaine Brundage
Louis Bumbrey Robert Bumbrey  
Solomon Clark Malachi D. Cornish  
Donovin Darius    
  The Ebonys Executive Suite
Lola Falana    
Gloria Gibson Robert Gibson  
  J. Maxwell Griffin  
Daria Hill Richard 'Groove' Holmes Leon Huff
Douglas Holmes Ira Hall Leroy Hatchett
  Dr. Reyquew Hyghcock  
  Robert Burk Johnson Vernon C. Jones
Marcia Mahan James Mathes Jr.  
Rev. Rufus McLendon Ronald "Fang" Mitchell  
Charles W. Moore George V. Murry Bishop George V. Murry
Patti & the Emblems Isabelle Patterson

Daniel Paulk

Norman Payne Eric L. Perry Sr.

Edward M. Phillips


Dr. Howard F. Primas Sr.

Dwight Braxton
Dwight Muhammed Qawi
Mike Rozier Derrick Ramsey
    Lucius Robinson
Bill Smothers Ron "Itchy" Smith Valerie Renee Still
    Leroy Snyder
Art Still Louis D. Stevens
  Billy Thompson Edward Troutman
William Troutman Ronald Troutman John Troutman
  Betty Turner Clarence Turner
Frank Upshaw Robert Upshaw Gilbert Upshaw
Milt Wagner Dajuan Wagner

Ted Washington

Jersey Joe Walcott    
  Dr. Marcus F. Wheatland Jr.

Captain Richard Williams


Talking About History!
May 6, 2004

3 of Camden's Finest
Louis & Mechanic Streets

Left to Right:
Sakeera Caphas, Ny'shyaa Smith,
& Madelin Ruiz

Click on Image to Enlarge