General Timeline of African American History in Paterson, NJ


The timeline below was created to assist with the development of the Museum’s exhibition: Thus Shall They Upward, Onward Press, which was on display in 2020. The timeline contains many important dates related to Paterson’s African American Community and to achievements and accomplishments of individual African American citizens. We now share it to provide a starting point for researchers who are interested in learning more about Paterson’s history.


1600-1740 Enslaved Africans brought to the Passaic Valley Region by Dutch settlers to work as farm laborers and household staff
1664-1702 NJ Proprietary Government encouraged slavery by offering additional acres to residents who imported slaves
1745 4,600 slaves are recorded living in New Jersey
1775-1781 British officers release/steal the slaves of Patriots
1786 Slave trade in New Jersey abolished
1789 The last will and testament of Michael Vreeland lists 10 slaves among property
1792 Paterson township founded- few families in the city own slaves
1700s Tavern keeper on Main street near Broadway sold slaves and horses south (source William Nelson History of Paterson)
1800 State slave population recorded at 12,422 or 13,000
1804 Partial Emancipation passed in New Jersey: Women receive freedom at age 20, men at age 25
1815-1818 Mill owners place ads to purchase the expired time of “Negro lads”
1834 Godwin Street African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church founded
1841 The Citizens of Paterson send an address to the New Jersey Legislature on behalf of the colored population
1841 Josiah Huntoon first arrives in Paterson
1846 NJ Emancipation Act- slaves become apprentices
1850 Census of Paterson lists three slaves in residence: Jud Vreeland (87), Diana Thompson (50), and Betty Paterson (70)
1850s-1865 Underground Railroad activities: John Avison (insurance agent/justice of peace), Darius Wills (postmaster), Isaac Van Blarcom (head of Passaic Brick Co.), Henry M. Low (cotton yarn manufacturer), Josiah Huntoon, Nathaniel Lane (stove dealer), Alexander Freeman, Horatio Moses (tinsmith)

William Van Rensalier, freedman and his business partner Josiah Huntoon operate an Underground Railroad Station from their Excelsior Coffee and Spice Factory (132-134 Broadway)

1855 First “colored school” opens- Miss Eliza M. Halstead was selected as the school’s first principal
1859 Fredrick Douglass gets the train in Paterson while traveling from Philadelphia to Canada in late October. Douglass was quietly leaving the country, so as not to be caught up in the aftermath of John Brown’s failed raid on Harper’s Ferry
1861-1865 1,185 African American troops from New Jersey fight for the Union. At least eight were from Paterson, in the 24th and 43rd regiments. William Anthony, James Brown, Francis Davis, John Jackson, Henry Thompson, Samuel Thompson, Alfred Tucker, Thomas Vreeland
1865-1875 The United States experiences the first Great Migration of African Americans from Southern to Northern states. Many of Paterson’s new residents settle around River Street, between Main and Straight streets, an area which came to be known as the African Shore
1870s Few factories in Paterson hire African Americans. Henry Hopper, a freedman, hires fellow African Americans for his factory on Marshall street where they make hammers, axes and other tools (154 Marshall, later 159-161 Marshall)
1872 African Americans are allowed to attend white schools in the city
1883 William Hopper runs for a school administrative position and loses
1886 The Calvary Baptist Church is the first Baptist congregation of African Americans in the city
1886 Howard Beekman successfully passes the exams to be admitted into High School. He would go on to become the first African American to graduate High School in Paterson
1890s Samuel G. Walker becomes 1st steward of Hamilton Club
1899 George Wanton and William H. Thompkins are awarded the medal of honor on June 23rd 1899 for “Voluntarily went ashore in the face of the enemy and aided in the rescue of his wounded comrades; this after several previous attempts at rescue had been frustrated.” During the Battle of Tayacoba in the Spanish American War (June 30, 1898). Both men were members of the 10th Cavalry regiment famously known as the “Buffalo Soldiers”
1890s Godwin Street African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church moves to Ellison and Summer Streets and changes its name to 1st AME Zion
1893 On October 26th  singer Matilda Sissieretta Joyner Jones (Black Patti) and the Black Patti Troubadours performed at the Y.M.C.A. on Ellison Street.
1895 Group of African American singers visit Paterson for a church concert and have difficulty finding lodging
1896 On October 12th -14th  singer Matilda Sissieretta Joyner Jones (Black Patti) and the Black Patti Troubadours performed at the Bijou
1899 George Wanton and William H. Thompkins are awarded the medal of honor on June 23rd 1899 for “Voluntarily went ashore in the face of the enemy and aided in the rescue of his wounded comrades; this after several previous attempts at rescue had been frustrated.” During the Battle of Tayacoba in the Spanish American War
1899 On January 18th Goodwill Lodge No. 4330 of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows of Paterson welcomed over 500 guests to a dinner and ball in honor of their first anniversary.
1900s-1930s Dr. Norman Cotton moves to Paterson and becomes a prominent African American Doctor in the city
1902 From August 21st -23rd , singer Matilda Sissieretta Joyner Jones (Black Patti) and the Black Patti Troubadours performed at the Paterson Opera House
1902 Booker T. Washington, educator, author and orator, lectured at the Market Street Methodist Church on the topic of “Solving the negro problem in the Black Belt of the South.”
1902 Integrity Lodge No.51, Free and Accepted Masons, Prince Hall Affiliate was chartered.
1905 The Colored Young Men’s Christian Association (Y.M.C.A.) of Paterson was established.
1907 On August 24th singer Matilda Sissieretta Joyner Jones (Black Patti) and the Black Patti Troubadours performed at the Opera House
1908 An event was held at the headquarters of the Manual Training School for Colored Children at their headquarters at 188 Twelfth Avenue. Around May of the same year, the school had broken ground on a new facility.
1909 James H. Penn passed the bar exam. He would go on to open his own law office in Passaic, NJ in 1914, making him the only African American lawyer in Passaic County.
1910 The Colored Men’s Association Hall, located at 159 Governor Street, is dedicated and opened to the public.
1910 The Women’s Fortnightly Club was established on May 10, 1910 out of St. Augustine Presbyterian Church. The group’s founder was Ida B. Amos was the wife of Rev. Dr. Thomas H. Amos, Pastor of St. Augustine Presbyterian Church.
1911 Minerva Miller sues Show Movie Theater for trying to charge her 25 cent entry (as opposed to 5 cents) for Nickelodeon. Lawyer Robert F. Buckley wins case she is rewarded $500, the maximum allowed. Lawyer for defense was Caroll (same Caroll who gave strikers harsh sentences in 1913). Early Civil Rights victory for NJ
1911 Dr. William Edward Burghardt DuBois (W.E.B. DuBois) was the featured speaker for a program sponsored by the Colored Men’s Association at their hall (159 Governor Street).
1912 On May 26th, the Paterson Smart Set (Semi-Professional Baseball Team) hosted the New York Giants in Paterson’s Olympic Park. The Giants were hissed off the field and the game was given to the Smart Set
1913 Hubert Harrison, orator and political activist, was one of the IWW members who traveled and spoke in Paterson during the Silk Strike
1914 Dr. Booker T. Washington visits Paterson on Sept 7th, part of a four-day tour of the State. He arrived at 5pm from Montclair. He went first to Walker’s catering establishment for a meal. Then on to the High School for a program presided over by Dr. Norman Cotton. Following the program, he was transported to Newark
1914 There are 4 African American churches in Paterson: 2 Baptist/ AME Zion/ Presbyterian
1914 James H. Penn opens his own law office in Passaic, NJ making him the only African American lawyer in Passaic County.
1915 On Feb 27th, W.E.B. DuBois spoke to the Colored Men’s Association
1915 16-year-old John A. Sisco saves Josephine Domico from drowning after she falls from a boat into the Passaic River on August 11th. John was awarded a Bronze medal for heroism for his actions
1917 Labor leader, Civil Rights activist and founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, A. Philip Randolph is the featured lecturer at the Philosophical Society in Paterson, NJ.
1919 Paterson chapter of the NAACP is formed
1920-1960 High dropout rate among African American students in Paterson Public Schools. Among graduates very few go on to college
1920 John A. Huggs Sr., serves as Justice of the Peace (3rd Ward/ Riverside Section). He would serve in this position until 1931.
1921 Marian Anderson, singer of classical and spiritual music, performed at the Entrenue Hall on December 13th
1921 George Henry Wanton is part of honor guard/ pall bearer for burial of the Unknown Soldier of World War I
1921 Dr. Eugene Kinckle Jones, Executive Secretary of the National Urban League is the keynote speaker for a mass meeting regarding the interests of the Urban League at A.M.E. Zion Church in Paterson.
1921 American Lodge No. 333, IBPOEW was chartered
1922 A. Phillip Randolph, Civil Rights Leader, Labor Activist and Socialist, addressed the Philosophical Society
1925 Fred Thompson is named the first African American Police Officer in the City of Paterson
1927 The Negro in Paterson, A Study of Leadership- Master’s Thesis from Columbia University by Louis R. Binder
1927 26 African American citizens own their own businesses in Paterson
1927 Annie Randolph, the first woman, African American social worker is appointed by the court
1932 Paul Robeson, singer and actor from Princeton, performed at Eastside High School on March 15th. Proceeds from the concert went to benefit A.M.E. Zion Church, where his brother, Reverend Benjamin C. Robeson, was serving as Pastor
1932 Viola Adams serves as President of the Passaic County Colored Republican’s Club
1932-1960s Baseball legends including Leroy “Satchel” Paige and Josh Gibson play at Hinchliffe Stadium.
1933 Hinchliffe hosts Colored Championship of the Nation (Negro League World Series)
1934 Hinchliffe stadium becomes home to the New York Black Yankees. They continue to play in the stadium until 1945
1934 Oscar De Priest, the first African American elected to Congress in the 20th century, is the featured speaker at Calvary Baptist Church in Paterson. He spoke on the subject of race discrimination in public buildings.
1935 The Women’s Fortnightly Club celebrated their 25th anniversary on November 12th at St. Augustine Presbyterian Church
1935-1936 Hinchliffe stadium becomes the home of the New York Cubans. The team calls the Stadium home for two seasons
1935-1940 Second Migration of African Americans to Paterson from Southern states
1936 The Fourth Ward Colored Republican Association meets in its new headquarters
1938 Charles June becomes one of the earliest African American postal works in Paterson
1938-1943 Virgil Reed serves a 5-year term as Justice of the Peace in the 4th Ward. Virgil was also the President of Asphalt Workers Union of NJ
1940 Mrs. A. Maurice Curtis is elected to a six year term on the National Board of the Y.W.C.A.
1941-1945 African Americans begin to work in Paterson’s factories, filling wartime vacancies
1942 African American contralto, Marian Anderson performs at Eastside High School. Marian Anderson was an important figure in the struggle for African American artists to overcome racial prejudice in the United States.
1943 Dr. A Maurice Curtis serves as head of the Negro Health Committee of the Passaic County Tuberculosis and Health Association
1947 Being a Negro in Paterson by Anita Flynn
1947 15 separate Fraternal and civic organizations in Paterson for African Americans
1947 Larry Doby becomes the first African American to play in the American League and the second African American to be signed on a Major League Baseball team when he signs a contract with the Cleveland Indians
1947 Five African American teachers work in the Paterson public schools
1947 African American congregations in the city consist of: African American Catholic church, Episcopal mission, 5 Baptist, AME Zion, 1 Presbyterian, 10 other churches
1947 Roy Wilkins, an iconic civil rights activist and former Executive Secretary of the NAACP is the featured speaker for a program sponsored by the Paterson branch of the NAACP at the First AME Zion Church
1949 Commission on Human Relations formed to help combat discrimination and improve race relations in city
1949 Commission on Human Relations formed to help combat discrimination and improve race relations in city
1949 Dr. Augustus T. Capers becomes the first African American dentist appointed to the dental staff of the Paterson Public School District. He was appointed by Mayor Michael U. DeVita
1951 Ella J. Baker, lecturer, writer and activist, is the guest speaker for the Federation of Women Organizations of First AME Zion Church.
1951 Lambda Upsilon Chapter of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., is chartered
1952 Lulu/Lula Ming becomes one of the first two African American crossing guards in the city of Paterson as part of the newly established female school traffic duty corp
1952 Viola Adams wins a Poetry Award at the BPOE (Elks) women’s convention
1952 Dr. William Edward Burghardt DuBois (W.E.B. DuBois) speaks at a political rally in Paterson for the Progressive Party at School No. 21
1953 Viola Adams is appointed by Mayor Titus to the Paterson Police Department’s Youth Guidance Bureau
1953 Viola Adams is appointed a Matron in the Police Department
1955 Marian Anderson, singer of classical and spiritual music, performed at Eastside High School on October 17th
1957 On June 22nd, Rosa Parks visited Paterson and was a guest of the A.M.E. Zion Church
1958 Dr. A. Maurice Curtis dies at the age of sixty-six. He had served as a doctor in the Paterson community for forty-one years
1959 Henry Otis Harris appointed the 1st African American firefighter and remains the only African American firefighter for 10 years
1960 Jimmy Charles (singer) gets a gold record for “A Million to One.” He was from 12th Ave
1961-1964 Half the teachers in city schools are African American
1962 Vera S. Thompson becomes the first African American principal in the Paterson Public Schools District
1963 Wolff Report completed – NYU Sociologist studied the racial and ethnic balance in the Paterson Public Schools and made recommendations for changes. Getting away from neighborhood schools would change the status of the “ghetto schools” in the African American and Puerto Rican areas.
1964 Paterson Race Riots
1964 John “Johnny” Briggs begins his Major League Baseball career playing for the Philadelphia Phillies
1964 African Americans are 1/6 of city population
1964 In June, the 4th Ward Democrats elect 2 African American co-leaders: Bess Jamison and Harold Brown
1964 Kenneth Bolds graduates Eastside goes on to be a famous drummer
1964 Dick Gregory, a comedian and civil rights activist, visits Paterson in the wake of the Race Riots
1965 1st African American principal appointed to School No 6
1965 William Kline as the 1st  African American Alderman in 4th Ward
1965 Vera Thompson, the Vice Principal of School No 6, is presented with the Sojourner Truth Award for advancing the status of African Americans
1965 Chi Chapter of Lambda Kappa Mu Sorority, Inc. is chartered
1966 Ambassador Drill Team formed
1966 Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, a middleweight boxer, is arrested and charged with a triple homicide in Paterson
1966 James Meredith and Floyd McKissick visited Paterson to discuss Civil Rights with Mayor Graves
1966 Officer Gordon Glasspie is sworn in by Judge Salvatore D. Viviano to become the first black investigator of the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office
1967 Muhammed Ali visits Paterson and demonstrates support for fellow boxer Rubin Carter
1967 Rubin “Hurricane” Carter convicted for murder
1968 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaks at Bethel A.M.E. Church on Auburn Street, on March 27th
1968 The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. fund is established for recreation and employment services in Paterson
1968 2000 Passaic County residents participate in “Poor People’s March” in Washington
1968 Mayor Kramer’s term as Mayor begins and ushers in an era of diversity to city government, employing more African American and Spanish speakers
1968 Rev. Ralph Abernathy visits city to gain attention for the police brutality investigations (November)
1968 The Southern Christian Leadership Conference opens a regional office at 217 Summer Street in Paterson. The office signs up recruits for the Poor People’s Campaign called by the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Rev. Frederick LaGarde serves as the regional director the Passaic County SCLC
1968 The Black Panther Party (New Jersey) holds a major fundraiser at Integrity Masonic Temple in Paterson. Captain Dr. John David Hall III, begins recruiting members for a Paterson chapter
1968 Dr. Augustus T. Capers becomes the first African American State Assemblyman from Passaic County
1969 The Negro in the History of Paterson, New Jersey by Karel M Waer
1969 26 separate Fraternal and Civic organizations in Paterson for African Americans
1969 Ambassador Drill Team travels and performs outside of Paterson, performing at the Lincoln Center
1971 Sylvia Lorraine (Bell) McEachern Ulmer serves as first African American City Clerk in Paterson. She held that position until her retirement in 1990
1971 Delta Mu Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. is chartered
1972 Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm is the keynote speaker of two Paterson rallies in her honor. The first is a fundraiser held at Public School No. 18. The second is held at the Brownstone House. Both events are sponsored by Citizens for Chisholm, in support of her Democratic nomination
1972 Maya Angelou, participates in the contemporary author series at the Paterson Free Public Library
1974 Malvin Russell Goode, a television journalist and news correspondent is the keynote speaker at a scholarship dinner for Delta Mu Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
1974 Ruby Dee, writer, poet and actress participates in the Women Create Series at the Paterson Free Public Library
1975 James H. Penn retires from the law at age 95, making him the oldest practicing lawyer in Passaic County.
1975 Ruby Dee, writer, poet and actress, presents dramatic readings at the Calvary Baptist Daycare Center, Paterson
1975 Julian Bond, social activist, civil rights leader, politician, professor and writer is the principal speaker for the Concerned Parents of Head Start annual event. At the time of the event, Bond was serving as a Georgia State Senator
1976 Dr. Frank Napier Jr. becomes Paterson’s first African American Superintendent of Schools
1976 Vera S. Thompson becomes the first woman Assistant Superintendent of Schools in the Paterson Public Schools District
1976 Boxer and humanitarian Muhammad Ali visits Paterson in support of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter
1976 Ossie Davis, a playwright, director and actor, is the keynote speaker for a scholarship program sponsored by Delta Mu Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
1978 19-year-old Franklin Jacobs makes the world record high jump of 7ft 7 ¼ inches at the Millrose Games in Madison Square Garden, New York.
1978 Paterson Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. is chartered
1979 City’s 1st Martin Luther King March held on January 15th
1980 Amiri Baraka, an activist writer, author and poet, is the headline poet at the Third Annual William Carlos Williams Poetry Festival at the Thomas Rogers Building (now the Paterson Museum)
1981 Great Paterson News newspaper established. Paper was focused on the needs and interests of the African American Community in Paterson
1981 Gil Noble, television reporter, interviewer and producer and host of WABC’s weekly Like It Is, is one of the featured speakers at a ceremony to commemorate the beginning of Black History Month at Passaic County Community College
1982 Rosa Parks speaks at PCCC Nov 20th. Mayor Frank Graves presented her with keys to the city and Graham Ave was renamed for her. She was also honored at the Brownstone and Community Baptist Church of Love
1982 Edward L. Cotton, Jr. is the first African American elected President of the Paterson City Council
1983 Community Baptist Church of Love founds private elementary school, the only private school owned and operated by African Americans in Passaic County
198? Neer Pharmacy, former Huntoon property was demolished
1985 Rubin “Hurricane” Carter is released for wrongful imprisonment
1986 Rosa Parks visits Rosa Parks School
1986 Pi Xi Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. is chartered
1989 Lean on Me, the biographical drama film is released. The movie is based on the story of Joe Louis Clark, Principal of Eastside High School.
1993 Dr. Elaine C. Harrington, educator and community activist, is sworn in as President of the New Jersey State Conference of the NAACP. She would go on to serve three consecutive terms
1994 Judge Stephen Womack becomes the first African American judge of State Superior Court in Passaic County
1994 Rev. Dr. Albert P. Rowe serves as election official at election of Nelson Mandella in South Africa
1995 Judge Seven Womack takes the oath of office as the first black Superior Court Judge of Passaic County
1996 April 14- May 17, the Paterson Museum presents “As I was Saying…: Reflections of African Americans in Paterson”. Exhibit was a collaborating with the Silk City Americorps and the City of Paterson/National Parks Service Urban History Initiative
1997 Martin G. Barnes elected as Paterson’s first African American Mayor. He served in that office until 2002
1997 Tim Thomas drafted into the NBA to play for the Philadelphia 76ers
1997 US Post Office on Ward Street in Paterson named in honor of Larry Doby, who worked for the postal service
1998 Larry Doby selected for inclusion in the National Baseball Hall of Fame
1998 Field in Eastside Park renamed Larry Doby Field
2000 Paterson Free Public Library unveils Paintings of Paterson Abolitionists (Nov 2) including a portrait of Josiah Huntoon painted by Thomas Waterman Wood and a tribute to William Van Rensalier by James Ransome
2000 Rho Tau Zeta Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. is chartered
2002 Larry Doby statue unveiled at Larry Doby Field in Eastside Park
2002 Edward L. Cotton Jr., is the referee for a boxing match between Mike Tyson and Lennon Lewis in Memphis, Tennessee (June 8)
2003 The Huntoon-Van Rensalier Underground Railroad Foundation
2004 First Annual African American Heritage Parade held in Paterson
2008 Essence Carson is drafted into the WNBA to play for the New York Liberty
2008 Dedication of John Briggs Athletic Field in Westside Park in honor of John Briggs, Sept 27th
2009 President Obama signs bill creating the Paterson Great Falls National Park, March 30th
2010 Victor Cruz signs to be wide receiver for the New York Giants
2010 Hinchliffe Stadium hosted the US Postal Service as it unveiled the Rube Foster Negro Leagues Baseball Commemorative Stamp, Sept 4th
2010 Book Through the Years: Rev. Dr. Albert P. Rowe and Mrs. Dorothy Collins-Rowe published by the Anniversary Committee. Looking back over 42 years of Christian leadership by Pastor Rowe and First Lady Dorothy Rowe and highlighting the cherished memories
2011 President Obama visited Paterson to inspect the damage after Hurricane Irene
2012 Tyrone Collins Memorial Park in the 1st Ward is dedicated. Tyrone Collins played basketball for Kennedy High, graduating in 1969 and returning to coach from 1977-1996
2012 1st AME Zion Church recognized as city historic site
2012 US Postal Service creates the Larry Doby stamp
2012 Victor Cruz founds the Victor Cruz Foundation, which promotes educational and financial literacy, S.T.E.M and college readiness
2012 Freedom Boulevard Project created 13 commemorative stamps honoring contemporary African Americans in Paterson
2012 Negro League Baseball: The Rule of the Day produced and written by Jimmy Richardson
2013 Hinchliffe Stadium is listed as a Municipal and National Landmark
2013 East 18th Street named Rev. Dr. Albert P. Rowe Square
2013 Auburn Street rededicated as Freedom Boulevard
2013 Freedom Boulevard Project created 6 commemorative stamps honoring contemporary African Americans in Paterson
2014 Book: The 1964 Paterson Riot: Three Days that Changed a City by George Lipsitz with Richard E. Polton
2014 Memorial to the partnership abolitionist Josiah Huntoon and William Van Rensalier and their work on the underground railroad unveiled
2014 Edward (Eddie) Cotton joined the Board of the International Boxing Federation
2016 May 7th, a reededication ceremony of Paterson’s Colored Men’s Association building is held. Festivities included the unveiling of a historic plaque
2016 Dr. Albert Rowe publishes Dying to Live
2017 Section of 12th Ave Named Ambassador Way
2017 National Park Service produces videos – Hinchliffe Stadium Memories and The Legendary Larry Doby
2018 Talena Lachelle Queen announced Poet Laureate of Paterson
2019 Shona L. Mack Pollock, Esq. sworn in as first African American Woman to serve as Passaic County Elections Superintendent in Paterson
2019 Martin Luther King Jr. Park and Memorial opens on Auburn Street
2019 Freedom Boulevard Project created 2 commemorative stamps honoring contemporary African Americans in Paterson


Have you noticed that we missed an important date in Paterson’s African American history? Email us and let us know what it is! This document is intended to be a baseline to assist researchers, and as such, we are very happy to continue to add to it.