Red Bank, Monmouth County
Ed Zipprich, Red Bank Historic Preservation Committee
732 219 5192; 917 863 2408
Year Listed : 2007
8/2011: The T. Thomas Fortune House is back on the market for $999,000. The house has been on and off the market since 2007. The house remains unprotected and recent vandalism has led the owners to board over its windows and doors.
Timothy Thomas Fortune was an important late-nineteenth, early-twentieth century African American journalist and activist who is less well remembered today than he deserves. Born into slavery in Florida in 1856, Fortune attended Howard University before he moved to New York City in 1881. Writing as T. Thomas Fortune he was an early advocate of using the term Afro-American rather than negro or “colored” to identify his people because they were, as he wrote, “African in origin and American in birth.” His paper, the New York Age, was the most widely read black newspaper of its day, and under Fortune’s leadership it played an important role in promoting Booker T. Washington as a national African American leader.
In 1901 Fortune moved his family to Red Bank, which had a well-established, segregated black community on the Westside, where Fortune bought a twelve room, Second Empire style home a short walk from the train station. Sitting on a one-acre-plus lot surrounded by shade trees and an apple orchard, it had been built around 1883. Fortune wrote and edited from home and commuted to New York roughly once a week. Washington visited Fortune in Red Bank, sometimes for extended stays. The Fortune home was sold at a sheriff’s sale in 1911, some years after he had suffered a nervous breakdown. In the 1920s after he recovered, Fortune edited Marcus Garvey’s Negro World.
The T. Thomas Fortune House is a National Historic Landmark, an official designation conveyed only to sites of exceptional national significance. It is the sole such landmark in New Jersey associated with African American history, and should be a source of pride. Instead its future is uncertain because Red Bank’s central business district is experiencing tremendous growth; New Jersey Monthly Magazine recently designated it the “top downtown” in central New Jersey. The Fortune House’s one acre lot, the largest in the area for many blocks is extremely attractive to developers. PNJ thinks its loss should be avoided. Red Bank’s future as a cultural, shopping, and dining destination can include the Fortune House. We call on the municipal governing body, business leaders, and others to find an adaptive reuse for the building, which could become the centerpiece of the spread of revitalization from the downtown to the Westside.
A coalition of advocates, the T. Thomas Fortune House subcommittee of the Red Bank HPC was formed to organize support for the preservation of the house. The Committee has launched a letter writing and educational campaign to inform and raise awareness about the significance of the house. A local group has signed a contract to purchase the house. For current information, visit this link at the PNJ Forum http://preservationnj.org/magazine/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=119
copyright 2009-2011 Preservation New Jersey