02/2010: School is receiving renewed press courtesy of a 2009 documentary, A Place Out of Time: The Bordentown School, which tells the story of the Bordentown school and African-American education during the segregated 19th and 20th centuries. Directed and co-produced by David Davidson, a professor of film at City College of New York in Harlem and founding director of the institution’s master of fine arts program in media arts production, the film is gaining needed additional recognition for this landmark. It appears that the NJ Department of Juvenile Justice is still responsible for all of the buildings and grounds. While two of the campus’ major buildings are in use as part of a detention center, the entire complex remains without a clear future or preservation plan. The other historic buildings are padlocked and empty, many with signs warning of asbestos.
Founded by African Methodist and Episcopal Minister Walter A. Rice, based on Booker T. Washington’s belief that economic self-sufficiency for African-Americans was necessary before political or civil rights could be secured, the New Jersey Manual Training School for Boys featured a curriculum that was industrial and moral rather than intellectual or “classical.” Originally opened in 1886 under the name of the Bordentown School, The New Jersey Manual Training School for Boys moved to the outskirts of Bordentown in 1902. The majority of the schools’ thirty-plus buildings were built on its more than four hundred acres between 1903 and the 1930s. The school remained in operation until 1955, and, during the last few years, found itself under a great deal of scrutiny due to its segregated nature and its commitment to vocational education, which was becoming increasingly unpopular. The New Jersey Manual Training Center for Boys is commonly referred to as “Tuskegee of the North” after Booker T. Washington’s famous Alabama Institute, and it is an important landmark in the history of African-American education.
This facility, once an important training school for African-American students, is now used by the Juvenile Justice Center as a detention center. While the use provides maintenance to the buildings and grounds, there is no plan for the long-term preservation and use of the 30 buildings on the 400-acre campus.
Linda Thomas, Superintendent
Juvenile Medium Security Facility