TRENTON, NJ – Preservation New Jersey (PNJ) is preparing to review its annual nominations for the 2024 10 Most Endangered Historic Places list. The 10 Most Endangered Historic Places program spotlights irreplaceable historic, architectural, cultural, and archeological resources in New Jersey that are in imminent danger of being lost. The act of listing these resources acknowledges their importance to the heritage of our state and draws attention to the predicaments that endanger their survival and the survival of historic resources statewide. The list, generated from nominations by the public, aims to attract new perspectives and ideas to sites in desperate need of creative solutions.
There are several challenges that historic properties face including neglect and deferred maintenance, threats incurred by redevelopment and new construction, difficulties raising adequate historic preservation funding, and the need for creative adaptive reuse proposals.
The MLK House Camden, located at 753 Walnut Street was built circa 1900. The site has juggled with issues such as neglect, flooding, vandalism, and fire. 753 Walnut Street was Martin Luther King, Jr.'s former home in Camden. Dr. King resided in the house on weekends and during the summers while he was attending Crozer Theological Seminary from 1948 - 1951. During Dr. King's time in Camden, he and his friends were refused service in a local bar, Mary’s Café, and physically threatened by the bartender. This event took place on June 11, 1950. Dr. King would later cite this event as setting him down the path of civil rights activism through passive resistance. Further research is being conducted to understand how Dr. King used the newly enacted, New Jersey state anti-discrimination law, which led to the arrest of the café owner and his life and role in Camden. It is considered the first combination of legal action and nonviolent civil disobedience that Dr. King would make, which would later define his civil rights campaign.
New Beginnings Behavioral Health, a non-for-profit organization, purchased the property two (2) years ago with the intent to convert the property into a museum and cultural hub for the Camden community. Since the purchase, the organization has worked tirelessly to secure funding to restore the site and conduct programs regarding Dr. King’s legacy in Camden. Lack of funding though for the site is one of its many challenges. In facing several preservation issues, the organization remains optimistic and continues to make strides in advocating and fundraising for the site's needs. In PNJ’s review of the nomination, New Beginnings has marked a 'tremendous and a real community effort' that should also be recognized.
The MLK House Camden was unanimously nominated as the first site to the 2024 10 Most Endangered Historic Places list. Preservation New Jersey supports this nomination and those advocating for the restoration of the site and its adaptive reuse into a cultural center for the Camden community. PNJ also recognizes the significance of this site, not only to African American history, but to telling an important chapter of New Jersey’s story and remembering the legacy of MLK and all those who influenced the Civil Rights Movement.
“New Jersey is one the most diverse states in the nation but has a long way to go in identifying and preserving historic sites that reflect that diversity. Underrepresented histories and associated historic sites like the MLK House Camden, continue to face uncertainty. It is our collective goal to see the MLK house preserved. Being nominated to the 10 Most list marks a new chapter for the future of the site. Preservation New Jersey looks forward to working in tandem with New Beginnings Behavioral Health and the community to advocate, educate, and preserve the legacy and rich history of the MLK Camden House,” stated Executive Director Kelly Ruffel.
This is the first site of ten that will be announced in 2024. The full announcement will be made on May 4, 2024. We hope to be joined by site advocates for this year’s endangered historic places to support the state’s threatened cultural and architectural heritage.
About Preservation New Jersey
Founded in 1978, Preservation New Jersey is a statewide nonprofit organization that promotes the economic vitality, sustainability, and heritage of New Jersey’s diverse communities through advocacy and education. Preservation New Jersey produces this annual list of New Jersey's 10 Most Endangered Historic Places in addition to other advocacy programs; provides educational workshops; publishes an interactive website; serves as a resource for technical assistance and general advice for the public; and addresses legislation and public policies that impact New Jersey's historic places and communities.
Visit Preservation New Jersey’s website at www.preservationnj.org for more information regarding the organization and the 10 Most Endangered program.