Murder in Central NJ; A Franklin Park Mystery Unfolds

I never knew several terrible murders happened so close to my neighborhood two centuries ago…not until author & local historian Brian Armstrong hired me to create pen & ink illustrations for his just released book, “The Frankin Park Tragedy”!  While working on the book I learned about the horrible and racially motivated murders that occurred only a couple of miles away over 120 years ago!  Since this fascinating book was just released I invited Brian to discuss this important work…

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Franklin Park Tragedy Book Overview

The book provides a detailed account of the Franklin Park Tragedy murders of March 1, 1894 when Lucretia Baker and her daughter, Gertrude, were murdered in their home and her husband, Moore Baker, fought off the two African American attackers and killed them. The second part of the tragedy involves the group blame of the African American residents of the area and the expulsion of some of those residents by the Franklin Park vigilante society called the Mutual Endeavor Society. Lynchings, expulsions, and sundown town designations, which are normally associated with Southern States during this era, are shown to have been contemplated by Franklin Park residents.

Surviving historical records, land records, and personal stories are used to demonstrate how the Great Migration of African American families from the South in the twentieth century, with the help of a new group of white farmers, changed the “sundown town” designation for the Franklin Park area. This community change began with the arrival of the Coleman and other families in the 1920s which was the beginning of the transformation of Franklin Park into the diverse place that it is today. The book also includes profiles of prominent African American citizens of the Franklin Park area who worked on the farms and in some cases owned land during the 1800s. The media and their role in the racial issues of this era are discussed since key source material for the book came from various newspapers from every region of the US and in countries such as the UK and New Zealand.

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(Recent cover of the Home News featuring an article about the book & illustration by Lauren Curtis)

The book includes:

· Profiles of the ordinary white and African American men and women who worked on the farms in the area and have not been profiled in other books.

· Discussion of the neglected time period after the Civil War where white farmers and the children and grandchildren of the slaves lived and worked together in New Jersey.

· Stories about families that were part of the Great Migration of African Americans moving from southern states to the Garden State during the 20th century.

· Over 80 pictures with major images provided by the Six Mile Run Reformed Church (Martin S. Garretson Collection), Franklin Park Library, and South Brunswick Public Library.  Also previously unpublished photographs from the personal collections.

· Drawings depicting key parts of the story by Franklin Park artist Lauren Curtis.

· Extensive newspaper source material about the murders and the expulsion which shows the value of these resources in chronicling historical events that are not recorded in any other surviving sources.

· A map to orient the 21st century reader with the actual locations mentioned in the book to identify surviving buildings and landmarks.

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“Fleeing the scene”, Illustration (c)2019 Lauren Curtis

Why I Wrote the Book

Three years ago, as the president of the South River Preservation & Historical Society, I wanted to expand our knowledge of the African-American citizens of the town.  Although prominent African-Americans such as Drew Pearson had grown up in the borough, no previous books or articles had been written about this group. I began looking at census records and then the wonderful newspaper archive provided by the New Brunswick Free Library. As I searched for stories about South River African-Americans, I kept seeing stories about the Franklin Park Tragedy and learned of the expulsion which was not mentioned in any other books about Franklin Township or New Jersey. I then postponed my South River research realizing that this story was very important and needed to be told.

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“Racism in Franklin Park” (c)2019 Lauren Curtis



About the Author

Brian Armstrong was born in Flemington New Jersey and grew up in Stanton, New Jersey.  He received a bachelor’s degree in History and Political Science from American University in Washington, D.C. He lives now in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. Armstrong has worked for 37 years for various technology and staffing companies including EDS, Kelly Services, and International Technology Solutions, Inc.  He was President of the South River Historical & Preservation Society for 10 years and is now the Vice-President, Central Region, for the League of Historical Societies of New Jersey.  He is an independent historian, researcher and author. In 2015, he co-wrote the Arcadia Book, South River, with Stephanie Bartz and Nan Whitehead. He also frequently writes articles for the Bar Harbor Historical Society in Bar Harbor, Maine where his mother’s family lived for several hundred years.  Mr. Armstrong lectures throughout the state on local history, the U.S. Women’s Suffrage Movement, Prohibition, World War I, the Spanish Influenza, and political history. He is a collector of US Presidential election memorabilia and is a member of American Political Items Collectors (APIC).

Armstrong has been married to Rosemarie Rufo Armstrong for 32 years and is father of two daughters and one grandson.

Email:  brianarm59@gmail.com

You can read more about the book here: https://www.mycentraljersey.com/story/news/history/2019/10/10/nj-history-franklin-park-tragedy-expelled-african-american-residents/3819260002/

You can buy the book here: https://www.arcadiapublishing.com/Products/9781467143585

 

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