Since 1976, February has been nationally recognized as African American History Month, a time for celebrating and recognizing the major accomplishments and contributions made by African Americans in all areas of American History and Culture. President Gerald R. Ford expanded the recognition period to a full month back in 1976, which makes last year the 50th anniversary of African American History Month:
In addition, this year marked the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, in Washington, D.C., the newest of the 19 museums that are part of the Smithsonian Institution.
What you may not realize is that Mount Laurel has played a special role in African American History. Mount Laurel is home to some very special places that we should take some time to visit and appreciate now and throughout the year. For one, the Alice Paul Institute located right here in Mount Laurel is a National Historic Landmark and recognized for the work of its namesake, Alice Paul, for fighting for equality, education, and equity for woman. Although Alice is considered a suffragist fighting predominately for woman’s rights, she established a standard, rooted in her Quaker values, that all people are entitled to equal rights and liberties.
Another institution that comes to mind is the historic Jacob’s Chapel African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church, located in Mt. Laurel and a recognized stop on the Underground Railroad. Jacob’s Chapel Cemetery is the burial-place of Dr. James Still, famously known as the “Black Doctor of the Pines”. The cemetery is one of “the earliest African American Burial Grounds in Burlington County” (Jacob’s Chapel Cemetery). Dr. Still was a pioneer in what today we call homeopathic medicine. Many would travel to the Pine lands where Dr. Still practiced medicine to avail themselves of his natural cures. Today Dr. Still’s great-great grandson, Reverend Terrill W. Person serves as the Pastor of the church. Rev. Person is also the Director of Project T.I.M.E. Mentoring Program in the Mount Laurel School District. Rev. Person and his mentors provide a wonderful service to our schools by mentoring young children who benefit from having an influential positive role model in their life providing them with ongoing encouragement.
In closing, you can be sure throughout the Mount Laurel schools teachers and students will be learning about the important contributions to American History made by African Americans, however the past is so relevant to our future and we should all take some time to visit and learn about the historical treasures right here in our home town.