Black Heritage Destinations in Central New Jersey
Red Bank and Middletown
On the Navesink River and just five miles from the Atlantic Ocean, the charming Red Bank excites visitors with a rich history and a lively music and arts scene, alongside its other hallmarks of eclectic cuisine and shopping.
William J. “Count” Basie, Jr. named one of his most famous tunes “The Kid from Red Bank” for good reason: The renowned musician, composer and bandleader hailed from right here! The same theatre he played, only blocks from the house where he was born, is now named the Count Basie Center for the Arts in his honor.
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Only a few miles away in Middletown, visit Moses D. Heath Farm, founded by patriarch Clinton Pearson Heath, a former enslaved man, in the post–Civil War years. Discover exhibits, period artifacts and events related to 19th-century farming and history, including a children's educational garden, blacksmith shop, and sugar cane mill.
Check out upcoming shows, snap up your tickets, and get ready to hit the town in vibrant New Brunswick. Committed to literary works with positive imaging of Black life, history and culture, the Tony Award–winning Crossroads Theatre Company stages premier productions from throughout the African Diaspora.
Amid Victorian architecture and quaint Downtown Somerville, you can explore sites where iconic actor and singer Paul Robeson grew up. You might recognize his soulful, show-stopping performances of "Ol' Man River" in the stage and screen versions of the musical Show Boat—and he also gained fame as an accomplished athlete, lawyer, scholar and civil rights activist.
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His family resided at 81 West Cliff Street (the church’s original parsonage), and although their house no longer remains, a bronze plaque at the Somerville Middle School Gym (51 West Cliff Street) marks the site. Further up the block, Robeson graduated from Somerville High School in 1915—one of the state’s few integrated high schools at the time—now occupied by the Somerville Board of Education.
Gather for a golf outing with historic impact and star power in lovely Scotch Plains. From 1921 to 1964, Scotch Hills Country Club was known as Shady Rest Golf and Country Club, the first Black-owned golf and country club in the US and the first with a Black membership. The elite met here—Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday, among many other luminaries. John Shippen, Jr., known as the first American-born Black golf professional, was once the club’s pro and greenskeeper. Today, you can follow in their footsteps, while playing a public, 9-hole golf course, as well as an 18-hole mini golf course with a picturesque waterfall, stepping ponds and meandering streams.