Black Heritage Destinations in Central New Jersey

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Red Bank and Middletown

On the Navesink River and just five miles from the Atlantic Ocean, charming Red Bank excites visitors with a rich history and 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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At the former home of T. Thomas Fortune, a National Historic Landmark, experience the legacy of an incredible individual born into slavery who became the leading Black journalist of his day, a civil rights champion and prolific author and more. The T. Thomas Fortune Cultural Center welcomes the community and provides engaging public programs. 

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, sugar cane mill and live honey bee colony. 

New Brunswick

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.

Somerville

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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Along Paul Robeson Boulevard, locally designated in his honor, stop at St. Thomas AME Zion Church (75 Paul Robeson Boulevard; called Davenport Street on some maps). Robeson’s father, a formerly enslaved man, preached here. Established in 1851, it’s the oldest Black church in Somerset County and an Underground Railroad site. 

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.

Scotch Plains

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.

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Black Heritage Destinations in Central New Jersey (Map)
Count Basie Center for the Arts, Red Bank
Count Basie Center for the Arts, Red Bank
Scotch Hills Country Club, Scotch Plains
Scotch Hills Country Club, Scotch Plains