“A decade-long effort to save an endangered artifact of African-American history cleared a major milestone Thursday night when the Red Bank zoning board approved a developer’s plan to rebuild the T. Thomas Fortune house and create 31 apartments on its one-acre property,” John T. Ward reported Friday for redbankgreen.com, an online news source for Red Bank, N.J.
“Borough-based homebuilder Roger Mumford, who vowed to restore and donate the house for use as a cultural center before he would seek certificates of occupancy for the apartments, was hailed as the last-chance savior of a vital relic of the civil rights movement that its current owners want to raze. Residents told the board before its vote that Mumford deserved the tradeoff of more than a dozen variances, most of them arising from the apartment plan.
“ ‘If a development project has ever given back to the community, it’s this one, said Kalman Pipo, a member of the borough’s Historic Preservation Commission. ‘If this project doesn’t go through, we are going to lose this house’ to the wrecking ball, he said.
Fortune, a black journalist and activist, lived from 1856 to 1928 and edited the New York Age, the most widely read black newspaper of its day. Supporters want to use the Victorian house as a community cultural and educational center to teach children about the state’s diversity.
In a news release, Gilda Rogers, a former reporter at the Asbury Park Press in Neptune, N.J., who has been at the forefront of saving the home, said, “The stately 1870’s Second Empire style home, where the activist newspaper editor and crusader for social justice, T. Thomas Fortune once lived, from 1901-1910, had fallen to total disrepair, vandalism and was a community eyesore.
“ ‘I’m elated with the outcome of this hearing,’ said Rogers, who as co-chair of the T. Thomas Fortune Project Committee, testified before the zoning board, schooling the members on T. Thomas Fortune’s prominence as a change-agent in the nation,” the release said.
“ ‘We never gave up. That was never an option. Fortune’s home is a National Historic Landmark that represents social progress made in this country, and now as a cultural center it will continue the work that still needs to be done,’ said Rogers.
“The group came together in 2013 with a deliberate agenda to save the home. ‘We remained steadfast in raising awareness of the importance of Fortune and his pioneering contribution to civil rights,’ said Mark Fitzsimmons, a Red Bank architect and co-chair of the committee, who also testified before the zoning board . . . .”
The T. Thomas Fortune Project Committee is planning a 4th Annual T. Thomas Fortune Birthday Celebration Luncheon on Oct. 2 at the Oyster Point Hotel on the Navesink River in Red Bank.