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Celebrating The Black Community Of Madison, N.J.


As we just heard, the Hidden Figures of Madison launched this weekend with a series of events. One featured a few of the descendants of historical figures depicted in the project. It also features banners placed around town that celebrate the lives of Madison's Black community. For residents like Robin Carter Cooper, it's been a joy to remember and learn more about all the ways community members showed up for one another.

ROBIN CARTER COOPER: Knowing what so many people did in this town - painters, railroad personnel, people who worked as butlers, the Dodge estate. The woman who was the maid for the Dodge estate for many years - her name is Portia Stallings, and she lived to be 100 and something years old here. You could look it up. And she sewed my wedding veil for my marriage.

This was an active, vibrant community. They all shared what they had with each other. A woman here who was a doctor here at Fairleigh Dickinson - her name is Frances Sellars. She came when she found out I was going to college and brought me a suitcase because no one in my family had gone to college. She said, oh, yeah, you're going to need this.

MARTIN: It has to be said we have our own connection to Madison, N.J. Our colleague Wendy Johnson is from there. She was at the event, and she says the celebration brought up a lot for her.

WENDY JOHNSON, BYLINE: I grew up in Madison. I live in Maryland now, but I grew up here in the '60s, lived here. And my grandfather came in the '30s. He's one of the honorees, Reverend James H. Ellis. He built to churches back in the '40s and '50s. And also my cousin, Jackie Ellis Brown, was the first Black teacher in Madison. Now, my aunt Thelma Sullivan just passed. She was 99 1/2. We drove her hearse passed her father's banner a hundred years later. Who would have ever thought that a hundred years ago that they would meet up on Main Street in Madison in that fashion, being honored for their contributions to building this beautiful town that we live in?

MARTIN: Residents like Kathleen Sallie Miles hope those closely held memories can find a home in more official spaces.

KATHLEEN SALLIE MILES: One of the things I'd like to see, for example, is - we have a historic society. I'm sure that it doesn't reflect all of the people in the community. And as people are passing - you know, my mother is 92. There's not many people left. We are collecting their things, and I would like to have us donate to the archives.

MARTIN: She says that connection to the past is crucial and can help Black students now feel less alone.

MILES: They say if you can see it, you can be it, that to see that other people's lives matter mean their lives matter. To see that there are people who came before you and made a mark - these kids think they were the only ones, and now they know they aren't.

MARTIN: To that end, Kenisha Tucker, who we heard from earlier, says that she is just getting started. She hopes to expand the types of stories she tells about Madison, N.J.'s past.

If you'd like to learn more about the Hidden Figures of Madison or to get inspired if you're thinking about doing something similar, you can visit their website at hiddenfiguresmadison.org.


MARTIN: Coming up tomorrow on Morning Edition, the story of a tiny stamp first issued by a British colony back in 1865 that collectors now consider one of the most valuable stamps in the world.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: And it's fairly unremarkable looking.

MARTIN: So why is the One-Cent Magenta expected to sell at auction this week for as much as $15 million? Tune in tomorrow. Just ask your smart speaker to play NPR or your station by name.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.