CAMDEN, N.J. — Camden County’s story, Jack O’Byrne admitted, has been told for too many years from one perspective: that of the wealthy men of European descent who settled the region and were its earliest landowners, industry leaders and political elites.

But they weren’t the only people who built the region or the only ones whose lives and legacies shaped the place we know today.

The current home of the Camden County Historical Society, Pomona Hall was built in 1726 by Joseph Cooper and was a slave plantation until 1795.

“We need to deal with that history,” he said.

“Pomona Hall reflected the lifestyle of the rich Northern Europeans,” said O’Byrne, the executive director of the society. “But we’re in a predominantly black and Latino city, so people just weren’t connecting with us. They wondered, ‘What’s in (here) for me?'”

The historical society is addressing that concern with the opening of its new African American History Room and plans for more exhibits, events and other offerings that better reflect the people of Camden County, now and throughout its history.

The first exhibition, presented in partnership with the Lawnside Historical Society and the Magnolia Historical Society, traces one family through three centuries in the area. “The Moores of Greenland,” using the 18th- and 19-century name for what is now Magnolia and Lawnside, includes artifacts and documents from seven generations of doctors, lawyers, police officers, nurses and servicemen.

The Moores were builders, like Spencer Clayton Moore, a carpenter whose work still endures in some area homes and who was integral in the creation of Mount Peace Cemetery, a resting place for black Civil War veterans whose remains weren’t allowed in white cemeteries.

They were doctors, like Roscoe Moore. He had practices in Magnolia and Camden, and served children in several local school districts, many of them still racially segregated. He was also a pioneer in pre- and neonatal medicine, in 1936 starting the Baby Keep-Well Station in Lawnside, where pregnant women, new mothers, infants and toddlers could receive check-ups and preventative medicine.

They were soldiers and servicemen, like Roscoe’s son Spencer Clayton Moore II, named for his grandfather. “Spencer II,” as he’s called in the exhibit, fought with the U.S. Army’s 92nd Infantry Division in Italy during World War II. After the war, he went on to command the Nike missile installation in Pitman. In his later years, he would be the family’s link to the past, collecting its stories and artifacts and working with the Lawnside Historical Society. He organized 92nd Division reunions, too, amassing a collection of materials that would eventually go to the Library of Congress.

They were teachers and leaders, like Clifford Moore, Spencer II’s brother, who fought alongside Spencer and returned to teach in Lawnside before going to Temple University on the GI Bill, earning a law degree. His work with the NAACP led him to join future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall on the defense team for the “Trenton Six,” black men accused of assaulting an elderly white couple in 1948 (four were acquitted). Later, Clifford would be appointed a commissioner at Fort Dix, the first African American to hold that position since the Reconstruction.

Spencer Moore “had pictures, documents, fliers from churches, the Republican Party, social clubs … anything you could think of,” said Linda Shockley, president of the Lawnside Historical Society.

“Dr. (Roscoe) Moore had collected a lot of items,” she said. She recalled seeing him as a schoolgirl, and talking about his family’s history and its place in Camden County lore.

“Dr. Moore was this living, breathing oracle, speaking to us in person,” she remembered. “He had such wonderful artifacts.” He told stories about working with under-served people throughout South Jersey — African Americans in Camden, migrant workers in Cumberland County, farmers in Salem, the poor all over the region.

“He would take chickens and pigs and apples as payment during the Depression,” and with his wife (who was a nurse) formed a Red Cross chapter to support the war effort during World War I.

Still, bringing this bit of history to life took time.

“We decided in 2013 we wanted to put together an exhibit on this extraordinary family,” she said. Spencer Moore’s death that year and changes at the Camden County Historical Society put those plans on hold until last year.

“The Moore family has owned land in Magnolia since around 1798,” noted Michael Moore, Spencer’s son. He recalled a childhood knowing about his grandfather the doctor, his uncle the lawyer, his aunt the teacher, but said, “I never really thought about it; I thought it was just stuff we did in my family.”

Like his father, Michael Moore had an affinity for history, and after retiring, he began organizing his father’s collections and doing his own research.

“There are little things I could piece together,” he said. “I knew a lot of the names. I tell younger people now, always listen to the stories your parents and grandparents tell — they might mean a lot more than you think.”

Camden County Historical Society collections director Josh Lisowski said the exhibit was part of a mission to promote local history, and “issues we haven’t tackled in the past.”

Items on display date from the 1700s through the mid-20th century, he said, and reflect pieces of everyday life, something the historical society welcomes.

“We’re trying to put the people back in history,” he said. “Historical organizations too often held on to one side of history and reflected only one subset of the population. We wanted to start telling different stories.”

They’re still looking for some of those bits of everyday minutiae: menus, fliers, photos and posters from the past.

Oral histories are also playing a part, O’Byrne said. “That’s the bias of history: who was writing it, who was publishing it. So a lot of it went unwritten.”

“We’re all inter-connected,” noted Shockley. “Lawnside has a connection to Magnolia, but also to Haddonfield and Moorestown, because of the abolitionists there. People forget about places like Saddlertown,” a black settlement in Haddon Township.

She credited O’Byrne and the Camden County Historical Society with working to change that. “They’re truly trying to make it an umbrella organization; a lot of good things are going to be happening.”

While the Moores of Greenland is an open-ended exhibit that O’Byrne predicts will be on display for at least a year, he’s working on “A Cast of Blues,” Feb. 11 with 15 resin masks of famous blues musicians and live music; other plans include exhibitions on Camden County’s Hispanic and Asian communities.

Exhibits like the Moores of Greenland are meaningful not just because they involve his own family, said Michael Moore.

“They let people know there are other cultures, other ethnic groups that have contributed to the fabric of Camden County that they might not be aware of,” he said.

The story of the Moores is the story of Camden County, Shockley said, and of an American family.

“This deserves to be on display; people need to see this. It’s American history.”


Online: http://on.cpsj.com/2rGzumh

Author photo
PHAEDRA TRETHAN
The AP is one of the largest and most trusted sources of independent newsgathering. AP is neither privately owned nor government-funded; instead, as a not-for-profit news cooperative owned by its American newspaper and broadcast members, it can maintain its single-minded focus on newsgathering and its commitment to the highest standards of objective, accurate journalism.