This Is Rutherford
Rutherford's Black History
Updated: Feb 4
By Rod Leith, Borough Historian
More than six decades passed before the Rutherford community --- including its African-American church and black American Legion post ---offered proper recognition for the six Blacks of the Laval family who served in WWII. Histories written about Rutherford's human contributions and sacrifices had never mentioned that at least one of these brothers won the Purple Heart for bravery in combat. Now there is Laval Brothers Place, the only street in Rutherford named for Black family members.
This kind of oversight can also be found in other important contributions from within the Black community, such as those of Christopher C. Walton, a Black builder of many houses in Rutherford, including the house occupied for several decades by the Laval family before and after the military service of the six brothers. Rutherford's 1981 Historic Sites Survey identified the work of two white architects as qualified for designation of a thematic district. Such a distinction has recently been proposed, but never executed, to honor the houses designed and built by Christopher C. Walton. It is viewed as unusual --- if not unknown --- that a Black carpenter-builder could have accomplished what Walton did in Rutherford in the 1930's.
There is also a sad reluctance to recognize the unusual service of a white man, Richard Shugg, who welcomed neighborhood children, including those from black families, to attend Sunday school classes in his home. This is the same white gentleman who sponsored his Black servant for membership in Rutherford's all white Baptist church, and years later, had the church dedicate a stained glass window in her name.
The Meadowlands Museum will open its Black History exhibit on February 11th.