Everything That Rises
Everything That Rises
Everything That Rises September 20, 2015 â€“ January 17, 2016
Visual Arts Center of New Jersey
FOREWORD by Melanie Cohn Executive Director
We are greatly honored to present Casey Ruble: Everything that Rises. These beautiful, carefully pieced-together collages offer depictions of Underground Railroad safe houses and sites of racial uprisings, historical spaces that have gone un-memorialized or halfhidden. In bringing these spaces to the forefront, Casey Rubleâ€™s works allow us to consider how we, as a nation, remember and confront our history of race relations. The exhibition, catalogue, and related programs would not have been possible without the help and support of many people. Foremost, we would like to thank the artist, Casey Ruble, Foley Gallery, New York, NY, and Liz Paley. We also acknowledge the curatorial leadership and vision of Mary Birmingham, Curator, and the engaging public programs organized by Cara Bramson, Director of Programs. Thanks to essayist LaShonda K. Barnett, Ph.D. and poet Ross Gay for their inspired contributions to the catalogue, and to Design & Publications Manager Kristin Maizenaski and editor Stephanie Smith for their dedicated and diligent work on this publication. This project would not have been possible without the support of the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, a state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities; the New Jersey State Council on the Arts Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts; the Wilf Family Foundation; the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; The Horizon Foundation of New Jersey; the WJS Foundation; and Art Center members and donors. I want to thank our Community Advisory Board for their help in discussing and guiding our programming and outreach. I would also like to extend my deepest gratitude to the entire staff for their continued hard work and commitment in making all of the Art Centerâ€™s programs and outreach possible. And, I offer special thanks to the board of directors who is instrumental in pursuing our mission of bringing Art and People Together.
Everyone here is aware of what has happened but they also want to forget as quickly as possible. 2014
WHAT HAPPENED? by Mary Birmingham
Casey Ruble’s small-scale paper collages investigate seemingly ordinary places that contain loaded histories. The exhibition, Everything That Rises, depicts former Underground Railroad way stations and locations where race riots erupted, highlighting fifteen of these sites in the artist’s home state of New Jersey. Today they are hair salons, shops, churches, abandoned buildings, street corners, and empty fields—unremarkable and anonymous places that are easy to overlook. Ruble’s present-day views offer little evidence of the significant events that occurred there in the past, but they hint at hidden narratives. Through a variety of strategies the artist imbues each scene with an unsettling stillness or psychological tension that prompts the viewer to wonder, “What happened here?” The title of the series is taken from Flannery O’Connor’s 1961 short story “Everything That Rises Must Converge.” Set in the South shortly after the desegregation of the public transportation system, it describes an interracial encounter on a bus and the altercation that ensues. Ruble’s reference to the story underscores her connection to the word “rise,” and its varied shades of meaning: “Rising to the occasion” is a positive action, but “rising tension” expresses anxiety, and the idea of “rising up” (as from slavery) skews in a different direction from an “uprising.” Ruble’s collages illustrate places where different kinds of rising occurred—some that took place in secrecy and some that exploded in public. Presenting places where Underground Railroad activity occurred during the period of enslavement alongside those where urban rebellions erupted during the civil rights era, the artist conceptually links them as sites of resistance in a related struggle for justice. The trajectories of their narratives converge in this exhibition. After conducting extensive research and photographing numerous locations in New Jersey, Ruble selected fifteen images to render as colored paper collages. Her intention is to convey the emotional tone of a particular place and to recreate for the viewer the
feeling of being in that space. She accomplishes this through her inventive use of the collage medium and by carefully selecting and controlling the color palette, point of view, and composition of each work. Ruble edits her source image, eliminating some details and adding or embellishing others, while keeping the fundamental identity of the place intact. After making a contour line drawing from a photograph, she selects an appropriate palette of colored papers and cuts out each component. This process flattens some forms into expanses of solid color, leaving the viewer to fill in the visual blanks for the expected surface details—the individual blades of grass, leaves on the trees, brick walls, wood grains, or cloudy skies. In contrast, the layering of each tiny fragment lends importance to the small details of the scene, and the resulting dimensionality of the cut shapes gives them greater pictorial weight than if they were painted. Along with her economic use of line and form, Ruble relies on color to carry some of the work’s emotional weight. While she often adopts a scene’s existing color scheme, she may deviate from the original hues, or shift a scene from day to night. Several of the riot sites have unnaturally hued skies of green, yellow, or mauve, hinting at impending storms or even dangerous weather conditions. Ruble sometimes juxtaposes colors in dissonant combinations, creating underlying feelings of anxiety. In a nod to activists of today, Ruble employs a cell phone camera when visiting and photographing potential sites. She also prefers it for the ease and discretion it allows, as well as for the images it produces. The wide-angle lenses in most cell phone cameras create subtle distortions in perspective that make buildings and forms appear slightly tilted, as if they are falling out of the frame or collapsing inwardly. This illusion of instability interests the artist, especially as it contrasts with the solidity of the paper cutouts. Often disorienting, some of her compositions resemble snapshots taken from odd angles or feature views looking up from the ground; other close-up shots create a feeling that borders on claustrophobia. While some of the vantage points Ruble offers may at first glance seem quotidian or off-hand, they are carefully selected to trigger emotional responses. The intriguing and arresting viewpoints that Ruble captures invite a closer examination of her compositions, and what they reveal—or hide—about these places. Six of the works illustrate places in northern New Jersey cities—Jersey City, Paterson, Newark, Plainfield, and Asbury Park—where race riots broke out between 1964 and 1970, and nine of them depict sites of former Underground Railroad safe houses. The
race riot sites are titled with phrases taken from contemporaneous news reports, while the Underground Railroad sites are untitled, but parenthetically identified by the towns in which they are located. Nearly all of the collages present views of buildings or other architectural structures, and although there is abundant evidence of humans—cars, buildings, fences, and roads—these scenes are eerily devoid of people. The majority of the scenes are set outdoors. Ruble mediates most of these exterior views through a compositional strategy that separates the viewer from the site; it’s as if we have to step over or negotiate some obstacle in the foreground—a road, a floor, a sidewalk, a railing, or a fence—in order to enter the space. Many of the images contain blocked or hidden areas, suggesting unknown activities behind brick walls, closed doors, and high fences. Our inability to see into these places creates an ominous feeling that something unsettling may have just occurred or is about to occur. This tension surrounding the hidden is a crucial aspect of Ruble’s work, and is clearly significant in her consideration of the Underground Railroad sites, which provided havens and hiding places, but were also fraught with danger. Ruble positions the viewer inside four of these sites that are brilliantly configured to suggest that any hiding place can quickly turn into a trap. Three interior scenes (in Allentown, Cherry Hill, and Lawnside) portray transitional spaces through which people move—corridors, doors, and stairways (the latter a potent symbol of rising). Architectural features are charged with symbolic meaning, intimating entrapment as well as egress. In the Lawnside image we are uncertain if we are looking at the entrance to an active stairway, or just a closet under the stairs—does its glowing gold interior represent safe passage or the end of the line? The elegant blue staircase in the Allentown image leads up and down, although viewers cannot see what lies beyond the limits of the picture. The uncertainty and anxiety is palpable, suggesting how fugitives hiding in these tight spaces must have felt. A quirky scene inside a Boonton, New Jersey, hair salon offers no indication that it sits on the site of a former Underground Railroad safe house, but Ruble incorporates details that we may interpret as subtle references to its past. The view into the corner, with its startling convergence of red and yellow walls, underscores its potential either as a place to hide or a place to be cornered. The anthropomorphic black hair-dryer chairs suggest a trio of silent witnesses or seated guardian figures, but their “heads” also resemble searchlights. The clock on the red wall is a loaded image, reminding us how the passage of time has altered this space while alluding to the urgency felt by people on the run. Although a corner like
this one can signify a dead end, a picture of the Statue of Liberty and a shelf of framed family photos on the yellow wall read as symbolic representations of freedom. Corners of a different sort play a prominent role in several of the outdoor riot sites; these street corners and intersections convey a similar sense of uncertainty. There may be threats lurking around a sunny street corner in Newark (Music. Even laughter. And always the gunfire.), but the same corner could provide a quick escape. The building—a police precinct headquarters—seems to shift away from a tilting utility pole, creating a slightly dizzying effect. A police car parked along the curb casts its shadow over a storm drain, perhaps hinting at a presence lingering below the surface. In the Asbury Park image (The wind was out of the west at 20 m.p.h.), a building set on the corner of a wide intersection seems exposed and vulnerable, yet its blank façade and empty billboard mask what may transpire inside. A red traffic light hangs above the empty intersection, although there is no car to obey its “Stop!” command. The urban race riots referenced in this series occurred in public, yet none of Ruble’s collages convey the chaos and cacophony that characterized these events. Ruble imbues these places—like the Underground Railroad sites—with a frozen and unpopulated stillness that is uncannily silent. Anonymity and silence were powerful and essential strategies used to protect fugitives on the Underground Railroad and those who aided them. In contrast, the civil-rights-era riots were uprisings of people who refused to remain silenced in the face of oppression—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously referred to riots as “the language of the unheard.” It seems especially ironic that so many of the sites depicted in this exhibition (especially the riot sites) are unmarked by historical plaques. Just as there is a hidden narrative behind all of the places Ruble’s work depicts, there is also an unspoken history of what happened between these two periods; Flannery O’Connor’s story “Everything That Rises Must Converge” (the source of the exhibition’s title) is part of this continuum. One of the main characters is a bigoted woman who cannot accept the inevitable changes set in motion by the civil rights movement. She complains, “It’s ridiculous. It’s simply not realistic. They should rise, yes, but on their own side of the fence.” In reading this passage I am reminded of Ruble’s collage depicting the site of the 1964 Jersey City riot—the first to occur in New Jersey following the passage of the Civil Rights Act. In this foreboding and forbidding image, a fence keeps us from seeing what lies behind it, and the barbed wire prevents us from looking any closer—its impenetrability makes me think of the woman in O’Connor’s story. The work’s title is taken from a contemporaneous news report: Everyone here is aware of what has happened but they also
want to forget as quickly as possible. The site’s present state, as evidenced by Ruble’s collage, implies the fulfillment of this wish. Following the significant events that occurred in these places, there has been both an accumulation and erasure of history. Each of the fifteen images in this exhibition raises the pointed question, “What happened?”—meaning not only “What happened in this place,” but also “What happened to this place?” Rather than providing definitive answers, Ruble’s work provokes us to think deeply about these questions and keep looking for answers—perhaps even beyond the specific sites. Her images are unsettling and quiet, but they also speak loudly about how places reveal or hide their stories, compelling us to reflect on how we address—or ignore—the fraught narrative of American race relations.
Mary Birmingham is Curator at the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey.
The wind was out of the west at 20 m.p.h. 2014
ODE TO THE FLUTE by Ross Gay
A man sings by opening his mouth a man sings by opening his lungs by turning himself into air a flute can be made of a man nothing is explained a flute lays on its side and prays a wind might enter it and make of it at least a small final song
Ross Gay is Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Indiana University. “Ode to the Flute” from Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, by Ross Gay, © 2015. Reprinted by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.
The governor answered â€œnoâ€? when asked about any Communist instigation of the riots. 2014
VISUAL INTONATION AND MOTION IN THE COLLAGES OF CASEY RUBLE
by LaShonda Katrice Barnett, Ph.D.
The exhibition title’s nod to Flannery O’Connor’s eponymous short story invokes the democratic nature of jazz, the first American popular music where white and black players played together before large audiences (minstrelsy, Vaudeville, and the Blues were segregated forms—all whites in blackface or blacks playing among themselves). In the jazz tradition, players earn their chops by “saying something,” common jazz parlance to express mastery over your instrument, the ability to cultivate a distinct sound, a voice distinguishable from all others. Jazz aficionados and students, for example, can discern the difference between the playing of Bill Evans, Ahmad Jamal, Marian McPartland, and Thelonious Monk, where most of us would simply hear a rhythmic piano. Our nation’s invention, our absolutely original music, includes jazz singing, whose lyrics and melodic sentiments reach us all and embody America’s dreams. Artist Casey Ruble’s visual intonation bears the extraordinary and original inflection one might expect to hear in jazz; in part this is due to her palette—evocative, muted shades— but to this viewer it is not merely the colors themselves but rather their voicings, their dialogic response to each other. What the tones say depends on their environ. Ruble’s thoughtful approach to place and space informs the cadence, which is to say they work together in the ways that harmony and melody shape music. The absence of any human subject contributes to Ruble’s concerted effort to conjure up specific yet universal space. Like jazz, the collages invite the insertion of “self ” regardless of ethnicity. That the “self ” is so conspicuous is provocative but also instructive: any community in America can face the issues hinted at in the collages—this has been the surprising history lesson of the twenty-first century, the thesis underscoring the Occupy Wall Street movement, and the voice of the ninety-nine percent.
Seeing is one thing, hearing another. Ruble’s collages are void of people but not voice. The first concerts at New York City’s Lincoln Center in 1987 were framed under the rubric “Classical Jazz.” In the 1990s, the artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, Wynton Marsalis, became inextricably linked with the notion of jazz as America’s indigenous classical music. He characterized jazz as the “ultimate twentieth-century music,” but it was the “America’s classical music” moniker that stuck. Discussions of this fashionablesounding theme even reached the floor of the U.S. Senate. In the way that jazz, over the last century, has addressed the rising and falling, the searching, seeking, questioning of black history and culture in America, Ruble’s collages articulate classic themes. The collage Music. Even laughter. And always the gunfire. joins the jazz tradition of giving voice to social issues. The piece contains a police car, a poster of a man, a bricked-over window. In itself, this sequence of imagery is a consummate exposition on the complexity of “safeness,” the contemporaneous understanding of police presence as a questionable symbol in today’s black culture (“to protect and serve” or to do harm?). As in all of her work, Ruble invites us to question. What scenes commonly unfolded outside the brickedover window? Is the patrol car parked or rolling by in pursuit? Is the person on the poster missing or the subject of a manhunt? Grappling with the questions is what makes Ruble’s work exciting and intrepid. Like Hard Bop geniuses Booker Little and Eric Dolphy trading fours on their trumpet and saxophone in the jazz tradition known as “call and response,” there is extraordinary tension in They said they’d rather die here than in Vietnam. The crisscrossed wires suggest the frenetic energy you hear in the feverish horn-playing of Charlie “Bird” Parker. “Bird on A Wire,” in fact, could serve as a subtitle—the absence of the bird as symbolic as Ruble’s omission of human subjects. Faced with such a sky, one questions how flight might be possible—literal or spiritual. And yet at the same time there is a star. The signification of the White Star along with the illuminated lamppost challenges us to find light in the spaces where the eye is trained only to see darkness. It is particularly striking that the collages are void of specific cultural tropes—the red, black, and green pan-African flag; references to black music; posters of historic black figures such as Frederick Douglas, Marian Anderson, Malcolm X, Mary McLeod Bethune—yet the collages intone the most intimate of urban black spaces. Three collages invoke sacred space and call to mind the sacred jazz music (so-called by the Duke himself) of Ellington. “Lord, oh Lord . . . please look down and see my people
through” is a line in the widely celebrated Ellington classic “Come Sunday.” Black churches in America have long been recognized as the most independent, stable, and dominant institutions in black communities. Ruble’s What happened?, The governor answered “no” when asked about any Communist instigation of the riots., and Untitled (Swedesboro) relay this historical significance to African-American cultural survival. They celebrate the crucial role black churches have played in social change, especially given that churches were the training ground for many African-American politicians and community activists. Vincent Harding, theologian and historian (and author of one of the most polarizing speeches—opposing the Vietnam War—given by Dr. Martin Luther King), correctly identified the black church as the most powerful current against the waves of racism and the legacy of slavery. What happened? and The governor… bear witness to one critical component, the symbolic importance given to the word freedom, which underscores all black religious thought and is heard in the fugitive, uncontainable genius of jazz improvisation. As Lawrence Mamiya and C. Eric Lincoln remind us in The Black Church in the African American Experience: “Depending upon the time and the context, the implications of freedom were derived from the nature of the exigency. During slavery it meant release from bondage; after emancipation it meant the right to be educated, to be employed, and to move about freely from place to place.” In the twenty-first century freedom means social, political, and economic justice; the adversaries of these civil rights for blacks understand fully what they are doing when they burn and destroy black churches. In many black communities politics are found in unexpected places. On par with black churches are barbershops and beauty salons, the latter of which appears in Untitled (Boonton). For many African Americans, these shops offer the opportunity to talk, to question, to complain freely in the company of one’s own culture where explanation is never necessary. Among black women, hair styling conveys important cultural, political, and social meanings, particularly in relation to group identity. Given that mainstream images of beauty often undermine attributes associated with black women’s corporeality (the degrading of dark skin and natural hair), African-American women’s experiences in beauty shops give voice to a plethora of issues that are not contained elsewhere. Beauty Shop Politics also restore economics and entrepreneurship as important variables in black women’s activism and community building. Boonton’s three dryers signify the importance of hair in black cultures and rightfully posit the beauty shop as the space where one “gets their head right”—teases out the kinks of
oppression and duress much in the way that church “gets the heart right,” allowing time and space for spiritual respite. Historically and today, black churches and beauty shops remain sites of racial self-help. Although Ruble is attentive to the historic influence of socio-economic displacement elsewhere in the collages, in several of the Untitled collages she instead imagines what this viewer considers Afro-futuristic spaces; that is, places where the presence of people of color won’t be synonymous with fraught circumstance, dark history, or even death. Untitled (Timbuctoo) depicts a bucolic meadow, Untitled (Jersey City) features a fence that protects, and the staircase in Untitled (Allentown) figuratively speaks to upward mobility and ascension. These collages sound the trumpet, heralding a revitalization of Dr. Martin Luther King’s democratic vision for America, and his belief that the “universe bends toward justice.” While some of the collages necessarily draw on painful past history and recent history to depict sites of resistance—from the Underground Railroad to urban environs that hark to the spate of killings of African-American males by police officers—ultimately the exhibition pushes the audience to consider transgression, place, change. The viewer is left in tune with social struggle, but seeking, striving, rising to converge with new harmony (and isn’t harmony the perfect metaphor for justice?) for all citizens, like the finest jazz.
LaShonda Katrice Barnett, Ph.D. is the author of the debut novel Jam on the Vine (Grove Press, 2015). She lives and writes full time in Manhattan.
Untitled (Boonton) 2014
Untitled (Timbuctoo) 2014
Untitled (Lawnside) 2015
Music. Even laughter. And always the gunfire. 2015
Untitled (Burlington) 2014
Untitled (Jersey City) 2015
Untitled (Jersey City) 2014
“They said they’d rather die here than in Vietnam.” 2015
Untitled (Allentown) 2014
What happened? 2015
Untitled (Swedesboro) 2015
Untitled (Cherry Hill) 2015
CHECKLIST & ADDITIONAL INFORMATION New Jersey has played a critical role in our country’s turbulent history of race relations. Yet many of the sites connected to that history remain unmarked, bearing little to no evidence of their loaded pasts. Today, one passes these seemingly mundane places—hair salons, empty fields, boutique shops, abandoned buildings—without a thought to their historical significance. The following entries, written by Casey Ruble, offer historical background on each of the sites depicted in Everything That Rises.* For further information about these sites and the exhibition visit www.artcenternj.org/casey-ruble.
Untitled (Boonton) 2014 Paper collage 6 x 8 inches
New Jersey was known as “the slave state of the North.” In 1846, it enacted an abolition law that freed all black children born after its passage but designated the state’s remaining slaves as “apprentices for life.” With eighteen of these “apprentices” still remaining in 1860, just five years before the end of the Civil War, New Jersey became the last Northern state to enslave people. Dr. John Grimes, a Quaker, abolitionist, and publisher of Boonton’s first newspaper, was once arrested for harboring a fugitive slave. He lived in several areas of northern New Jersey, including at a house in Boonton that is now home to a Domino’s Pizza, a deli, and a hair salon.
Everyone here is aware of what has happened but they also want to forget as quickly as possible. 2014 Paper collage 8 x 6 inches
The promises offered by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 stood in sharp contrast to the reality on the ground: widespread housing and job discrimination, incarceration without due process, and police brutality—injustices black communities had faced since the failure of Reconstruction nearly a century earlier. The civil disturbances of the 1960s grew out of those fissures and quickly spread across the country. The 1964 riot in Jersey City was the first large-scale race riot in the state and one of the first to occur in the U.S. after the passage of the Civil Rights Act.
* Information on the race riots is compiled from The Encyclopedia of American Race Riots (Walter Rucker and James N. Upton, eds., Greenwood: 2006) and from newspaper articles published at the time of the events. Additional information on the Paterson, Plainfield, and Asbury Park riots is taken, respectively, from The 1964 Paterson Riot: Three Days That Changed a City by George Lipsitz and Richard E. Polton (North Jersey Media Group Books: 2014), from “Riot and Reunion: Forty Years Later” by Peter Dreier (The Nation: 2007) and from Fourth of July, Asbury Park by Daniel Wolff (Bloomsbury: 2006).
Sunday, August 2, 1964. “A Hard Day’s Night” by the Beatles tops the charts. President Lyndon B. Johnson receives reports that the USS Maddox is under attack by North Vietnamese torpedo boats in the Gulf of Tonkin. Decades of political corruption in Jersey City, New Jersey, have padded public payrolls and devastated low-income areas. Schools in black neighborhoods are crumbling , city sanitation services are absent, and Mayor Whelan has refused to reopen parks that were closed, ostensibly due to city budget cuts. According to police, Mrs. Dolores Shannon, 26, is found drunk and raging at another woman in the Booker T. Washington public housing complex. They arrest her for disorderly conduct. A man sitting on a porch nearby intervenes and is also arrested—with excessive force, according to witnesses. Both are taken to the Fourth Precinct station, where a group of black residents begins marching in protest against police brutality. At around 10 p.m. a crowd swells at the site of the arrests, shouting epithets at police dispatched to the scene, and the night erupts into three days of violence carried out with bricks, baseball bats, guns, Molotov cocktails, baling hooks, and knives. Searchlights sweep over the tenement buildings, black youths on street corners sing “We Shall Overcome” and other civil-rights songs, and local black clergymen with bullhorns drive through the streets urging people to stop rioting. Mayor Whelan refuses to meet with leaders of the black community to discuss ways of stemming the violence. Instead, he tours the area in a limousine, where he is quoted as saying, “If those people are really leaders, if they really represent the Negroes, let them get those rioters back into their homes.” Seven years after the riot, Mayor Whelan—and seven others, including the city police chief, the city-council president, the city purchasing agent, the county treasurer, and former mayor John V. Kenny—stands trial on charges of conspiring to collect kickbacks on city contracts, a scheme that had lined the pockets of the defendants, known as the “Hudson Eight,” with over three million dollars. Whelan is found guilty and sentenced to fifteen years in a federal penitentiary.
Untitled (Burlington) 2014 Paper collage 8 3/16 x 6 ⅝ inches
Located in Burlington, the Wheatley is the oldest continuously operating pharmacy in New Jersey. In the mid-1800s it was owned and operated by William Allinson, a Quaker who used the apothecary as a meeting place for abolitionist rallies. Poet John Greenleaf Whittier is said to have spoken against slavery on the steps of the building. According to oral tradition, escaped slaves were hidden beneath the Wheatley in tunnels that purportedly connected to other parts of the town. Although secret passageways and safe houses did exist, they were probably far less common than popular thought suggests. In its time, the Underground Railroad was a highly unpopular movement among whites: only about two percent of white Northerners, according to some estimates, were abolitionists, and many of those abolitionists did not support the effort to help enslaved people escape, believing instead that slavery should be ended by legal means. The participants in the Underground Railroad worked more as a loose association of individuals than as an organized network guaranteeing a failsafe route to freedom. Many fugitives made their way north with little or no help, donning disguises, following old American Indian trails, and relying on their own savvy and persistence.
2014 Paper collage 6 x 8 inches Collection of Liz Paley
The 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, which made aiding escapees a criminal offense, dramatically changed the landscape for both free blacks and runaways across the country. Slave catchers had carte blanche to kidnap African Americans living in the North, claiming—rightly or wrongly—that they were escapees. Free or fugitive, those kidnapped were not entitled to a jury trial or the opportunity to testify on their own behalves. The African-American community of Timbuctoo, formed near Camden in the 1820s by free blacks and escaped slaves, was the site of the Battle of Pine Swamp. On a cold November night in 1860, armed slave catchers arrived at the home of resident Perry Simmons, who rushed his family to the garret in the house and armed himself with two guns and an axe. Hearing cries for help from the family, nearby residents came to their rescue and succeeded in driving the men away with guns, knives, and axes. This incident motivated Timbuctoo residents to join the Union Army when the Civil War broke out just five months later. All that remains today of this vibrant nineteenth-century community is a sleepy cemetery housing the graves of black Civil War veterans and overgrown fields excavated in 2010 by the archaeology department at Temple University.
What happened? 2015 Paper collage 7 x 7 inches
Tuesday, August 11, 1964. Jersey City is reeling from the riot there just days earlier. The FBI issues a memorandum stating that the autopsy of James Chaney cannot determine whether the Mississippi civil rights worker was beaten prior to being shot. Filming of the anti-war movie Shenandoah, starring James Stewart, begins, though public opposition to the Vietnam War is still in its infancy. Capital generated in whiteowned stores in the black ghettos of Paterson, New Jersey, continues to enrich white neighborhoods rather than benefit the black communities that desperately need it. Under the pretense of protecting white residents, police are routinely raiding black bars and forcing black citizens off sidewalks and out of other public areas, brutally assaulting those who insist they have a right to peacefully occupy these spaces. At the end of a humid day of scattered thunderstorms, youths leaving an outdoor dance gather on a street corner in Paterson’s Fourth Ward. When police attempt to break up the crowd, the young people resist and violence breaks out. Soon others join the fray, throwing rocks, bottles, and bricks. The chaos has subsided by the early hours of the next morning, and Mayor Graves, at an afternoon luncheon for Miss New Jersey, announces that “Paterson will be completely safe for you tonight.” Later that day, while a news crew sets up on the corner of Bridge and Governor Streets preparing to report that the city is calm, a Molotov cocktail hurled from a third-story window above them explodes into flames. The rioting continues through the
morning of Friday, August 14. City officials subsequently agree to respond to pleas from the black community for fair treatment, but ultimately fail to do so.
Untitled (Jersey City) 2014 Paper collage 6 x 8 inches
Documentation suggests that the Jersey City area was a birthplace of slavery in the state in the 1600s. Two centuries later, the city stood as the convergence point of New Jersey’s four main Underground Railroad routes, and it was the last stop in the state before fugitives crossed the Hudson River—hidden on coal boats and ferries that landed in Manhattan. New York City was a major abolitionist hub, but by the beginning of the Civil War it also had witnessed white-initiated mob attacks on black residents and white abolitionists. Common across the country, these white-instigated riots lasted through the Jim Crow period. Sparked by anger over abolitionism, fear of loss of racial supremacy, and ongoing economic disenfranchisement, these riots were used, along with lynching, as a highly effective means of racial intimidation. The home of Dr. Henry D. Holt, located on the Morris Canal Basin near the Hudson River, served as a station on the Underground Railroad for fugitives making their way to Manhattan. The Holt home no longer exists; a locked, gated park and a memorial dedicated to Korean War veterans can be found in the vicinity.
The governor answered “no” when asked about any Communist instigation of the riots. 2014 Paper collage 6 x 8 inches
By the summer of 1967, the last of what were dubbed the “long hot summers,” John F. Kennedy and Medgar Evers had been dead for four years. Malcolm X had been dead for two. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy would be assassinated in less than a year. Effecting change through sit-ins, marches, and other peaceful means was seen by some as increasingly futile. The country had experienced at least eighteen major riots in three years. The 1967 Newark riot would remain among the deadliest in U.S. history.
Wednesday, July 12, 1967. Pepsi Cola, which had aggressively targeted the black market in the 1940s, has since switched gears and features Miss America Jane Anne Jayroe in its 1967 “ice cold!” advertising campaign. The Supreme Court ruling on Loving v. Virginia, making state bans on interracial marriages unconstitutional, turns a month old. Homes and buildings in Newark’s low-income Central Ward have been slated to be seized by eminent domain for construction of a new medical complex, and several years of high-profile police-misconduct cases are still fresh in the minds of Newark residents. Shortly after sunset cab driver John W. Smith passes a double-parked squad car on 15th Avenue. He is pulled over at 9th Street, arrested, and allegedly beaten on the way to the Fourth Precinct Headquarters.
Music. Even laughter. And always the gunfire. 2015 Paper collage 8 ¼ x 6 inches
Word of Smith’s arrest is conveyed over cab radios, and a crowd forms at the Fourth Precinct Headquarters. Local civil rights leaders arrive and are allowed to see Smith, who is badly injured. Smith is taken out a back door to a hospital, but rumors spread that he has been killed in police custody. A Molotov cocktail explodes on the side of the precinct building, along with bottles and bricks. Two cars are set on fire and several nearby stores are looted, while police attempting to intervene are hit with projectiles. By the next morning, a temporary calm has settled in and Mayor Addonizio calls the disturbance an “isolated incident.” But violence erupts again that evening and the city rapidly descends into chaos. Flames engulf entire buildings, the wail of sirens is punctuated by the sound of gunfire, stores are gutted, and debris litters the streets. The New Jersey State Police and National Guard are called in. When they arrive, Addonizio tells them that “the whole town is gone;” the riot continues to rage for another four days as army tanks lumber down avenues. Unfounded rumors spread that black snipers are shooting from rooftops; police and guardsmen respond by spraying publichousing buildings with machine-gun fire, killing residents taking shelter in their homes. After five days of rioting, 23 people are dead, over 750 are injured, firefighters have responded to approximately 250 fires, and over 13,000 rounds of ammunition have been expended, none of which are proven to have come from anyone other than law enforcement.
Untitled (Cherry Hill) 2015 Paper collage 6 x 8 inches
In the early days of the country, many Quakers owned slaves and participated in the slave trade, but by the late 1600s the society had become the first corporate body in America to protest the practice on ethical and religious grounds. Thomas Evans, a Quaker, purchased this Cherry Hill house in 1816, and his son Josiah owned it from about 1840. Both were active in the Underground Railroad; fugitives were reputedly hidden in the attic of the home. On one occasion, Josiah bribed a slave catcher to secure the freedom of two of the men he harbored. One of them, Joshua Saddler, subsequently established a settlement of freed slaves in what is now Haddon Township.
Untitled (Jersey City) 2015 Paper collage 8 x 6 inches
The Hilton-Holden mansion was built by David Le Cain Holden, a banker, amateur astronomer, and prominent abolitionist. Holden is said to have used the gilded astronomical
observatory atop the house as a place from which to receive signals about the movement of the fugitives he took in. A bit ramshackle today, the mansion is now ringed by surveillance cameras and “no trespassing” and “beware of dog” signs. It is the only intact Underground Railroad safe house remaining in Jersey City; a streetside plaque describes its importance in the history of the state.
“They said they’d rather die here than in Vietnam.” 2015 Paper collage 6 ½ x 8 inches
Friday, July 14, 1967. The Newark riot continues to rage. Spacecraft Surveyor 4 is launched to the moon but never lands. Socialite Caroline Lee Bouvier Radziwill graces the cover of Life magazine; Jet magazine’s cover goes to Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, then a member of the California State Assembly and later the first black woman from the West to be elected to the U.S. Congress. The word “nigger” is routinely used to describe suspects over police radios in Plainfield, New Jersey, and although local black leaders have been vocal about police racism, housing segregation, and discriminatory hiring practices for years, their appeals have fallen on deaf ears in city government offices. When a fight breaks out between two young men at the White Star Diner, a popular black hangout, the white Plainfield police officer serving as security refuses to intervene or call an ambulance. Angry at yet another example of police racism, black youths take to the street, marching through the neighborhood for several hours before throwing rocks at police cars and store windows. Violence increases over the weekend, culminating in the shooting of 22-year-old Bobby Williams by John Gleason, a white police officer who had reportedly shot a black child a year earlier and was known in the ghetto as a racist. Gleason is beaten with a shopping cart and dies of his injuries soon thereafter. The National Guard and state police begin ransacking homes in a futile search for a stash of rifles reportedly stolen from a local weapons manufacturer a few days earlier. By midnight on Sunday, streets are strewn with overturned cars, lamppost lights have been shot out, and burned, looted stores smolder in the dark.
Untitled (Lawnside) 2015 Paper collage 6 x 8 inches
Often given short shrift in the history books, African Americans played a major role in aiding escapees along the Underground Railroad. Little is known about Peter Mott aside from the fact that he was a preacher, a conductor on the Underground Railroad, and a free black man who lived in Lawnside, the only incorporated municipality in the northern U.S. that was historically African American. Believed to be the oldest exigent house in Lawnside today, the Mott home was slated for demolition in the 1990s but was saved and meticulously restored by town residents. Today, it sits at the end of a cul-de-sac lined by middle-income housing and is open to the public on Saturdays.
Untitled (Swedesboro) 2015 Paper collage 8 x 6 inches
African Methodist Episcopal (AME) churches across the North and Midwest were an instrumental part of the Underground Railroad. Still standing today, the Mount Zion AME church in Swedesboro, New Jersey, is located on an area of swamp and forest that was once populated by Quakers and free blacks and ran from the African-American hamlet of Springtown to Mount Holly, near Philadelphia. Church members reputedly ferreted escapees through a trap door in the vestibule that led to a crawlspace under the floor, and in 1836 they staged an armed rescue of a fugitive who had been apprehended by a slave catcher. The church was on the Underground Railroad’s Greenwich line, which Harriet Tubman helped operate. She was just one of many individuals, their names lost to history, who took enormous risks to aid fugitives.
Untitled (Allentown) 2014 Paper collage 6 x 8 inches
Because those operating the Underground Railroad did so in secrecy and rarely kept written documentation of their activities, verifying the authenticity of safe houses is difficult. Compounding the difficulty, many homeowners who discover a trap door or passageway in the basement erroneously assume the house was part of the Underground Railroad, resulting in hundreds of false claims. Although strong oral tradition may suggest the veracity of some claims, lack of proof leaves many as question marks in history. This is the case with the Imlay House, built circa 1790 by a wealthy shipping merchant in Allentown, New Jersey. In the 1800s, three daughters of the Robbins family may have used what was then the kitchen area of the home to help fugitives escape. The building was subsequently used as a rooming house, a hospital, and a private residence. Today it houses boutique shops that sell scented soap, scarves, and garden ornaments.
The wind was out of the west at 20 m.p.h. 2014 Paper collage 6 x 8 inches
Saturday, the Fourth of July, 1970. Thousands attend Honor America Day, a de facto pro-war rally in Washington, D.C., organized by supporters of President Richard Nixon in the wake of the invasion of Cambodia and the Kent State shootings. Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 debuts, ending with the #1 hit “Mama Told Me Not to Come” by Three Dog Night, followed by Kasem’s signature signoff: “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.” Clubs on the West Side of Asbury Park, New Jersey, are drawing racially mixed audiences to their vibrant gospel, soul, R&B, and doo-wop music scene. Local black teenagers are angry about being turned away from
boardwalk jobs that were instead given to white youths from out of town. The police are called when black teenagers leaving a dance begin hitting cars with bottles as they walk down Springwood Avenue. The clash spreads as others join in the violence and property destruction. By Monday, the city is in full riot and Mayor Mattice declares a state of emergency. On Tuesday morning, community leaders present a list of demands to the city council that includes “immediate employment of 100 youths from the west side.” By Wednesday, the annex of the local jail is at capacity, the hospital has treated fifty-six people injured in the riot, the city’s West Side has sustained crippling damage, and meetings between black community leaders and the city council have failed to secure meaningful responses to complaints of police misconduct and urgent requests for long-sought improvements in living conditions. Seven days after the violence first erupted, Asbury’s West Side has sustained $4 million in property damage, 167 arrests have been made, 180 people have been injured, and approximately 100 jobs have been lost. Burned-out clubs along Springwood Avenue would soon be demolished or remain boarded up indefinitely. Local residents and the Salvation Army begin picking up the pieces and offer food and shelter to families left homeless by the riot.
Unless otherwise noted, all works courtesy of the artist and Foley Gallery, New York, NY.
CASEY RUBLE Casey Ruble received her BA from Smith College and her MFA from Hunter College. Her work has been included in group shows at the Wellin Museum of Art at Hamilton College (Clinton, NY), the Hunterdon Art Museum (Clinton, NJ), the Times Square Gallery and Bertha and Karl Leubsdorf Gallery at Hunter College (New York, NY), and Dieu Donné (New York, NY). She has had solo shows at Foley Gallery (New York, NY) and the Foundation Gallery (New Orleans, LA). She teaches painting and drawing at Fordham University, Lincoln Center, has written for Art in America magazine, and was a contributor to Rebecca Solnit and Rebecca Snedeker’s Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas (2013). A 2013 recipient of the New Jersey Council on the Arts Fellowship, Ruble currently resides in a village overlooking the Delaware River in New Jersey.
68 Elm Street, Summit, NJ 07901 908.273.9121 www.artcenternj.org Gallery Hours Monday – Thursday: 10 am – 8 pm Friday: 10 am – 5 pm Saturday & Sunday: 11 am – 4 pm Cover artwork: The wind was out of the west at 20 m.p.h. (detail) Photography by Adam Reich (all works, with the exception of Timbuctoo) Design by Kristin Maizenaski Printed by Brilliant Graphics © 2015, Visual Arts Center of New Jersey ISBN: 978-0-925915-51-1
This exhibition and related programs were made possible by a grant from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, a state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this exhibition, website and exhibition catalog do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or the New Jersey Council for the Humanities. Major support for the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey is provided in part by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts, the Wilf Family Foundations, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, The Horizon Foundation of New Jersey, the WJS Foundation, and Art Center members and donors.
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