In Montclair, New Jersey, the future’s looking bright with a significant change to local Black history: As this year’s Black History Month began, a local grassroots group celebrated a major milestone in their efforts to save 369 Claremont Avenue, the property known as the James Howe House—the first townhouse owned by a freed slave.

“We have the keys!” Friends of the Howe House shouted at a news conference on Feb. 13 in front of the house.

The house has so much importance in Black history, according to Friends of the Howe House: “One of the oldest structures in Montclair, dating to the Revolutionary era, this house helps tell the story of freedom and slavery, the development of a Black community, and also the founding of Montclair as a town. James Howe worked as an enslaved man for Major Nathanial Crane in the early 1800s. After over a decade of servitude, Crane manumitted [freed] Howe, ending his enslavement. In his 1831 Testament and Last Will, Crane left Howe the house, $400, and approximately six acres of land. Howe used the home and the property to support his family and there is evidence to suggest that a small Black community developed around the James Howe House.”

The group continued: “The James Howe House creates an opportunity to study and discuss the history of Montclair’s vibrant Black community, and lift up the truth of racial injustice in the 19th century and today. In many ways, the James Howe House raises more questions than it answers and only research into the social history of Montclair will answer these questions. This work is difficult and necessary because, until recently, archivists and historians have not prioritized documenting and preserving the history of Black people in the United States, including Montclair. Preserving the James Howe House keeps Howe’s story alive, and allows it to inform the work for racial justice that is immediate and ongoing.”

Community members were worried that the property might face issues or even demolition when the property went up for sale in 2022. Instead, they worked together to raise the money to purchase the property for preservation. 

The group said it had reached a deal to purchase the house in late December 2022. That deal was officially finalized this month.

“The hard work you and others have contributed has paid off: We finally got the keys to the Howe House this week,” said an email from Friends of the Howe House to its supporters.

But these are just the first few days of a new future for the historic property, the group added.

“As you know buying the house is just the beginning: we now have to secure its future,” the Friends of the Howe House stated. “We’ve got some important events coming up aimed at raising awareness and much-needed funds—and we’d love you to get involved.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *