GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — With his full beard and period clothes, Civil War re-enactor Ezekiel Bey, 68, of Atlantic City, matched the photos shown during the opening Tuesday for a commemoration of African American soldiers in the Civil War.
The power of history through literature, photography and music could be felt during the event at Richard Stockton College, which included readings of Civil War letters and a performance by African American Civil War re-enactors, including Bey, who posed for photos following the event.
“I think this is great and it coincides very nicely with the release of the ‘Lincoln’ film and the start of Black History Month,” Bey said.
Part of the event featured the unveiling of the exhibit “Galloway’s Graveyard: Unearthing the History of the Boling Settlement.” The exhibit was curated by two graduate students in the Master of Arts in American Studies program, Kevin Konrad and Jesse Kraft, and overseen by professor of British literature Thomas Kinsella, a news release stated.
The exhibit chronicles the legacy of the Bolings, an African American family who settled in Port Republic, served in the Civil War and are buried at a cemetery in Port Republic.
The exhibit features selected documents from archived materials, including deeds and requests for pensions from Civil War widows originally scanned and archived by professor of art Wendel White, who is chair of the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, and the Egg Harbor City Historical Society.
For Sandy Couch, 71, of Pleasantville, a member of the event committee, the commemoration and exhibit had special historical meaning in more ways than one.
Couch pored over the artifacts in Stockton’s Richard E. Bjork Library following the ribbon-cutting for the exhibit. She said she has always been interested in history and she herself was a part of history as a child.
“I’m originally from Delaware and I was one of twelve blacks to go to an all-white school,” she said.
Stockton professor of music Beverly Vaughn, also a member of the event committee, said work continues at the local, county and state level to preserve the cemetery and she does not feel like it has been forgotten through the years.
Vaughn said her inspiration to help organize the event and work to preserve the cemetery and local artifacts came from her father who built a museum to black history in the basement of his home in Columbus, Ohio.
“I, like so many people, discovered that cemetery and went back to look. Whenever I pass by, the grass is always cut and someone is always working to maintain it,” said Vaughn, of Galloway Township.
Galloway Township Mayor Don Purdy said the event also connects to his family’s roots in the area, dating to the 1800s. Purdy said that when his mother was diagnosed with cancer she did a lot of driving and exploring in the area during her recovery and that was when she came across the cemetery in Port Republic where members of the Boling family and others are buried.
“She would stop and clean things up and she said to me, ‘Do you realize the dates on those stones?’ She told me the graves out there were lonely, and then one day she said they weren’t lonely anymore because she went out and put solar lights on all the graves,” Purdy said.
The exhibit and commemoration continues through March 19.
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