Every week I scan two sources for progressive U.S. history that touches on New Jersey. I highly recommend both. Zinn Education Project promotes the use of the late Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States and other materials – offering free, downloadable lessons and articles for middle and high school learning. And This Week in History, compiled by my old friend Carl Bunin of peacebuttons, proprietor of union-made progressive merch.
This is Thomas Mundy Peterson of Perth Amboy, New Jersey. And this, from Zinn Education Project, is NJ history I did not know:
On Mar. 30, 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was formally adopted. The following day, Thomas Mundy Peterson became the first African-American to participate in an election in a state where Blacks had not been allowed to vote before the 15th Amendment.
He participated in a local election in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. He later held political office and sat on a jury. Decades later in 1989, the school where Peterson had worked as a custodian was renamed after him. That school, the Thomas M. Peterson School, is now annexed to the city’s McGinnis Middle School. There’s a plaque outside the building on State Street honoring Peterson.
In 1884, the citizens of Perth Amboy raised $75 (over $1,000 in 2015 dollars) to buy a gold medallion for Peterson to honor him for his vote. He proudly wore the medal, which featured a clean-shaven profile of Abraham Lincoln, until financial difficulties forced him to sell it. The medal now resides at Xavier University in New Orleans.