N.J. Hall of Fame makes inaugural inductions

<div class="meta image-caption"><div class="origin-logo origin-image "><span></span></div><span class="caption-text">Born in Princeton in 1898, the son of an escaped slave, Paul Robeson graduated from Somerville High School and then attended Rutgers. Even though he faced strong opposition as one of the school?s first African-American students, he excelled in four sports, was twice named an All-American in football and graduated class valedictorian. After earning a Law Degree from Columbia University, he left the legal profession to pursue a career in the performing arts. Internationally acclaimed as scholar, athlete, orator, actor and concert singer, he was a powerful and uncompromising advocate for the full equality of Black Americans. A believer in the ?oneness of humankind,? he championed the causes of the disadvantaged worldwide. Although persistently attacked for his political activism, he never regretted his stands. His stellar accomplishments in so many fields are a testimonial to his great character and fortitude.  (Photo&#47;AP Photo)</span></div>
September 16, 2008 1:16:53 PM PDT
Pop quiz: What comes to mind when you think about Yogi Berra, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein and Toni Morrison? Brilliant minds, inspiring souls, trailblazers - all are likely responses.

And ... New Jersey?

Yep. They all have strong ties to the oft-maligned Garden State, and they're among the first 15 people to be inducted Sunday into New Jersey's new Hall of Fame.

"I think anything you get inducted to you feel good about," said 82-year-old Berra, the famous New York Yankee catcher who lives in Montclair in northern New Jersey. "Heck to get inducted with all them guys, that's pretty good."

Berra, who's lived in New Jersey for 52 years, is in good company.

In addition to Edison, Einstein and Morrison, the inaugural class includes Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen, Meryl Streep, astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf and Vince Lombardi.

"There's no doubt this will be a historic event for the state," said Don Jay Smith, the hall's executive director. "New Jersey is often the butt of jokes, nationally, and yet when people see who has claimed New Jersey as their home, they will be very impressed."

Edison's great-granddaughter, Elizabeth Sloane Eggemann, of White House Station in northwest New Jersey, said the famous inventor would be thrilled by the honor, and she hopes children are inspired by all of the hall's inductees.

"It's really great to recognize all the accomplishments," she said.

The Hall of Fame exists only as a virtual entity now, but officials are raising money to build a permanent museum. The first class was chosen through an online vote after 25 finalists were announced in 2006.

All inductees must have lived in the state for at least five years, though organizers made an exception to that rule for Underground Railroad pioneer Harriet Tubman.

Smith said he expects most of the living inductees to attend Sunday's induction ceremony at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark.

Two inductees, Streep and former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley, have asked that the presentation of their awards be held until they can receive them in person.

"Meryl Streep was honored to be among the first class to be inducted to the New Jersey Hall of Fame," her representative, Michelle Benson, said in a statement. "Because of the significance of the Hall of Fame, she has asked that the presentation of her award be postponed until she can accept in person."

John Lombardi said his grandfather, a legendary coach who led

"I kind of look at the list of the 'who's who' who are getting inducted and I kind of laugh because I'm like, Edison, Einstein, then my grandfather," he said. "I think he'd be laughing out loud. He had a healthy ego but I don't think he ever thought he was up there with those guys."

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