92-year-old founded free museum to preserve African American history in Burlington Co. NJ

Tamala Edwards Image
Thursday, June 16, 2022
92-Year-Old founded free museum to preserve African American history
This Sunday, Juneteenth will be celebrated nationwide and a 92-year-old woman has founded a free museum in Burlington County, New Jersey dedicated to preserving African American history.

MOUNT HOLLY, New Jersey (WPVI) -- Louise Calloway says her interest in history, and years spent living in different parts of the world, paved the way for a museum.

Calloway says she was exposed to the Black history in Quebec, while living in Canada, and then in Cameroon in Africa.

She originally founded the Historic Underground Railroad Museum of Burlington County in 2005 in Burlington City, New Jersey, but it was relocated to the historic Smithville Park in Mount Holly in 2015.

"The mission of the museum is to tell, really, the history of our people," said Calloway.

The museum starts in Africa, before slavery. She says she wants visitors to see "the greatness of Africa in its heyday."

"And then we talk about the things that our people had to suffer," explained Calloway.

There are drawings in the museum depicting people being taken from their villages in chains and put on boats to go to their new destination across the Atlantic Ocean.

Calloway has authentic artifacts on display, including a ball and chain and branding irons. She says sometimes when visitors see these items it has "a shocking effect."

"It was just an awakening that we want - to let people know what we've been through," she said.

The Underground Railroad is extensively covered at the museum. There is a map on display that shows the route people took on the Underground Railroad to gain their freedom.

Calloway explains that the Underground Railroad wasn't a train, but a journey from slavery to freedom.

Many abolitionists are honored at the museum, including Harriet Tubman and William Still. Calloway says Still was able to help many people get north.

The museum shines a light on racial injustices and honors activists as it moves through the decades. There is a room featuring items and articles from the civil rights movement, which Calloway describes as, "really an exciting time for people."

Many Black successes are highlighted, such as Rosa Parks on the bus and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Black firsts are also celebrated, like Kenneth A. Gibson serving as the first African American Mayor in Newark, New Jersey.

The walls come to life with the history of events that have shaped our country, connecting the past to the present.

"For future generations to see and realize what their ancestors have been through, that's really important," said Calloway.

For more information on the Historic Underground Railroad Museum of Burlington County, CLICK HERE.