By Elaine Van Develde
It was good for the soul. A comforting scent of collard greens, pigs’ feet, chicken and fish filled the air. And there was a hearty helping of Fair Haven families rooted in the borough since the 19th century connecting.
It was Saturday afternoon’s Fisk AME Chapel Soul Food Dinner at the church in Fair Haven.
“We sold out!” one of the organizers cheered. “Seventy dinners!”
That was only a couple of hours after they opened the doors. They were proud and the food was not the only reason why.
The Fisk AME Chapel congregation has been steeped in Fair Haven history since 1858. Named after Civil War hero General Clinton B. Fisk, a “devout Methodist” and champion of civil rights, the first Fisk Chapel in Fair Haven was where Bicentennial Hall now stands.
Before that, the congregation had a church on River Road near what is now the Shrewsbury Yacht Club — then dubbed the Bethel AME Church (congregation).
Fisk, a Union officer, ran President Lincoln’s Freedman’s Bureau when the Civil War ended. He championed equal rights laws for African-Americans and education focusing on special courses about those rights. He ended up living in Rumson.
“Soon after the Civil War and his arrival in Rumson, New Jersey, General Clinton B. Fisk became very interested in the local Black community at Fair Haven village,” a narrative on Facebook compiled by Stacy Harris (a descendent of the well-known Rileys and Browns) said. “Many of his servants were Blacks, and Fisk apparently won the admiration and respect of these employees.”
After a fire destroyed the original Bethel church in 1875 and those in the black community, many of whom were some of Fair Haven’s founding fathers, were forced to make their way to Red Bank to worship, Fisk made sure a chapel was built to quell the difficulty of commuting.
Right before the church was built, he was also instrumental in having what was a school for black children on Fisk Street. It was known for many years as the Youth Center. After the end of segregation, Youth Center was used for kindergarten.
Kids were walked there to school on a rope. But, that’s a whole other story.
Fisk Street Chapel’s Rev. Thomas Johnson was very proud on Saturday, as were all the participating congregants and guests who made the Soul Food Dinner a Success.
Take a look at the photos in the above gallery for a glimpse into the event. Recognize anyone? It’s a pretty sure bet you do, if you’ve lived in the area for any length of time.