Howe House must be saved (Letter to the Editor)
The Howe House is up for sale. Will our community finally do right by James Howe and proclaim that his story, his truth and his life matter?
James Howe, the first African American to own property in Montclair, was manumitted from slavery by Maj. Nathanial Crane in Crane’s last will and testament. James Howe, who, as we learn from Crane’s papers, once blessed the Crane family by remembering and retelling their history to them, risks total erasure of his own.
Some 15 years back, a plan to move the James Howe House, known as the Freed Slave House, behind the Crane house was contrived and deliberated. The plan would have “freed” the valuable property for development, while re-enslaving the Howe heritage behind that of the Cranes. That the home would have been renamed the Slave House added incredible mockery to injustice.
Today the home is on the market and the idea of moving the home has arisen once again. How is it that white history keeps repeating itself while Black history is forever at risk?
We know everything we need to know about the Crane family. The Crane house, the site of the Montclair History Center on Orange Road, holds the history of our town. Crane heritage is searchable on Google. Nathanial Crane’s gravestone towers above the Caldwell Presbyterian churchyard. Nathanial Crane’s photograph is available on the worldwide web.
What of James Howe? All we have left is his home. If we have any hope of salvaging the truth of his life, we had best save this vestige.
To ensure that the Howe House matters and to save the home of James Howe the Friends of the Howe House need to raise money. Is this impossible in a town and county as rich as our own? As we discern whether or not to contribute, it will help to remember that the wealth and privilege that every white resident of Montclair and Essex County enjoys was made possible by slave labor, and that the money already given to secure white history and heritage was done at the neglect of Black history and Black lives.
This is the moment we have in Montclair and Essex County to stem the tide of Black loss. The James Howe House could be for our region a monument to truth, a bulwark against erasure, and a place where every African American can visit and receive the blessing of having their history told, not sold.
Rev. Anya Sammler-Michael