Friday, June 18 marked the first year that Montclair residents and others around New Jersey celebrated Juneteenth — a day celebrating the end of slavery — as a public holiday (Juneteenth itself, June 19, fell on a Saturday this year). Municipal offices were closed Friday, and a township-wide week-long celebration will conclude Saturday with the Montclair Black History 5K run and walk hosted by Fleet Feet Montclair at Edgemont Park. Then, from noon to 5 p.m. there will be a Juneteenth Jubilee celebration at Glenfield Park.

In honor of the holiday, the Montclair History Center is celebrating the life of Anthony Thompson, a man who had been enslaved in Montclair (then Cranetown) by Samuel Ward in the early 19th Century. Born in 1798, Thompson was manumitted — released from slavery — after Ward and his wife died in 1822.

Because of her age, Thompson's mother, also enslaved by the Wards, was to be sold with the rest of their property at auction. Thompson bought his mother's freedom. They lived together in a home he owned near Tory Corner in West Orange.

Today, a historical marker can be found at this location thanks to the Downtown West Orange Alliance as a reminder of Thompson and his life in Essex County. He died at the age of 84, having been the last surviving person from Essex County to have lived enslaved. You can pay Thompson's grave a visit at Rosedale Cemetery where the Montclair History Center continues to share his story during their annual tours.

— Information from the Montclair History Center