Remembering The 20th Century: An Oral History of Monmouth County
In January of 1999, The Monmouth County Library began a project to observe the turning of the century. Remembering The 20th Century: An Oral History of Monmouth County was created when various members of the community were invited to become part of the Planning Committee. We were very grateful when Freeholder Theodore J. Narozanick agreed to become the Honorary Chair of the Planning Committee. With the invaluable advice and guidance of Howard Green, who was then President of the American Oral History Association and then as now, Research Director, New Jersey Historical Commission, we set our goals and established the parameters of the project. We hoped to interview about one hundred persons who had lived a significant part of their lives in Monmouth County. We committed ourselves energetically to the goal of transcribing the interviews into some kind of printed format. We discovered several existing oral and video histories. Mr. Gary D. Saretzky, Monmouth County Archivist, will create a list of all collections that are housed in a public place and available to the public free of charge.
We asked for volunteers in our monthly Calendar of Events, with posters, press releases, word of mouth, and announcements at meetings. The response was very gratifying! In a few weeks we had a database of over fifty persons willing to be interviewed. That database is now at one hundred and seventy persons. One hundred persons have been interviewed. Some persons volunteered members of their family. I was particularly touched by the strong relationships among certain aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews. We also asked for volunteers to do the interviewing, and again, people came forth to volunteer their time, energy, and expertise to this project. Two of our interviewers were high school students, and two others were young adults. All interviewers found the interview process rewarding, and in many cases we made new friends.
As I conducted my own interviews and listened to/read the others, I learned many valuable things. I learned about the variety of ways to grow old. I learned about the courage and imagination of these people who established roots and set forth new life in this beautiful part of the Garden State. For some it was challenging. When one narrator went back to visit the farm of his youth, he found that the pastures of his memory had reverted to forest, and he realized what his farmer grandparents had had to do: cut the trees, pull the stumps, and create arable land, all the while keeping the forest at bay. I learned about the quiet pride of the fishing families who supported and educated their children with their harvest from the bays, rivers, and seas surrounding us. I learned of the confidence and daring of Monmouth County families as they built their businesses: surviving the Depression, they asked for and lent money, confident that with energy and skill and determination, these entrepreneurs would build lasting Monmouth County institutions, organizations, and businesses. I admired their patriotism and sense of duty as they temporarily abandoned their farms, their boats, their jobs, their factories, their educations, their families and homes, and went to war.
These are the people who coped with the amazing population explosion of Monmouth County during the twentieth century. They built the schools and roads, and supported countywide efforts to improve the quality of life for all as they allocated funds for the parks, the libraries, and the social services we all enjoy. Most of them had to overcome poverty to build the good life. African-Americans who had to routinely struggle for what every one else was just handed, persevered and became leaders in Monmouth County. Our narrators entered the professions, became educators, lawyers, journalists, mayors, scientists, doctors, engineers. Some stayed on the farm and continued to grow things. They raised their children and educated them.
These interviews recall a simpler and perhaps a happier life for children. They are also the record of some of Monmouth Countyís darker moments: Klan meetings in New Bedford Township, widespread racial segregation, our struggles with unparalleled growth, and the sad decline of some of our beautiful shore towns. But overall, Remembering The 20th Century: An Oral History of Monmouth County tells the aggregate story of a people with a sense of place and purpose. Each narrator tells an individual story, but common threads appear and reappear, their woof and warp creating the unique fabric that is our own Monmouth County.
I would like to thank everyone who made this project possible. Most of all, I would like to express my gratitude to the people who created this unique record of Monmouth County.
Board of Chosen Freeholders, especially Freeholder Theodore J. Narozanick, Planning Committee Honorary Chair, Remembering The 20th Century: An Oral History of Monmouth County,
REMEMBERING THE 20TH CENTURY:
Flora T. Higgins, Project
Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders
Freeholder Director Lillian G. Burry
Monmouth County Library Commissioners
Renee B. Swartz, Chairperson