New Jersey is what people call a “purple state.”
At any given time it could be “red” meaning that its politics are leaning toward the republican right or it could be “blue,” taking sides with the liberal democratic left. History has watched NJ’s governmental ping-pong for years, understanding that each wave mirrors the economic and socio-political diversity of America’s third state. In fact, many have sat back and marveled at how Secretary Hillary Clinton (then a candidate for the presidency) won the state over republican candidate Donald Trump- despite the state having a red governor, Chris Christie. What are those politics? And should that be the main reason why Jersey should matter to the Black vote? Absolutely not.
Let’s be clear, all Black people don’t vote blue and playing to racial politics ain’t never got us anywhere.
New Jersey should mean something to the Black vote because of the historicity. A former slave named Thomas Mundy Peterson broke down a barrier by taking a leap of civic faith that no other person of color had done legally in the country.
Mundy Peterson was the first Black man to cast a vote in an American election, after the passing of the 15th amendment. On March 31, 1870, he exercised his newfound right to add his voice to the important municipal issue of revising the Perth Amboy town charter.
“As I advanced to the polls one man offered me a ticket bearing the words ‘revised charter’ and another one marked, ‘no charter.'” Mundy Peterson said of his experience “I thought I would not vote to give up our charter after holding it so long: so I chose a revised charter ballot.”
Not only did the position he voted for win, but he was then elected (a few years after the Emancipation Proclamation) to the committee to revise the charter. As a registered voter, Thomas Petersen also became the first Black man to serve on a jury.
The town was so proud of him moving in his civic responsibility that in 1884, they raised $70 to give him a medal naming him the “First Black Negro Voter.” Despite being a national hero, Mundy Peterson often experienced hardship and had to pawn his medal to make ends meet.
Hardships withstanding, it is on his shoulders that the likes of Ras Baraka, Cory Booker and Barack Obama stand. On today, National Voter Registration Day, think about Mundy Peterson’s brave move. Think about how New Jersey has changed and how you too can make a difference.