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Celebrating Heroes of the Past at the T. Thomas Fortune Cultural Center

Updated: Feb 4, 2020

By Margaret Goddard

For “Membership Month,” we’re highlighting some of the businesses, nonprofits, and artists who are members of Monmouth Arts. First up, the nonprofit T. Thomas Fortune Foundation & Cultural Center, which is holding crucial programming for this year’s Black History Month and the 85th anniversary of the Count Basie Orchestra. The group's events this February are not to be missed.


This is the first week of Black History Month, and the T. Thomas Fortune Foundation & Cultural Center is providing the proper space and time to reflect on this noted figure and the civil rights leaders he led the way for in Monmouth County, the state, and the nation.

Founder of The New York Age, the leading black newspaper at the time, T. Thomas Fortune holds a legacy of editorial bravery in the early civil rights movement. Throughout his career as a journalist, he resolutely and urgently protested discrimination, lynching, mob violence, and disenfranchisement in the face of open racism throughout the country. Fortune shepherded and opened doors for leaders like W. E. B. DuBois and Ida B. Wells. His wife, Carrie Smiley Fortune, was a founder of the National Urban League.

The Cultural Center is a hub for community and art, hosting exhibitions, gatherings, celebrations, lectures, discussions, and concerts. The Carrie Smiley Fortune Research Library offers a full collection of books on history and civil rights for all ages. The Fortune house was once a gathering place for friends of T. Thomas and Carrie Smiley Fortune to discuss race and contemporary issues. Gilda Rogers, Vice President of the T. Thomas Fortune Foundation Board, and the organizers at the Cultural Center are offering Red Bank another chance to join today's conversation on social change.

This month the T. Thomas Fortune Foundation & Cultural Center is kicking off “2020: The Year of the Basie!”, a year-long celebration of “the kid from Red Bank,” William James “Count” Basie. The much-loved Count Basie Orchestra turns 85 this year.

Like Fortune’s legacy in the civil rights movement, Basie paved the way for every African American musician who came after him. In fact, Basie was the first African American to win a Grammy award. Gilda and her team want to “bring attention to Count Basie in Red Bank and what he has done for jazz.” Rogers said, “We don’t lift his name up enough in this town. I hope Red Bank becomes a place to hear jazz.”

The mission starts on February 13 at the “Love Letter to Count Basie” celebration, where special guests will read letters. The Jazz Arts Project, a Red Bank group that presents jazz events and educational programming for area youth, will provide music. Look out for opportunities to honor Count Basie and jazz music’s roots throughout the year.

Upcoming Events:

Saturday, Feb 8, 6-8 pm

Internationally renowned Frederick Douglass scholar and author John Muller will speak about the friendship between two fearless leaders and pioneers. Q&A and book signing to follow.

Thursday, Feb 13, 6-8 pm

To kickoff “Year of the Basie,” celebrate William James “Count” Basie and the 85th anniversary of The Count Basie Orchestra on Valentine’s Day eve. Special guests will read “A Love Letter to Count Basie” with musical interludes.

Sunday, Feb 15, 2 pm

Learn about the connection between Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman through the Read-In, a Black History Month tradition. Veteran actor and director of Dunbar Repertory Company Darrell Willis and actor and performance artist Lorraine Stone help tell the story.

Wednesday, February 26, 5-7 pm

Meet up and mingle with fellow creatives and arts supporters! Enjoy light refreshments and learn more about the T. Thomas Fortune Cultural Center to commemorate Black History Month. This Arts Mixer is part of Monmouth Arts' February Membership Drive. Please RSVP.

Thursday, Feb 27, 6-8 pm, at Two River Theater

Read and discuss August Wilson’s play Gem of the Ocean with book clubs of Two River Theater and Red Bank Library. Refreshments served.


Interested in becoming a member of Monmouth Arts like the T. Thomas Fortune Foundation & Cultural Center did? Become a member today!

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