Rare “Manumissions” Unveiled at Morris County Juneteenth Event

Published on June 14, 2024

Art in the Atrium Launches First All-Women Exhibit

Five historic emancipation documents were placed on public display for the first time last night at the opening reception of the 2024 Art in the Atrium (ATA) exhibit in the Morris County Administration and Records Building in Morristown.

The Morris County Board of County Commissioners added a special display of the rare local “manumissions”— historic documents related to the emancipation of five enslaved African American who were living in Morris County – as part of the 32nd annual exhibit by ATA. 2024 06 14 Juneteenth Opening Reception (1) (1).jpg

View Photos from the Event

More than 200 guests attended “WOW: Women’s Outstanding Works,” ATA’s first all-women art show, curated by Onnie Strother and Bisa Wendy Washington and featuring the work of 70 Black and Afro-Latina women artists,  including master artist Nette Forné Thomas. It will be on display in the Morris County Atrium, located at 10 Court Street in Morristown, through Sept. 20.

“It’s very special as we celebrate Juneteenth, but also solemn that for the first time in public we are unveiling five manumissions from the early 1800s,” said Morris County Commissioner John Krickus, who spoke at the event along with Assemblywoman Aura Dunn.

Manumissions are official, hand-written documents made in accordance with New Jersey’s Gradual Emancipation Act of 1804 by which slaveowners certified the freedom of individual African Americans held in bondage. Morris County worked with the state to secure the return of the manumissions when they were discovered through an online advertisement for a pending Internet auction. The documents will now be secured in the archives of the Morris County Heritage Commission.

“We are really excited to highlight very strong work by women from all over the country in our WOW exhibit, and it's an important perspective to highlight because we have our own unique perspective and experiences as women, especially as black women. We have created a powerful show which we hope will be inspiring not only to girls and women, but to everyone,” said Simone Craig, CEO of Art in the Atrium, Inc. ATA was founded in 1992 by Craig’s father, Charles, and mother, Viki, who passed away in December 2018 and is honored with a plaque in the atrium.

2024 06 14 Juneteenth Opening Reception (2).jpg The public will be able to view the Morris County manumissions and the ATA art gallery, on Saturday, June 15 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. during a special opening of the atrium. The Saturday exhibit will coincide with the Juneteenth Freedom Day Festival presented on the Morristown Green by Sankofa Heritage Collective of Morris County in collaboration with various partners.

The 12th annual Juneteenth Freedom Day Festival, which begins at noon on Saturday, will feature performances by local and renowned artists celebrating African American culture with music, spoken word, reenactments, dancers and steppers. There also will be guest speakers, historical displays, resources and seminars on nutrition, exercise, and disease prevention, a kids' zone featuring educational activities, and a variety of Black-owned business vendors.

The Morris County Historical Society is a leading sponsor, hosting a history pavilion that will highlight the depth and breadth of Morris County’s African American history. Highlights will include the Society discussing the 1894 baseball game played at Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital between the Negro League Cuban Giants and Greystone “Hospitlars” as well as its county-wide survey of African American History & Historic Sites.

Also featured will be information from the Chatham Township Historical Society on Lockey White, an enslaved person who worked at Dickerson's Mill in Green Village, information from the Boonton Township Historical Society on the abolitionist Grimes Family and the Powerville Hotel, a location on the underground railroad, and much more.

2024 06 14 Juneteenth Opening Reception (3) (1).jpg

Co-sponsors include Atlantic Healthcare, Morris Arts, the County College of Morris, Saint Elizabeth University, Morris County Historical Society, Morris County Education Association, Morris County Economic Development Alliance, Presbyterian Church of Morristown and Bethel Church of Morristown.

Juneteenth activities this week will also involve a Juneteenth Arts Celebration at Morris Museum on Friday, June 14.

About Art in the Atrium, Inc.

Art in the Atrium, Inc. is a non-profit, African American led cultural institution founded in Morristown, New Jersey, in 1991. The largest exhibitor of African American art in New Jersey, the organization’s mission is “to articulate the value of Black visual arts and its role in culture.” For more information, visit artintheatrium.org.


Photo 1: The 70 female artists featured in this year’s ATA exhibit, “WOW: Women’s Outstanding Works.”

Photo 2: Morris County Commissioner John Krickus speaking at ATA’s Juneteenth opening reception.

Photo 3: The five manumissions on display in the Morris County Administration and Records Building, 10 Court St. in Morristown.




Tagged as: