By MADDY VITALE
A new exhibit at the Ocean City Historical Museum celebrates an African-American South Jersey family and their life-saving impact on history.
The exhibit, “Runaways, Herbs, and Taffy,” explores Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad and the legendary Still family of South Jersey.
Attendees listened to speakers Saturday in the library’s lecture hall talk about the importance of the Still family, Tubman and the abolition of slavery, during a presentation in honor of the Month of black history. Then they returned to the museum to view the exhibit and enjoy a reception.
The featured speaker was Samuel C. Still III, a descendant of Dr. James Still, who was a respected herbalist and one of the largest landowners in Burlington County in the mid-1800s. Ocean City historian Loretta Harris, also spoke, along with Barbara Dreyfuss, of the Harriet Tubman Museum in Cape May.
Specifically, Still spoke of Dr. Still’s accomplishments in the mid-1800s at Medford.
Still started a non-profit organization to help oversee the property where Dr. Still once lived in Medford. Customers can visit for visits and discussions on the herbal doctor.
Still, whose second great-grandfather was Dr. Still’s older brother Samuel Still, was Levin and Charity Still’s first freeborn child. Three of Levin and Charity’s children would become notable historical figures. Dr. Still was one of them.
The other two brothers were William and Peter Still. William moved to Philadelphia and became one of the main conductors of the Underground Railroad with Harriet Tubman. Peter Still would be left in slavery for 40 years and later be reunited with his family in 1850.
Still has spoken passionately about his love for preserving his family’s legacy, learning and teaching others about the historical significance the Stills have had in the Tri-State area.
“I’ve been doing this since I was 13,” Still, a US Coast Guard officer, said as he spoke about his family’s story to more than 50 attendees in the Community Center’s conference room. “It’s a labor of love.”
Harris opened up about how she got involved in the Still family story. Through her research, she was able to link Ocean City’s first African-American resident, Jacob Still, who moved to the resort in 1884, to the notable Still family.
Jacob Still died in 1901 of congestive heart failure and not much was known about him. There were no pictures of him, only a picture or figure used for his obituary.
Harris contacted Samuel Still about his possible discovery.
She thanked her anyway and said he wanted to look into the matter, she told the crowd during her speech.
“He called me back in a month,” she said with a smile.
Still believed that Harris’s research had indeed led to a correct claim that Jacob Still was part of the South Jersey Still family.
After the presentations, the public and speakers along with museum president John Loeper and trustees and volunteers Carol Dotts, Beth Bowman, Sue Fasy, Karl Wirth and others returned to the museum to enjoy a reception and see the new exhibition. State Assemblyman Antwan McClellan of Ocean City was among the attendees.
People chatted about the exhibit, which took visitors back in time and through the lives of some members of the Still family.
“It’s wonderful,” Harris said of viewing the exhibit with Samuel Still. “But it’s a bit overwhelming too. I keep discovering more things in my research, to tell you the truth.
The exhibit is part of the museum’s rotating exhibits, which means it will continue to be highlighted for about a month or so and then moved to another area of the museum, when something else is on display.
Terri Capille of Egg Harbor Township wandered around the museum and looked at the exhibit until he stopped to read about the life of Peter Still.
“It’s a great local story,” Capille said. “It’s just amazing.”
During Still’s presentation, he showed the audience pieces of history he discovered through years of research.
A slide from his presentation showed a copy of a postage, which is a formal emancipation from slavery. A slave would gain his freedom in various ways. They were freedom newspapers.
Still told the audience he wanted to “encourage” African Americans to research their family history.
“When I say encourage people, I mean my people. For too long, we’ve had far too many people mixing and squashing our history,” he said. “It’s far too long; we have to tell our own story.
Dreyfuss, museum trustee at the Harriet Tubman Museum, spoke of the importance of Tubman and other members of the African-American community in freeing many slaves.
“The people we talk about in the museum, the things they did and accomplished in dire circumstances, it was really amazing,” Dreyfuss said.
Tubman worked directly with William Still in their efforts to free the slaves.
Harriet Tubman freed herself in 1849. At the time, the plantation owner who enslaved her was heavily in debt, Dreyfuss said.
“She knew the landscape and she broke free of it,” she continued.
During his lifetime, Tubman freed at least 70 people directly and showed hundreds of other slaves how to become free, Dreyfuss noted.
“We have him today as a role model to look up to in knowing what a true American hero is,” Dreyfuss said.
For more information about the Ocean City Historical Museum, visit https://www.ocnjmuseum.org/ or visit the Facebook page. For more information on the Still Family of South Jersey, visit www.drjamesstillcenter.org