Preservationists Plan to Turn Building that Housed NJ’s First Hospital for Black Patients into Museum

Today, 132 West Kinney Street houses the New Salem Baptist Church. However, when the building was erected in 1927, it was home to Kenney Memorial Hospital, the first hospital in New Jersey to train African American medial professionals and serve African American patients. Preservationists plan to tell the story of the historic building by transforming it into a museum dedicated to the hospital’s founder Dr. John A. Kenney.

Dr. Kenney moved to Newark in 1924 after facing death threats from the Ku Klux Klan in his home of Tuskegee, Alabama. Kenney built the hospital three years later with his own money. The hospital remained in his ownership until 1934, when Dr. Kenney gifted it to the city. The newly-renamed Community Hospital closed its doors in 1953.

The  Newark Preservation & Landmarks Committee and Rutgers Law School formed the non-profit “Friends of Dr. John A. Kenney” to seek grant-funding to begin building the museum. While the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004, and the city had erected a plaque describing the building’s history outside, the organization believes that these efforts are not enough. Elizabeth Del Tufo, president of the landmark committee, told NJ Advance Media that a museum is necessary because “people just don’t know the history.”

Dr. Kenney’s story was first unearthed by his granddaughter Linda Kenney Miller when she discovered his notebooks in the family home. In 2008, Kenney Miller published a novel, Beacon on Hill, about her grandfather. She also supports the effort to create the museum. “I’m determined not to let our ancestors be forgotten. I think we owe them a debt of gratitude,” she said.

The “Friends of Dr. John A. Kenney” is still seeking help to make the museum come to life. The organization is searching for people who may have artifacts or information related to the hospital. Individuals can contact the group at 973-996-8342.