05 April 2018

Belle Mead Rest Country Club (1938 - 1942)

Between 1938 and 1942 Hillsborough Township was home to the only nightclub in the state of New Jersey that catered specifically to African-Americans. Because of pre-World War II racism, it is likely that the Belle Mead Rest Country Club was one of the few night-spots where people of color could feel welcome at all.

26 August 1938 Home News
Opened early in 1938 on Route 31 - now Route 206 - in the southern section of the township by African-American proprietor Willie Green, the club faced challenges right from the beginning. An application for a liquor license - an absolute must-have for any sort of nightclub then and now - was denied by the Hillsborough Township Committee in May 1938 on the grounds that there were already too many establishments holding liquor licenses in that section of the township. Willie Green believed it was something else, and appealed to the state Alcohol Beverage Commission. It's worth repeating Commissioner D. Frederick Burnett's remarks upon overturning the township committee:

"It is all very well to talk of the theoretical protection given to Negroes under the civil rights act which provides that no tavern-keeper shall refuse to sell drinks to patrons merely because of color. However, it is a commonplace fact that Negroes, despite the law, are frequently refused service either outright or by more subtle methods. Members of the Belle Mead Country Club have already experienced difficulty. Two of them were informed at the nearest liquor place that a glass of beer would cost them 35 cents and a glass of whiskey 50 cents [more than double]. Practical differences like these which confront the colored race must be fearlessly faced and given practical and fair solutions."
"Separate but equal" solutions such as this would of course in time be considered racist themselves, but for 1938 this was a good win.

8 December 1940 New Brunswick Sunday Times
Around 1940 Willie Green transferred management of the club to New Brunswick entrepreneur Harry Fisch and his son Abe, with an option for them to buy the place outright. This would necessitate a transfer of the liquor license - and in this Green was again stymied by the township committee. It again took the intervention of the state Alcohol Beverage Commission to direct the township committee to allow the transfer, which took place in July 1941.

12 February 1942 Home News
The Belle Mead Rest closed in February 1942. Newspapers give no account of the circumstances, but we might guess that it had something to do with the impending construction of the Belle Mead Army Service Forces Depot that April.

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