06 February 2019

Koinonia Comes to Neshanic, 1957

On February 6, 1957, Mr. and Mrs. Rufus Angry packed up their seven children and what possessions they could fit into a truck and fled north. Their destination: Neshanic Station, New Jersey. The African-American family was one of ten white and black families who lived and worked together communally on Koinonia Farm in Americus, Georgia. The 1,100-acre commune was founded peacefully in 1943 but by 1957 they faced increasing racism, and were subject to, in the words of founder Rev. Clarence Jordan, "a reign of terror."

6 April 1957 Courier News

In the past year, shots were fired at the buildings of the compound, the roadside produce stand was dynamited, a cross was burned on the property, and farm products were boycotted locally - all because group membership had no racial barriers. If that wasn't enough, a grand jury in Sumter County was busy hearing testimony that the group was a Communist Party front and that the violence might have been perpetrated from the inside in order to gain sympathy!

24 July 1957 Courier News
All of this led Rev. Jordan to seek placements for some families in other parts of the country where they would be safe from persecution. He found what he was looking for at Hidden Springs Farm in Neshanic Station. The 130-acre farm had also been founded as a commune of sorts by members of the Society of Friends, commonly known as Quakers, who moved from Paterson, New Jersey, in 1946. With membership at Hidden Springs dwindling due to, as The Courier-News reported, "changes in business and family interests", the group was looking to sell the property on Fairview Road.

21 August 1957 New York Times
The Angrys were soon joined by Mr. and Mrs. Harry Atkinson and their children, and by June, with the sale of the property completed, the group officially incorporated as Koinonia Farms, Inc. The group quickly grew to four families comprised of nine adults and thirteen children. The property contained a house, an apartment over the garage, and an apartment over the carriage house.

26 May 1958 Home News
It wasn't long before the group ran into trouble - not of the racial kind, but of the Jersey kind - zoning. In order to make a go of the colony, Koinonia Farms sought a special use permit from Branchburg Township to process and package peanuts and pecans that would be shipped from the operation in Georgia. The application was denied in September. Families drifted away from the farm over the next several months until by the spring only the Angrys were left. By May 1958 Hidden Springs Farm was sold to a neighboring landowner, and the Koinonia commune experiment in Neshanic was officially ended on June 28, 1958.