Dresser Trunk Project

Newark was jumpin’ and jivin’.

The singing Coleman Brothers opened the doors of the Coleman Hotel.

Their new establishment catered to black travelers and music industry folks who were prohibited from staying in Newark’s white owned hotels by du jure and de facto laws of Jim Crow, even in the North.

The city’s existing patchwork of jukejoints, taverns, bars, taprooms, and breweries when patronized by southern blacks—migrants mainly from North Carolina and Virginia—sparked one of the liveliest nightclub scenes west of Harlem. Billie Holiday, Ruth Brown, Big Maybelle, and Little Jimmie Scott could be seen checking in and out of the hotel’s busy front desk. At night they performed at one of the many nearby venues in and around the city’s Central Ward—the Adams Theater, the Hi Spot, Laurel Garden, and the Nest.

The Coleman Hotel brokered the action between competing nightclubs and dancehalls whose patrons swung to the tunes of Jim- mie Lunceford, Cab Calloway, Ellington, Hamp, Louis Jordan, Basie, and local talents like the sweet Sarah Vaughn. A barbershop, a restaurant, a swank cocktail lounge, and the Coleman’s own recording and broadcast studio for their record label, along with a fty rooms lled the six stories of the hotel on Court Street.


Long gone.
Remnants and remains packed away in a tattered blue suitcase.
Lyrical pro les and whispers of sounds captured like a curl of smoke dancing in the night. 




Inside the “Coleman Hotel” viewers discover illuminated cast resin pieces with found objects and an audio soundtrack playing the sounds of jazz and swing. The valise is one eleven trunks (memory boxes) that commemorates a signi cant site of refuge for black travellers who journeyed along the Southern Crescent Rail Link between New Orleans and New York City. The Negro travel guide, the Green Book, provided a list of safe havens for travellers, many of them musicians and performers, who could not nd accommodations and places to dine because of racial segregation. The Coleman Hotel was one such establishment that thrived for twenty years in the northern industrial hub of Newark, New Jersey. 


Dresser Trunk Project: Places of Refuge

curated by William Williams


Exhibited at

Kibel Gallery, University of Maryland, April 2009


Main Gallery, School of Architecture, Uni- versity of Pennsylvania, November 2008


Exhibition Gallery, School of Architecture, Howard University, September 2008


The Bayley Art Museum, University of Vir- ginia, November 2007


Extension Gallery, Chicago, Illinois - September 2007