Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said the trail will greatly benefit his city.

“I think this is a tremendous opportunity for us to shine a light on the contributions and struggles that African Americans have faced in the amazing state of New Jersey. Outside of the two migrations from South to North, any the fight for freedom,” Baraka said. “The abolitionist movement here, Harriet Tubman being in Newark, Frederick Douglass being in Newark, the black hospital where my father [the late renowned poet Amiri Baraka] was born.”

New Jersey was the last Northern state to end slavery, with some locals most likely employing racist tropes to justify their reluctance, according to the Leaders of the Princeton Project and slavery. It was also the last Northern state to ratify the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery at the federal level.

The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice reported that the median net worth of white families in New Jersey is $352,000, while the median net worth of black families is $6,100.

Congresswoman Shavonda Sumter (D-Passaic) speaks at an event commemorating Governor Phil Murphy’s signing of legislation that establishes the Black Heritage Trail and Commission. The signing took place at the Newark Public Library on Wednesday. September 7. (Tennyson Donyéa / WHYY)

The institute said New Jersey’s racial wealth gap can be traced to slavery, centuries of racist policies and discriminatory banking practices.

Some black leaders have called on the state to establish a reparations task force to study the root causes of systemic racism in New Jersey and come up with meaningful solutions.

McClellan said he was unaware of a reparations task force bill recently introduced by Sumter, but was open to discussion.

“Obviously, [the Black Heritage Trail] is a step. But there is still a long way to go,” McClellan said. “And we’re going to continue to publicize what African Americans have done for this community, and done for this state, and done for this nation. As long as we can continue to do so, we will begin to recoup the fair price for what we have done.

Last year, Governor Murphy established the Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging, appointing Newark native Jayne Johnson as director. In 2021, Murphy also launched the Wealth Disparity Task Force to advise his administration on strategies to address the various causes and effects of wealth disparity in the state.

Some advocacy groups like the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice have also called on Murphy to publicly support the reparations task force.

“I personally believe that the Wealth Disparity Task Force is exactly where it should be,” Murphy told WHYY News after his signing event. ” It is a work in progress. It’s clearly focused on Black Americans, no doubt, but it’s also focused on Hispanic and other communities that are suffering in terms of wealth disparity.

“The disparities are staggering. Usually the main reason is home ownership… I don’t know if I have a magic wand or a quick answer. But the task force is a very good group of people. It’s true. They come together and they deliberate, and I’m proud of that,” Murphy said.

Murphy’s Wealth Disparity Task recently hosted virtual meetings where the public can provide input. The next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday at 6 p.m.