Giles R. Wright, a noted historian who changed many misperceptions regarding the life and times of slaves, died Wednesday in Mt. Holly, N.J. He was 71.
Wright retired last year as the longtime director of the Afro-American History Program at the New Jersey Historical Commission after suffering a stroke. "He had become a very influential person in the history of Blacks, especially because of his book, The History of African Americans in New Jersey,” said Marc Mappen, executive director of the state Historical Commission.
"Giles had very firm standards of proof. . . He was a very careful researcher, very careful in his writings. He wanted to make sure it was accurate. He did a study of the Underground Railroad in New Jersey, and that's an area with a lot of shaky claims."
The Underground Railroad was such a popular topic, Wright once wrote, mainly because it showed how Black folks pulled together in "the noble cause of eliminating Black bondage." He added, however, "Unfortunately, a number of myths about the Underground Railroad have come into existence over the years." And he was a regular target of critics.
In one not-so-popular assertion, he refuted “claims that the basement of a Burlington County liquor store was part of the Underground Railroad, long after it became a tourist spot and clairvoyants declared they could ‘feel’ the spirits of the slaves there,” The Star-Ledger reported.
"If it lacked proof, he questioned it," said Clement A. Price, a friend and Rutgers University history professor who worked closely with Wright on several projects.