Hayley Fields ’21, Milosz Krupinski ’21, and LaTrece Wade ‘23
Majors: Africana Studies (Hayley), Digital Studies and History (Milosz), and English (LaTrece)
Minors: Communications and Marketing (Milosz)
Affiliations: Honors College (Milosz)
Faculty Mentor: Dr. James Brown, Director of the Digital Studies Center and Associate Professor of English
Johnson Park and the Cooper Library have been important parts of Camden for over a century. This research project has sought to rediscover that history and bring awareness to it. The park already existed in the late 1800s, known as Cooper Park, and contained a library in the old Cooper mansion. By the early 20th century, the library and park were in bad shape. The land was bought by Eldridge R. Johnson, an American businessman and industrialist. He proposed to give the City of Camden a new Free Library, which was accepted on December 31, 1915, by the City council, with construction beginning in 1916. The library was completed in April 1918, and to show its appreciation the Camden City Council voted to change the name of Cooper Park to Eldridge R. Johnson Park in 1920. Throughout its history, the park and library have been a focal point for the local community, hosting many events and being a public gathering point. The building has had many uses throughout its history, including serving as the Cooper Free Public Library, the Walt Whitman Cultural Arts Center, a classroom, offices, and most recently, it was transformed into the Digital Commons, home to the Digital Studies Center and Writing and Design Lab.
This project is part of a broader initiative by the Digital Studies Center (DiSC) in collaboration with the Institute for The Development of Education in the Arts (IDEA), the Department of Childhood Studies, the Proof Lab, and several Camden community groups to build media projects that reexamine the history of Johnson Park and the Cooper Branch Library building. That project is especially concerned with the frieze on the front of the building, “America Receiving the Gifts of the Nation,” which contains some racist and demeaning imagery that has recently caused controversy and is currently covered over. Our historical research contributes to this project by providing historical context and also by providing material and inspiration for other researchers at DiSC who are creating media projects that engage with the imagery on the frieze.