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Theodore Brunson

Rutherford's Theodore Brunson, of Rutherford, who helped found the Afro-American cq Historical Society Museum in his native Jersey City, has died. He was 87.

A memorial service will be held today at 11 a.m. at Monumental Baptist Church in Jersey City.

Mr. Brunson worked as a manager for the Internal Revenue Service but was an educator at heart. The 48-year Rutherford resident served on the borough school board and made it his mission to promote the history of African-Americans in New Jersey.

The museum, on the second floor of the Jersey City Public Library's Greenville branch, is his legacy. The lifetime NAACP member was a force behind establishing the museum in 1984 and was its first director.

"We lost a lot of our history when we lost Mr. Brunson," said Calvin E. Hart, president of the NAACP's Jersey City chapter. "He fought hard to get that museum up and running, and to prosper."

Mr. Brunson was a hands-on director, setting up and taking down exhibits himself and leading tours of local sites of significance to the African-American experience. The museum's permanent collection includes books, newspapers, documents, photographs, quilts including three stitched by Mr. Brunson's grandmother and myriad other artifacts.

In a 1991 interview with The New York Times, Mr. Brunson said his objective was to create "a homey museum where people bring older folks and older folks bring young children."

Hart described Mr. Brunson as a soft-spoken "wealth of knowledge."

"If you wanted to know about African-American policemen," he said, "Mr. Brunson would go up there and pull out a box."

Jersey City in 2007 added Mr. Brunson's name to its Circle of Honor in Journal Square.

Mr. Brunson was a merchant marine veteran of World War II and an Army veteran of the Korean War. He received a bachelor's degree in psychology and accounting from Rutgers University.

He bought a home in Rutherford's southwest corner in 1964 and immediately became civically active, joining the local Civil Rights Commission. Mr. Brunson and his wife, Maude, were the neighborhood's first African-Americans, his son Neal said.

Theodore Brunson was a central figure in a civil rights furor in 1970. He was proposed for membership in Rutherford's all-white Elks Lodge, but his sponsor, fearing the reaction of fellow Elks, dropped the action. Mr. Brunson, in turn, resigned from the Civil Rights Commission because its chairman was the grand exalted ruler of the Elks.

He was appointed to the Rutherford Board of Education in 1978, won election in 1979 and served for a decade, including two years as president.

Mr. Brunson died July 21. In addition to his wife of 56 years, he is survived by sons Theodore Jr. of Hackensack and Neal of Rutherford; two sisters, Thelma Gregory of Columbus, Ohio, and Christina Spaulding Brunson of Florida;, and five grandchildren. Neal Brunson is the current director of the Afro-American Historical Society Museum.

Arrangements were by Jackson Funeral Residencecq, Jersey City. Email: levin@northjersey.com

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