The Camden County Historical Society will host South Jersey native and children’s book author Valerie Still on Sunday, February 10, from 2-4 p.m. as she tells the fascinating story of the Still family -- a family that traces its lineage in America back almost 400 years to an African known as the Guinea Prince. Part of the popular “Sundays at the Society” series, this family-friendly program is open to the public, free of charge.
The story of the Still family is one of courage, determination and accomplishment in the face of overwhelming odds. You will learn about Levin Still and his wife, Sidney, both born into slavery. Able to buy his own free papers -- but not those of his wife and four children -- Levin made his way north and settled in New Jersey. Undaunted, and determined to be free at all costs, Sidney eventually escaped slavery with two of their children; changed her name to Charity to avoid slave catchers; and reunited with Levin in the Jersey pinelands, where they raised a large family.
Their children included William Still, known today as the “Father of the Underground Railroad.” An abolitionist who helped enslaved African Americans find their way to freedom, he documented their stories in The Underground Railroad , published in 1871. His brother was Dr. James Still, an herbalist known as the “black doctor of the pines,” who published his autobiography in 1877.
And there was Peter Still, older brother of William and James -- one of two sons Sidney was forced to leave behind when she fled -- who remained enslaved for more than forty years in Kentucky and Alabama. Finally able to buy his way to freedom, Peter was miraculously reunited with his mother, Charity Still, with the help of younger brother William. His story became the subject of The Kidnapped and the Ransomed, a dramatic account of Peter’s time as a slave that played a key role in opening America’s eyes to the cruelty and inhumanity of slavery.
These stories and more are found in Valerie Still’s series of children’s books, the first volume of which is titled Still Alive on the Underground Railroad: Recollections of an American Family. Her work has been hailed by Charles L. Blockson, noted African American historian and one of the foremost experts on the Underground Railroad, as “a fascinating, intimate, true account of a historic African American family spanning more than eight generations: from the long, tortuous journey from slavery to freedom to the proud and accomplished family members who are making a positive impact on the world to this very day.”
One of those family members is Valerie Still. Born and raised in South Jersey, she graduated from the University of Kentucky; obtained her Masters degree in African and African American Studies at Ohio State University; and later passed her doctorate exams in Sports Humanities. She is currently working on her doctoral dissertation.
Before embarking on a writing career, Still enjoyed resounding success as a basketball player on two continents. The University of Kentucky’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder (male or female) and one of the top all-time professional basketball players in both Italy and the United States, Still played for the USA Women’s National Basketball team; is a charter member of the American Basketball League (ABL), a women’s professional league started in 1996; and was two-time MVP for the world-champions Columbus Quest. She later played and coached in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA).
Living in Europe for nearly 15 years, Still hosted her own television show and was a radio commentator for men’s basketball. An engaging motivational speaker, she is also founder and president of the Valerie Still Foundation, a non-profit organization designed to help young girls grow into mature, healthy, confident women through innovative programs.
The Camden County Historical Society is located at 1900 Park Blvd., just behind Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center and next to Harleigh Cemetery. Free parking is available along Park Blvd. and in the fenced lot at the corner of Vesper and Park Blvds. For more information and directions to the Society, please call 856-964-3333 or visit www.CCHSnj.com.