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Ethel Larewnce was an ordinary citizen; a mother, a teacher, and a wife who braved racist death threats to fight for her community's right to affordable housing. (Katia Kalei, 2020)

During the 1960s the landscape of Mount Laurel started to drastically change as affluent white families began to move out of Philadelphia and into the suburban town, sprawling with farmland owned by black communities with roots dating back to the Revolutionary war. 

To accommodate the influx of wealthy families, the Township began ramping up its code enforcement efforts, which primarily affected Black residents who resided in substandard housing. The township condemned properties, ordered residents to vacate, and didn’t offer relocation, as required by state law.


Credit: Katia Kaleia


Ethel's epic battle began in the late 1960s when she joined forces with a brilliant team of lawyers — Carl S. Bisgaier, Kenneth E. Meiser and Peter J. O’Connor — to resist exclusionary zoning in Mount Laurel, which had shut out the development of affordable homes. Her assiduous advocacy efforts led to the New Jersey Supreme Court's groundbreaking ruling in the Mount Laurel Doctrine, which declared that all municipalities had an obligation to provide a fair share of their affordable housing to low-income families. (Barricklow, 2021)

Thanks to this landmark litigation, more than 70,000 families have had the opportunity to live in affordable homes, in safe communities, near decent jobs and good schools. It took decades to win the Mount Laurel court battles, which later led to the passage of NJ's Fair Housing Act in 1985. This month we celebrate the heroic and inspiring struggle of Ethel Lawrence, who has since been called the “Rosa Parks of affordable housing.”


Briars in the Cottonpatch: The Story of Koinonia Farm tells the story of a courageous group of people who withstood bullets, bombs and boycotts in the years leading up to the tumultuous Civil Rights era. Narrated by former Atlanta Mayor and UN Ambassador Andrew Young, this one-hour documentary examines the remarkable personalities and events of Koinonia Farm.

Founded on principles of non-violence and sharing, Koinonia’s significance and impact is global: in 1976, Koinonia became the birthplace of Habitat for Humanity International. The community has also inspired and changed the lives of thousands of people who have visited, learned of, or lived at Koinonia. Its members were, and still are, followers of Jesus who live out their faith in their daily lives.

We provided a private screening of Briars In The Cottonpatch for our volunteers in December and the positive responses were overwhelming. For a free viewing of the film on Youtube, please click here. 



Habitat’s history has its roots in the church, which first helped bring the ministry to Cape May County, to build up families and build community together. This year we will prudently work towards strengthening Habitat's relationship with faith organizations within our community. We ask you and your congregation to pray for Habitat's ministry and partner families. We hope you will consider setting aside a day of prayer for those in need of housing and take the time to discuss the need for affordable housing with members of your congregation. 

If you or your congregation are interested in learning more about engaging with Habitat for Humanity, please email elizabeth.franco@habitatcapemay.org.


Recommended Reading - February

Strenth to Love: Martin Luther King Jr.

In these short meditative and sermonic pieces, some of them composed in jails and all of them crafted during the tumultuous years of the civil rights struggle, Dr. King articulated and espoused in a deeply personal compelling way his commitment to justice and to the intellectual, moral, and spiritual conversion that makes his work as much a blueprint today for Christian discipleship as it was then.

"If there is one book Martin Luther King, Jr. has written that people consistently tell me has changed their lives, it is Strength to Love." - Coretta Scott King.


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Habitat for Humanity Cape May County
20 Court House South Dennis Rd  | Cape May Court House, New Jersey 08210
6094630244 | executive.director@habitatcapemay.org

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