MCCC Adjunct History Professor Sue Kozel Retires After More Than 13 Years


West Windsor, NJ – Sue Kozel, professor of history, has retired from Mercer County Community College. Her last teaching semester was the spring of 2020 and her official end date was July 17.

While Kozel’s teaching focused largely on American history, Kozel taught a variety of courses over her nearly 14-year tenure including classes such as Western Civilization, New Jersey History, History of American Popular Culture and History of American Women.

In addition to teaching at the college and the university level at other institutions, Kozel is noted for her research on New Jersey Quakers, abolition, enslavement and Thomas Jefferson. Most recently her work “Why Wench Betty’s Story Matters – the Murder of a New Jersey Slave in 1784” was featured in the Summer 2020 edition of “New Jersey Studies (NJS): An Interdisciplinary Journal,” an electronic academic journal published by Rutgers, Monmouth University and the New Jersey Historical Commission. 

Kozel explained that Wench Betty’s story was the culmination of many years of research of Monmouth County, New Jersey tax records, titles of court cases and other historical documents. Over the years she has shared Betty’s story by doing presentations about her findings. 

“They [NJS] saw that I was speaking all over the state and they invited me to write up one of my programs so they can share it with the membership,” said Kozel. “I dedicated the published talk to George Floyd and Betty because their lives mattered.”

Kozel explained that she came upon the murder of the New Jersey slave about 12 years ago while on a research grant about slavery and abolition in Monmouth County. But it was when she moved from Middlesex County to Monmouth about 25 years prior that she initially began thinking about slavery.

“I heard from local people that there was no slavery here. There was an underground railroad and it was a good thing,” said Kozel. “But, actually, when I started reading other scholars’ works and started digging for myself, I learned we had slaves in Upper Freehold and throughout New Jersey.”

Kozel’s initial focus was on an abolitionist Quaker named Richard Waln for whom a Monmouth County park had been named. “There was not a lot about his abolitionist activities and I wondered why,” said Kozel, “… and that is how I came to research Wench Betty’s murder. Just by accident I stumbled upon names and stories through archives and tax records.”

Today, Kozel’s research on Wench Betty and slavery in New Jersey is still, if not more, relevant. “I wanted to come back to Betty now because I am thinking about the lies people tell each other in order to feel good,” said Kozel. 

Kozel’s life as a historian will not end with her retirement. While she plans to spend more time with her husband who has been by her side for 43 years, next summer the former MCCC professor expects to continue her research in the state of Virginia at the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies (ICJS). She will be less than a half-mile from Monticello, the former plantation of President Thomas Jefferson. At the institute, Kozel will take advantage of a month-long fellowship to research Jefferson in relation to the Quakers, also known as the Society of Friends.

“I am just one of those free spirits who rides with the wind here. Scholarship and research has taken me to many places. I never thought I would speak in Paris and I never thought I’d speak in England, so this is the sort of thing where I am just going where the research is taking me,” she said.

Kozel also plans to write a book about Wench Betty in the future.

Kozel, who earned a bachelor’s degree in history and labor studies from Rutgers University and master’s degrees in history from New York University and in labor relations from Rutgers University, was recently named a New Jersey Public Scholar by the New Jersey Council for Humanities, an organization that provides opportunities to make history relevant and encourage diverse audiences to reflect on the shared human experience.

Kozel’s most notable works in addition to “Why Wench Betty’s Story Matters – the Murder of a New Jersey Slave in 1784” includes a book, co-edited by Maurice Jackson (Georgetown University) entitled “Quakers and Their Allies in the Abolitionist Cause, 1754-1808, (Routledge Press) Taylor and Francis, 2015; and a book chapter entitled “Thomas Jefferson and His Complicated Friends.” 

When asked what she will miss most about her position at Mercer County Community College, Kozel said, “I am really going to miss the Mercer students. I just enjoyed them so much.”


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Mercer County Community College Adjunct History Professor Sue Kozel retired from her position at the college effective July 17. Originally from Somerville, New Jersey, Kozel moved to Monmouth County 25 years ago where she began her research on Quakers, abolition, enslavement and Thomas Jefferson.