Newark: A History of Race, Rights, and Riots in America

Newark: A History of Race, Rights, and Riots in America

Newark: A History of Race, Rights, and Riots in America

Newark: A History of Race, Rights, and Riots in America


Newark's volatile past is infamous. The city has become synonymous with the Black Power movement and urban crisis. Its history reveals a vibrant and contentious political culture punctuated by traditional civic pride and an understudied tradition of protest in the black community. Newark charts this important city's place in the nation, from its founding in 1666 by a dissident Puritan as a refuge from intolerance, through the days of Jim Crow and World War II civil rights activism, to the height of postwar integration and the election of its first black mayor.

In this broad and balanced history of Newark, Kevin Mumford applies the concept of the public sphere to the problem of race relations, demonstrating how political ideas and print culture were instrumental in shaping African American consciousness. He draws on both public and personal archives, interpreting official documents - such as newspapers, commission testimony, and government records- alongside interviews, political flyers, meeting minutes, and rare photos.

From the migration out of the South to the rise of public housing and ethnic conflict, Newark explains the impact of African Americans on the reconstruction of American cities in the twentieth century.


I moved to Newark in 1998 to fill in for a faculty member on leave from the Afro-American Studies Department at Rutgers University in the Central Ward, the historic neighborhood where several generations of black southerners had settled over a century of migration. While gathering data for a study of such migrations, I noted that many other cities had their own books—on ghettos in Chicago, the auto industry in Detroit, political institutions in Cleveland—but not my new temporary home. Some additional searching produced a bibliography of compendiums of the official Newark—lists of once famous leaders and forgotten officials; almanacs with plans for buildings and parks; accountings of the shipping, leather, banking, and insurance industries—none of which did more than mention the black population. Then I discovered that the chair of the Department, Dr. Clement Price, had written his dissertation on the Great Migration and the Central Ward, but much of his work remained unpublished. the next summer, I began to read old issues of one of the largest black newspapers, the New Jersey Afro-Amer ican, followed up on leads in local archives around the state, and discovered some surprising issues and anecdotes in the 1940s. I was fascinated by the anonymous citizens who wrote to the editor and complained of the indignities of Jim Crow, and not in Birmingham or rural Mississippi, but in attempting to enjoy the public accommodations of New Jersey. Eventually I realized that historians had understated the level of racial caste in the northern city, and were only beginning to appreciate the impact of early forms of protest against it. My archival radar was searching for evidence of new and unseen connections between and among the settlement in the ghettos and the undocumented early civil rights movement, while on the historical horizon loomed the mass civil disobedience that would make Newark a famous hotspot in 1967.

I began to envision a different kind of political history. I wanted to return to the great American political narrative. Newark's tale of race . . .

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