Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Activist Rallies in Fight for Racial Justice

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Activist Rallies in Fight for Racial Justice

Article excerpt

When pondering the Civil Rights movement, many are reminded of the marches held in the South during the 1960s.

But speaking on the birthday of President Abraham Lincoln on Feb. 12, civil rights activist Lawrence Hamm, chairman of the New Jersey social justice group People's Organization for Progress, brought the focus on New Jersey, a state that he said has much to improve on when it comes to racial justice.

New Jersey remains among the most segregated in the nation in housing and in its public schools, Hamm told the audience of about 50 professionals gathered for Clara Maass Medical Center's annual "Day of Celebration," recognizing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy.

A November report out from the Civil Rights Project at the University of California Los Angles cited an increase in segregation in New Jersey, and it said segregation tends to produce lower educational achievement for students in high-poverty, high-minority settings.

"Don't just think about North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida," Hamm said. "Think about New Jersey."

Hamm's speech in Belleville came during Black History Month and with a reminder that in 1864, New Jersey legislators did not agree to adopt the 13th Amendment, which bans slavery.

"New Jersey was not in the 27-state majority to ratify the 13th Amendment," Hamm said. "This state's sympathy was very much down with the South."

Perth Amboy was the second-most-active slave port in the United States outside of New York City, he said.

Hamm, 64, recalled a youth where black people had to sit in the mezzanine of segregated movie theaters, and in which his family was forced to move to the back of a train when it pulled into the nation's capital.

"When we got to Washington, D.C., the citadel of democracy, that's where the conductor asked us to move to the back of the train," Hamm said. "Why? Because that's where the Mason-Dixon line started."

A longtime Montclair resident, Hamm encouraged the professionals in attendance to lobby their school boards to abide by the Amistad Act, a New Jersey law mandating the contributions of black Americans be discussed year-round to supplement textbooks.

Hamm recalled what it meant to him when one of his teachers took him to a book-signing at what was then Bamberger's, a department store, where he recalled meeting Jesse Owens, whose achievements in track at Berlin's 1936 Olympics prompted Adolf Hitler to walk out of the stadium. …

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