At least 26 people died in the rebellion of 1967, which devastated the city for decades. But as Newark moves on and memory fades, those who remember 1967 worry about losing the connection between oppression then and now
On 12 July 1967, a man named John Smith steered his taxi around a double-parked police car on a Newark street. It was a hot Wednesday in the Central Ward the principal black neighbourhood of New Jerseys biggest city. The cops took offence at Smiths manoeuvre. They stopped him, pulled him from his cab, and beat him. Then they took him to the Fourth Precinct, and beat him some more.
Smith was black; the cops were white. The Great Migration and white flight to the suburbs had flipped Newarks demographics, turning it majority-black by the early 1960s. The power structure, however, was still controlled by the old machine. The police force was almost all white. Brutality was the norm. People had been getting the crap beaten out of them for years, says community activist Richard Cammarieri, who grew up in one of the Central Wards remaining white families. A change was due.
A crowd formed at the precinct, opposite the Hayes Homes, a 13-storey public housing block built in the 1950s but slipping into disrepair. The doctrine of urban renewal, fuelled by federal dollars, had planted a forest of projects Scudder Homes, Stella Wright Homes, Columbus Homes so dense that it earned Newark a nickname: Brick City. Now the state wanted to build a medical school on 120 acres of the Central Ward. Many suspected it was part of a plan to drive away black residents.
Activists tried to calm the scene and organise a picket line, maybe a march to City Hall. A rumour spread that Smith was dead. This time, the angry crowd didnt go away, writes activist Junius Williams, who was a Yale law student at the time, spending summers in Newark providing legal services. This time, they didnt listen to the leaders who urged non-violence. Someone threw a firebomb. The Newark riots had begun.
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