Newark Before the Riots
Newark, New Jersey, is an industrial city and major commercial port ten miles west of New York City. From the early 1800s through the mid-twentieth century, the city was a successful urban economic center. Between 1900 and 1960, more than 100,000 African Americans looking for economic opportunities and relief from Jim Crow laws moved to Newark from the rural South. At its peak, Newark was home to more than 400,000 residents.
After World War II the Federal Housing Administration guaranteed low-cost mortgages to returning soldiers. However, the FHA redlined nearly all of Newark, sending white soldiers and their families to almost exclusively white suburbs. Between 1950 and 1967, the white population of Newark dropped from 363,000 to 158,000, while the black population tripled, from 70,000 to 220,000.
Despite the enormous reduction of Newark’s white population, positions of property ownership and political power remained in white hands. For example, in 1960, 83 percent of Newark’s police force was white, while 60 percent of its population was black.
In addition to the loss of population, flight meant a loss of financial resources. In a 1966 application for federal aid, 40,000 of Newark’s 136,000 housing units were classified as substandard or dilapidated. The Hughes Commission, a government-appointed independent panel that studied the riot, reported that more than a third of black men ages 16 to 19 were unemployed.
Prior to the uprising in Newark, there had been riots in dozens of U.S. cities. The most famous was in Watts (in Los Angeles) in 1965, but there had also been racial violence in nearby Paterson, Elizabeth, Jersey City and Plainfield in New Jersey and in Harlem.
Newark’s violence began on July 12, 1967, and continued for six days, leaving 26 dead and 1,100 wounded. More than 1,000 citizens were jailed, most without charges or bail. No one was ever indicted or prosecuted for the killings.
Newark After the Riots
In the years immediately following the Newark riots, Mayor Hugh Addonizio and several other city leaders were convicted of corruption and sentenced to prison. Police Director Dominick Spina was indicted for failing to enforce anti-gambling laws, but was acquitted.
In 1970, Newark elected its first black mayor, Kenneth Gibson, along with a strong group of African-American city council members. Despite their efforts, by 1980 the city had lost more than 50,000 residents, including most of what was left of its middle class. Continued cutbacks included more than a quarter of its municipal work force. According to the Urban and Regional Research Center at Princeton University, Newark’s economy grew by only a third of the national urban average.
Since 1986, when Sharpe James, one of the African-American city councilors elected along with Gibson, was elected mayor, Newark’s report card has been mixed. There has been economic development, especially downtown, but construction in this part of the city is not a new phenomenon and has never had much resonance with most Newark residents. New housing has been built with an emphasis on low-rise townhouses rather than 1960’s-style high-rise “housing projects,” but these efforts have done little to alleviate poverty. In 1995 the city’s failing school system was taken over by the state.
Newark’s population has finally stabilized at approximately 275,000. Just over 25 percent of city residents live below the poverty line, compared with 18.4 percent in 1970. Unemployment hovers around 9 percent, compared with a national rate of 4 to 5 percent. The median income for a household is $26,913, and fewer than 9 percent of adults have a college education.
In 2006, Cory Booker was elected mayor on a reform-focused platform. Some of his actions have been controversial, including an 8.4 percent hike in property taxes designed to close a budget deficit as well as the appointment of a white police director who had worked for the New York Police Department while it faced serious allegations of racist practices.
Despite a 30% reduction in crime, the current homicide rate — there were 105 murders in 2006 — is the highest Newark has seen since 1990. One out of every 800 residents is hit by gunfire each year.
» “Ethnic Succession and Urban Unrest in Newark and Detroit During the Summer of 1967.” (PDF) Max Herman. Cornell Center Publication Series, July 2002, 33.
» “Newark Riots-1967.” Max Herman. Riots-1967. The State University of New Jersey, Rutgers, Newark.
» 2002 American Community Survey Profile: Newark, NJ. Last revised: September 24, 2003.
» “A New Mayor Tests His Promises on Newark’s Harsh Reality,” Andrew Jacobs. The New York Times, October 19, 2006.
» “Crime drops in Newark, but Murders Keep on Rising.” Andrew Jacobs. The New York Times, April 2, 2007.
» “Newark Census.” USA City Link: For any City. 1994.
» “Generational Conflict in Urban Politics: The 2002 Newark Mayoral Election.” Kraus, Jeffrey. The Forum, 2004, Vol. 2: No. 3, Article 7.
» “Newark’s Failing Dream.” Span, Paul. The New York Times. October 2, 1983.
» “N.D. Sociologist Accesses Information on Race Riots from Archives.” Bradford, Ken. South Bend Tribune, December, 16, 2000.
» “Three Deaths Put Newark Murder Rate at Highest in Over a Decade.” Ortega, Ralph and Alexi Friedman. [Newark] Star-Ledger. December 4, 2006.
» U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey Office. Last revised: Tuesday June 28, 2005.