During the decades prior to the rebellion, deindustrialization and suburbanization were significant drivers of change in Newark’s demographics. Middle-class whites who fled to other cities in North Jersey are some of the most prominent examples of this population exodus in the country. Under the Military Rebuilding Act of 1944 legislation, white veterans fresh from the fighting in World War II began to emigrate from Newark to the suburbs, where access to interstate highways, mortgages, and colleges was improved. The outflow of white veterans from Newark to the suburbs was quickly counteracted by an influx of blacks into the Central District.
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Before the rebellion, the black community faced discrimination in work and housing, resulting in their lives being more likely to fall into a cycle of poverty. By 1967, Newark was one of the first colored-dominated US cities but was still controlled by white politicians (Curvin, “Rebellion and City Politics” 103). Racial profiling, redlining, and a lack of education, training opportunities, and jobs had made the city’s African American residents feel powerless and disadvantaged. In particular, many felt that they were largely excluded from meaningful political representation and frequently subjected to police violence.
Unemployment and poverty were very high, which caused the city’s traditional manufacturing base to be destroyed entirely and liquidated by 1967. Many African Americans, especially young community leaders, felt they were largely disenfranchised in Newark, despite the city’s dramatic demographic change (Curvin, “Winds of Change 60). Mayor Hugh Addonizio, the city’s last white mayor, took several steps to adjust to the change and provide African Americans with civilian leadership positions and better job opportunities. Black leaders became increasingly frustrated that the Newark Police Department was still dominated by white officers who routinely stopped and interrogated black youths with or without provocation.
In about 1900, blacks made up only 3% to 4% of Newark’s population, but by 1910 poor economic conditions and Jim Crow segregation laws in the south forced blacks to migrate to cities in the north, including Newark. As Curvin states, between 1940 and 1950, there was a net migration of just over 1.2 million blacks from the South; between 1950 and 1960, that number reached 1.4 million (“Winds of Change” 35). In addition, the predominantly rural black population transformed into an urban one reaching 73% by 1960 (Curvin, “Winds of Change” 35). This dramatic change led to a shortage of jobs, housing, and health services and led to disastrous consequences. In addition, this turn of events forced part of the white population to leave the city, although this process intensified already in the 1950s, during the Second Great Migration of Blacks from the South. The Federal Highway Administration encouraged whites to flee to the suburbs when they built highways from Newark to New Jersey’s new suburban areas. Until that time, everything that existed was cities and villages. The government made the relocation affordable for whites with low-cost federal mortgages.
During the flight of whites under President Eisenhower, an interstate system was formed, and a new highway was planned to run through northern New Jersey. The future Route 78 would destroy predominantly black communities in South Newark for the sake of whites who needed a way to get to and from the new suburbs. Many homes were destroyed, forcing blacks who once lived comfortably to seek new neighborhoods. Gradually, Jews, Irish, and Italians left other parishes, leaving behind Puerto Ricans, Portuguese, and primarily black residents (Torres 213).
When the whites left, many businesses dried up, and money stopped flowing to Newark as before. This has resulted in high unemployment and extreme poverty. Blacks who tried to find jobs and better housing were discriminated against, so they too fell into poverty. By 1967, Newark had become an American city with most blacks but ruled by white politicians and guarded by white officers (Curvin, “Winds of Change” 45). This resulted in racial profiling, police brutality, red neighborhood measures, and denying blacks access to education and training, rendering them powerless and completely disenfranchised (Curvin, “Winds of Change” 47). Most of Newark’s black residents lacked adequate political representation in Newark. Then more housing destruction followed in the name of urban renewal, with thousands of black residents forcibly displaced from low-income apartment buildings demolished in the Central District. Curvin mentions the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the National Urban League as the leading advocates of the black community (“Winds of Change” 38). However, both organizations tended to avoid open controversy and, thus, the 1967 rebellion was not supported by centralized advocates.
While the rebellion is often cited as a significant factor in the decline of Newark and its neighboring communities, long-term racial, economic, and political forces have contributed to the creation of poverty in the city center. After the rebellion, Newark steadily declined, as did the neighboring communities. However, basic institutional fallacies were at the core of the problem leading to violent actions. The government “simply ignites prior community tensions revolving around basic institutional difficulties, and law enforcement loses the capacity to exercise control” (Curvin, “Rebellion and Politics” 102). Poverty growth and racial discrimination persisted, and in the next decade, large industries raised the stakes and left Newark along with the white middle class.
Deindustrialization accelerated sharply, and by the mid-1970s, both mutual insurance and prudential insurance had cut employees. Several major manufacturers have closed their operations. By the 1970s, unemployment among black youth had increased to 45-50% per year, compared with the already high average urban unemployment rate of 12-14% (Curvin, “The Arrival of Black Power” 151). For reasons that few can explain, Newark had the highest property tax in the country.
Therefore, the rebellion under discussion led to some changes, significant for the black community and the society at large. The neighborhoods changed as the New Community Corporation started building more commercial facilities and low-income housing (Curvin, “The Dancing Mayor” 191). Moreover, black people were considered to dominate within the political field of Newark since 1970, after the rebellion (Curvin, “Black Mayor on a White Horse 236). However, the city of Newark was in desperate need of recovery. As Curvin states, “signs of decay and disinvestment were ubiquitous” (“The Arrival of Black Power” 145). The rates of poverty and unemployment were high, and many districts looked poor because of burned buildings and abandoned vehicles, and those areas were primarily inhabited by black people (Curvin, “The Arrival of Black Power” 145). Although the state of affairs had changed for the black community, the changes were not completely positive.
Thus, although the “rebellion” had legitimate reasons, such as grievances against those in power, the experiences of the black community largely remained the same and even worsened. Nevertheless, the problems persisted, and the deplorable situation affected all minorities: for example, Puerto Ricans were also vulnerable to discrimination. As Torres states, the “anachronistic construction of race in the United States as ‘black’ and ‘white’ has proved entirely inadequate in describing the history of ‘nonwhite’ and ‘nonblack’ people” (213). Thus, although the Newark 1967 Rebellion was a turning point for many reasons, it was not enough for the American society to fully realize and tackle the problems which the minority communities continuously faced.
Curvin, Robert. “Black Mayor on a White Horse.” Inside Newark. Rutgers University Press, 2014, pp. 216-261.
“Rebellion and City Politics.” Inside Newark. Rutgers University Press, 2014, pp. 100-127.
“The Arrival of Black Power.” Inside Newark. Rutgers University Press, 2014, pp. 145-178.
“The Dancing Mayor.” Inside Newark. Rutgers University Press, 2014, pp. 186-215.
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“Winds of Change.” Inside Newark, Rutgers University Press, 2014, pp. 35-64.
Torres, Nicole. “Newark’s 1974 Puerto Rican Riots Through Oral Histories.” New Jersey Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, vol. 4, no. 2, 2018, pp. 212-229.