NEWARK, NJ - The late Kenneth Gibson, Newark's first black mayor, once said, "Wherever American cities are going, Newark will get there first."
So it’s only fitting that Broad Street, one of the city’s main thoroughfares that has seen drastic changes in recent decades, was renamed today to Mayor Kenneth A. Gibson Boulevard. Right off the road, you can find Newark Symphony Hall, City Hall, Prudential’s headquarters, Military Park and new developments in the making.
The road has been known as Broad Street for hundreds of years in a city that is one of the oldest in the United States. Mayor Ras Baraka pointed out the thoroughfare was dubbed Broad Street at a time when slavery still existed.
“Now, by changing the name from Broad Street to Kenneth Allen Gibson Boulevard means that we made a change in history,” Baraka said at the renaming ceremony. “That we've moved forward in history. That we've moved past isolationism and segregation and hatred and oppression and moved to a place that Newark can be proud of.”
Gibson died in March at the age of 86. He became mayor in 1970, and was credited with restoring stability to a city that had just gone through the 1967 riots.
He laid in state at the city hall rotunda and funeral services were held at Newark Symphony Hall. City and state officials and residents turned out to pay their respects.
“It’s very fitting. We spent a lot of time there, in that building” said Gibson’s wife, Camille Gibson, as she pointed to city hall in the distance. “Ken’s heart was here and I think he would just be looking down loving this.”
Gibson served for four terms until he was unseated by Sharpe James in 1986.
“Kenneth Gibson is just not a great mayor - a great individual,” James said. “He was a great role model for all of us. Thousands and thousands of African American elected officials are in office today because of Kenneth Gibson."
The Black and Puerto Rican Convention in 1969 endorsed Gibson in his bid against incumbent Hugh Addonizio. The convention was created by an organization that was run by Amiri Baraka, the current mayor's father.
Amini Baraka, the current mayor’s mom, said Gibson’s campaign “united a divided city.”
“Newark shall move forward because Kenneth Gibson paved the way,” she said.
Both state and local officials attended the ceremony, including state Sens. Ron Rice and Richard Codey, Council President Mildred Crump and New Jersey First Lady Tammy Murphy.
“In the aftermath of the Newark uprising in the 1960s, Mayor Gibson was elected to restore stability, promise and pride in a city that really needed all three,” Murphy said, later adding that the late mayor revived the city by focusing on the economy, housing and health for residents.
The road’s name is a permanent change for the entire 3.14-mile stretch. The new name will not be secondary to Broad Street, as are some roads.
This isn’t the first time a major roadway has been renamed either. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard, for example, was once known as High Street.