In the last decade, Newark lost some of it’s most consequential figures from a generation who helped shape and define Newark as it is today. Many came of age during the 1960s and played a role in the rebuilding of the city following the 1967 riots, or rebellion, as some have called it.
The following are the giants who died in the last decade:
Amiri Baraka (October 7, 1934 – January 9, 2014) is the father of Mayor Ras Baraka, but earned his fame many years before as a poet playwright who was a major force in the Black Arts movement in the Sixties and Seventies.
The New York Times noted in its obituary that Baraka spent his “early career as a beatnik, his middle years as a black nationalist and his later ones as a Marxist.”
Baraka was also an activist who ran the Committee for Unified Newark (CFUN), which organized the Black and Puerto Rican convention in 1969. The convention endorsed candidate Ken Gibson, who became Newark's first black mayor.
His role as poet laureate during the administration of Gov. Jim McGreevey was short-lived after one of his poems "Somebody Blew Up America?" about 9-11 drew accusations of anti-Semistism.
Clement Alexander Price (October 13, 1945 – November 5, 2014) was a history professor at Rutgers University-Newark who was also the city’s historian. He is remembered by many for leading tours of the city’s significant historical sites.
Price was not born in Newark, but came to the city after the 1967 riots as a graduate student and began working at Essex County College as a founding faculty member. He eventually earned his doctorate degree from Rutgers and moved there to teach.
"Clem Price was not only our leading historian, but he was a powerful spiritual force in our state's largest city," U.S. Sen. Cory Booker said at the time of his passing. "He helped us all learn, grow, heal and come together. He was a chief architect of community unity and in so many ways helped create a Newark civic space that was more vibrant and more loving.”
Robert Curvin (February 23, 1934 – September 30, 2015) was born in Belleville, but became one of Newark’s most vocal defenders. He was described in his obituary in the New York Times as “a fiercely loyal advocate for Newark who never gave up on his troubled city.”
Curvin was a co-founder of the Newark chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality, which lobbied to integrate construction jobs in the early 1960s.
In an event that precipitated the July 1967 riots in Newark, a black cab driver named John Smith was beaten by the police within site of residents and brought to the Fourth Precinct station house. While a crowd gathered outside, Curvin was allowed into the station house to verify that Smith was still alive.
Recounting the story to NPR in 2007 on the 40th anniversary of the riots, Curvin said he stood on a car to address the crowd and urged them to march downtown to protest the frequent brutality by the mostly white police force. But, he said, the crowd had lost patience with peaceful protests.
"There was a rain of stones, rocks, Molotov cocktails at the precinct," Curvin recalled. "The flames started flickering down the side of the building, and the police came charging out with night sticks, shields, riot gear, charging the crowd."
After the riots, Curvin worked to elect Gibson in 1970.
Curvin, who earned a doctorate degree from Princeton University, went on to work for the Ford Foundation and served on the editorial board of The New York Times for six years and was a dean at the New School in Manhattan.
His last work, “Inside Newark: Decline, Rebellion, and the Search for Transformation,” is a must read for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the city.
Philip Roth (March 19, 1933 – May 22, 2018) not only grew up in the Weequahic section of Newark, but he often returned in his writing to Newark, using the city as a backdrop in many of his acclaimed novels.
Roth was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for fiction writing three times before winning in 1998 for “American Pastoral,” a novel featuring Seymour "Swede" Levov, who is a Jewish-American businessman and former high school star athlete from Newark.
Before his death, Roth gave at least $2 million of his estimated $10 million estate to the Newark Public Library as well as his personal book collection.
Ken Gibson (May 15, 1932 – March 29, 2019) became the first black mayor of Newark, when he won a six-man race in 1970, unseating Mayor Hugh Addonizio, who had been indicted by a federal grand jury for taking kickbacks from contractors.
Gibson was selected by the Black and Puerto Rican Convention in 1969 as the "community choice" candidate.
The convention was created by Committee for Unified Newark (CFUN), an organization run by Amiri Baraka.
"Wherever American cities are going, Newark will get there first," Gibson said famously about Newark in the early 1970s.
From the Series: Top Newark Stories of the Decade