Other NJ News

Witnesses to History Reflect on Newark Riots 50 Years Later

6e7c43c9a73d411b43e6_JuniusWilliams1200x800.jpg
Rutgers-Newark Prof. Junius Williams was a law student and community activist when he had a shotgun held to his head during the 1967 Newark rebellion. Credits: Mark J. Bonamo
dfc53b827369c4d1d8c5_ArmandoFontoura1200x800.jpg
Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura points to the badge that he wore as a rookie Newark police officer during the 1967 Newark riots. Credits: Mark J. Bonamo
f01a171afa473b4773bc_NationalGuardsman1200x800.jpg
Protestors jeering at National Guardsmen during the riots in Newark on July 12-17, 1967. Credits: Donated by Corbis-Bettmann
a8353b1652698e1903e4_NewarkRiotHistory1200x800.jpg
Store owners cleaning up after the riots in Newark on July 12-17, 1967. Credits: Donated by Corbis-Bettmann
89033941949eed388d29_FirstPrecinct1200x800.jpg
The Newark Police Department's 4th Precinct (now the 1st Precinct), located in the city's Central Ward, was the epicenter of the 1967 riots that left 26 dead. Credits: Mark J. Bonamo
6e7c43c9a73d411b43e6_JuniusWilliams1200x800.jpg

Part 1 of a series on the 50th Anniversary of the Newark riots

During the riots that exploded in Newark 50 years ago today, Junius Williams was a young Yale law student working over the summer as a community activist in the city.

On the first night, Williams and his friends were driving around the city to check things out when they were pulled over by Newark police. They weren't supposed to be out on the streets because of a curfew and the police officer who approached the car was in no mood to show mercy to the young black men.

Sign Up for E-News

Williams said the officer shoved a shotgun in his temple. What saved him from taking a bullet to the brain, he believes, were the law books in the trunk of the car.

“The sergeant had to tell the other cops two or three times ‘They’re law students, let them go.’ Shotgun man put the gun down. Pistol man put his gun away,” Williams recalled.

Williams, 73, now head of the Abbott Leadership Institute at Rutgers-Newark, is a living witness to the events that unfolded during five tumultuous summer days in 1967 that left 26 people dead and millions of dollars in property damage.

A lack of economic opportunity, a fraying public school system and a political disconnect with a white-dominated city government and police force created a toxic mix in Newark, which had just become majority African-American.

The riot – or rebellion, as Williams and some others call it – became a demarcation point in Newark’s history as significant as BC and AD is to world history.

There was the Newark that existed before the riot – one filled with happy memories of shopping on Broad and Market Street, growing up in tight-knit communities and attending great schools, like Weequahic High School, which up to that time had more doctorates in its alumni ranks than any other school in America.

Then there was post-riot Newark – one that became a striking example of all that was wrong with urban America – poverty, drugs, gangs, violence, the disappearance of good-paying jobs and failing schools.

Armando Fontoura, born in Portugal and raised in Newark’s Ironbound neighborhood, is another living witness to the riot, though he has a different perspective on the events of July 12-17, 1967.

He had become a Newark police officer only three months earlier. The rookie officer was on his beat along Market Street near Penn Station on the first night of the riot when he was picked up by veteran police officers. As the group drove up the hill to the Central Ward, Fontoura recalled feeling like he had stepped into hell.

“I was scared, but I didn’t have time to be,” said Fontoura, 74, who has been the Essex County Sheriff for 25 years. “I’m hearing gunfire, and I don’t know where it’s coming from, whether it’s friendly fire or hostile. I was just over three months on the job, but after three days I was a veteran.”

There were three major armed forces on the street in Newark in July 1967: the Newark police, the National Guard and the State Police. In Fontoura’s mind, all of them were unprepared for the chaotic Armageddon before them.

“The National Guard had very little ammo, and all we officially had were .38 revolvers,” Fontoura said. “Guys I worked with who were hunters brought their own shotguns, and we wore all kinds of helmets. I was so excited to be a cop and protect my neighbors in the Ironbound. I wasn’t really attuned to what was happening in the rest of the city. We in the police were nowhere near ready for what happened. I didn’t see it coming, and I should have.”

Fontoura said that the State Police were indiscriminate, firing machine-guns at buildings.

"I never saw anybody shoot at us. All the time, the state troopers knew they were going to leave. We stayed, and we were left holding the bag," said Fontoura, who worked 12-hour shifts for six months after the furor flickered out. "After 26 people died, we got tension on the street that you could cut with a knife.”

Linwood Jackson is another living witness to the events, though he was barely five years old.

“It was fun,” said Jackson, who grew up on South 12th Street between Central Avenue and 9th Avenue, not far from where the upheaval erupted. “Us kids on the block saw military guys as important when they rolled by in Jeeps and tanks. Fire engines were going up and down the street all day and all of the night. There was excitement in the air.”

Jackson’s father, a social worker who worked with juvenile prisoners, and Jackson’s mother, a Newark schoolteacher, were far tenser. For days, they told their children to stay in the house away from the windows and sleep on the floor.

His extended family, which first moved to his largely Italian and Polish neighborhood in the early 1960s, was a stabilizing force on his block. His grandfather was one of the first black foremen for Coca-Cola in New Jersey.

Almost immediately after the gunfire stopped, longtime Newarkers started to leave. The mostly white residents of Vailsburg, an Irish enclave in the West Ward, Weequahic, a Jewish stronghold in the South Ward, and the North Ward, home to Italians, soon emptied out, an accelerated part of the nationwide surge toward the suburbs.

In Jackson’s neighborhood, families began to move away one by one, with the Jacksons heading to the South Ward five years after the Central Ward exploded. Occasionally returning to his old block, he watched in dismay as his neighborhood rapidly decayed.

Jackson now lives near the Broad Street train station on the edge of downtown Newark, which is on the cusp of a full-blown revival after years of wishes and hopes often dashed.

For him, if there is a next uprising, it won’t be caused by the same factors present in 1967. Instead, dramatic change in Newark is now fueled by what is being built up, not burned down.

“If the rent gets so high that people can’t afford a place to live, we could back go to those dark days. I could see the army in the street, and this time it won’t be fun for me,” Jackson said. “The development needs to be disseminated in a fair fashion. You can’t blame people for hustling, but people will get penalized just the same.”

“If you don’t understand what happened in 1967, it could happen again,” Jackson added. “And if people take the easy way out, the process will push them out, not me.”

Fontoura knew what he saw in the aftermath was a downward turning point for Newark.

“It was the exodus,” Fontoura said. “It broke my heart.”

Fontoura has a grandson who now wants to move back to the Ironbound. He hopes the city will keep trying to hire more cops and focus on public safety, something that he believes in the cornerstone for a full Newark comeback.

But looking back on the looting and mayhem he witnessed 50 years ago, Fontoura admits that despite real progress, some of the city’s landscape bears witness to how far Newark has to go.

“What happened should be just a footnote, but it’s not. You know why? Because some of the scars are still there,” Fontoura said, noting large swaths along Springfield Avenue that are still empty lots where buildings long ago burned down.

“It was terrible to watch the city’s downfall up close, and I want Newark to come back so bad,” Fontoura said. “Now I hope we have the leadership to bring it back. In my job, you have to be an optimist, not a pessimist. Otherwise, you won’t last.”

Williams has lasted long enough to be the intellectual eminence rise of Newark. He also hung in there long enough to see a Whole Foods Market, for many another dramatic marker of the city’s rebirth, open up on the same Broad Street where tanks rolled in 1967. Williams was spotted in the aisles on opening day, striding past the arugula, carrying organic tuna salad and some gourmet Spanish cheese. 

But Williams looked back to the past when he had a gun to his head as he looked beyond downtown into Newark’s future.

“There is a rebellion of ’67 taking place on a weekly basis as gangs kill each other over turf. Unlike 50 years ago, the anger and desperation is played out against themselves,” Williams said. “The power in the corporate suites has to work with the power in the streets to make sure that there is fairness and equity in what happens next throughout all of the neighborhoods in Newark.” 

“What happened in 1967 taught us this,” Williams said. “Things aren’t going to happen when you want it, but it is going to happen on time, when it’s time.”

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Plainfield

Upcoming Events

Carousel_image_5805f638cda07d25a384_pool_openings_2018

Sat, June 23, 12:00 PM

Rushmore Pool, Plainfield

Pool Openings: Rushmore

Community Calendar Sports

Carousel_image_f27b8aa555275dc0b347_sip_of_summer

Sat, June 23, 4:00 PM

Plainfield Art Lofts, Plainfield

4th Annual Wine Tasting Event "Sip of Summer"

Arts & Entertainment Giving Back

Carousel_image_0c270f4981549b8a5dff_ducret_june_24_sale

Sun, June 24, 12:00 PM

Plainfield

duCret School of Art and LWV Art Sale

Register Today for Summer Youth Courses Offered at Union County College

June 23, 2018

CRANFORD, NJ – This summer the Office of Continuing Education at Union County College is expanding its course offerings for youth ages 11-18. Classes are taught by NJ-certified teachers and subject matter experts that specialize in delivering high-quality youth programs. Classes begin the week of June 25 and run through August 23.

Classes offered include Introduction to Musical Theater, ...

Get Empowered to Help Prevent Suicide

June 9, 2018

Dear Editor:

Over the past week social media and the news have been filled with stories and articles encouraging people to seek help if they’re in emotional distress. There have been countless articles about the need to break the silence around the topic of mental health and suicide, and I am encouraged by the support people are extending to others.

Often, the death by suicide by ...

Murphy Signs Bill Ending Child Marriage Championed by Westfield’s Fraidy Reiss and Unchained at Last

June 23, 2018

WESTFIELD, NJ — Governor Phil Murphy signed a bill Friday that bars individuals under the age of 18 from marrying or entering a civil union. It was a major win for Fraidy Reiss, founder Westfield-based Unchained At Last, a nonprofit dedicated to helping women and girls in the US to escape or resist arranged/forced marriages and rebuild their lives.

This makes New Jersey the second ...

SRO'S - ENSEÑANDO POR EJEMPLO

June 17, 2018

Hay un grupo de oficiales de policía que les dan un servicio a nuestra comunidad de una manera notable. Todos los días estos hombres y mujeres se levantan, van al trabajo, y aseguran que nuestros hijos aprendan en un ambiente seguro. Los llamamos Oficiales de Recursos Escolares, pero son mucho más. 

Si llegas a la oficina de los Oficiales de Recursos Escolares en la ...

Empleando Nuestra Juventud 

Querido Plainfield, 

Todos esperan el verano; los días son más calientes y largos, y la madre tierra se pone su mejor vestido mientras las frutas se maduran en el sol y las flores ondean un alegre "hola". La gente comienzan los paseos de la playa o piscina, y las juntas de barbacoa en los patios son necesarios en los fines de semanas.

Aquí en la ciudad de ...

Meet Toran Smith: Union County All Star

June 18, 2018

Plainfield resident, Toran Smith, age 16, has been selected to play on the 2018 Union County underclassmen all star team.  On June 10th, the Union County All-Stars played against the Hudson County All-Stars at Kean University.  Smith played third baseman. 

Smith, a junior at Union County Vo-Tech magnet high school, is a Junior infielder on the Plainfield Cardinals Varsity ...

'Half Time' delivers with sterling cast

MILLBURN, NJ – The Paper Mill Playhouse is putting on a smashing new production of “Half Time” to round out its current season.

With actress Georgia Engel in an engaging performance, the cast also features Donna McKehnie, Andre De Shieilds and Lilias White, among a host of other talents.

The musical centers on an effort to have seniors perform a dance number during ...

'Half Time' lights up Paper Mill stage

‘Half Time’ turns the tables on aging in gleeful production

By Liz Keill

MILLBURN, NJ – The Paper Mill Playhouse is putting on a smashing new production of “Half Time” to round out its current season.

With actress Georgia Engel in an engaging performance, the cast also features Donna McKehnie, Andre De Shieilds and Lilias White, among a host of other ...

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn (William Morrow, 2018)

 

A friend, whose opinion on literature I respect greatly, reported to me recently that she had just finished reading A.J. Finn's debut novel, The Woman in the Window. Of it she said, “I wish I hadn't finished it,” which I interpreted to mean, “It was so good I'm sorry that I finished it.” ...

When the Men Go Off to War by Victoria Kelly

When the Men Go Off to War by Victoria Kelly (Naval Institute Press, 2015)

Victoria Kelly's first published volume of poetry, When the Men Go Off to War, is a wonder in that poems can be written so beautifully about the subject of war. Each poem is a jewel, polished and colorful, glittering with elegant imagery, and rich in emotional wallop. The book, divided into three sections, ...

The Queen of the Big Time by Adriana Trigiani (Ballentine Books, 2005)

            The Queen of the Big Time by Adriana Trigiani, a New York Times best selling author, was recommended to me by a young woman who actually came from the town of Roseto, Pennsylvania, the place where the novel is set. “The author did such a wonderful job of describing how the town actually is,” said the young lady.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah (St. Martin's Press, 2018)

            What is the “final frontier” on the Earth's surface? Many people would say Alaska, the 49th state, which was added to the United States fifty years ago. Once one has traveled to that remote land, it is impossible to forget the magnificence of the terrain and beasts. Floating by ship in Glacier Bay, surrounded by ...

The Man in Room 306 at the Luna Stage, West Orange, NJ

            The Luna Stage, a Jersey theater gem, chose to revive its 1995 world premiere drama, The Man in Room 306, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the slaying of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Starring Jamil A.C. Mangan as Dr. King, this 90 minute production portrays Dr. King in the last hours of his life as he struggles to write a speech for the Poor ...

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins (Riverhead Books, 2017)

 

I wanted to like Into the Water by Paula Hawkins because I had enjoyed her previous novel, The Girl on the Train, which was a suspenseful thriller. However, when I finished reading the first part of the Into the Water, I realized that I had not absorbed anything that was happening in the story. I blamed myself for not paying ...