Chapter 1

A city can be defined by the people who live there. As an introduction to Newark, NJ, we can look at the ethnic groups who have inhabited the city beginning in 1666, the date of its founding. Even better, since we are interested in Power (who has it, who doesn’t), it might be interesting to look at who has had power in Newark, how they compared with other groups coming before and after them, and what happened along their journey to fulfillment in Newark.

By “power” we mean the ability to get things done. So, we are talking about the formal reigns of power achieved by winning elections, but also economics, culture, and overall prosperity for the people in each group mentioned: how did each ethnic group use its presence and skills to look out for their own?

Ultimately, we are looking to trace the empowerment process of one group in particular, and so we focus on the journey of African American (or black) people. However, a brief examination of the story of other major ethnic groups in the city’s political culture will set the context in which African Americans have struggled for almost all of these 350 years to get power, and the benefits that come with it, patiently (or not so patiently), waiting their turn to get their share.

Chapter 2

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 3

Ethnic Groups

  • Newark Chinatown first emerged in 1870 and reached its peak in the 1920s when there were more that 2,000 Chinese living in the neighborhood around where City Hall is located today.  Because of the Chinese Exclusion Act, many Chinese moved away. The government tried once to revitalize the Chinatown in the 1940s, but the effort failed. In 2001, there were only two Chinese families left in the old Chinatown neighborhood. Newark city government, and a few parking lot entrepreneurs own the land around Columbia and Lafayette Streets now.

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  • The Germans began arriving in Newark in earnest in the late 1840s and early 1850s, when they fled the Fatherland after failed revolutions in 1848-49. The German influence would endure throughout the rest of the 19th century. These immigrants were generally “highly literate and strongly vocal”. They were given to drinking beer and playing sports on Sunday, contrary to local Puritan ordinances and feelings about such things. “Germans joined the Irish as objects of open prejudice. The Irish were scorned mainly because of their (Catholic) faith; Germans because many of them were Catholic (but also Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian and Hebrew), and because their language, their Sunday pleasures and their stubborn belief in freedom of spirit branded them as unmistakably ‘foreign’. This was a time of bitter anti-foreign and anti Catholic feeling, led by militant Protestant groups…”

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  • The census in 1880 showed only 407 Italians in Newark. But by 1910, there were 20,000 Italians. As Irish immigrants, or their sons, rose to positions of leadership in the building trades and among street paving and railroad contractors, they needed workers for the menial tasks that once had been assigned to them.” Italians took these backbreaking jobs.

    Italians came to this country for the same reason` as other immigrant groups: for work. “Like all immigrants they were economically needed but socially resented…talking a foreign language that none here at that time understood….a dark complexioned people (with) fiery tempers.”

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  • In 1936, a Star-Ledger article proclaimed, “The history of the Polish colony is interesting. The Polish population of Newark is well organized and may serve as an example to many other Polish settlements in other cities. Latest census figures show that there are approximately 46,000 persons of Polish birth…and approximately 75,000 persons in Essex County of Polish birth”.

    Polish immigrants started coming to Newark in about 1865. They established a “colony” near the eastern end of South Orange Avenue and founded St. Stanislaus Church on Belmont Avenue in 1889, and St. Casimir’s in the Ironbound in 1908.

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  • When Newark was founded in 1666, there already existed a flourishing, if small, Jewish community in New York City. Probably a few Jewish peddlers and travelers settled in the new city, but there is no record of a Jewish presence in Newark until 1844, when Louis Trier and his family set up a small leather tannery. In time, other Jewish families arrived, and the men began working in the city as peddlers, shopkeepers, butchers, tanners and owners of small factories producing many useful items.

    In 1847, the B’Nai Jeshurun Synagogue was founded by Isaac Cohen on the third floor of his residence. With increased numbers, they built the synagogue on Washington Street. At first, the area around Springfield Avenue was the Jewish center in Newark, where approximately 35 families lived, soon increasing to 60.

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  • The original people on the land now called Newark, New Jersey, were the Lenni-Lenape, who were part of the Algonquin nation. Some of the other tribes scorned them for their peaceful ways, such as the Iroquois who called them “The Old Women.” They frequently were the intermediaries in resolving problems within the nation. Contact with whites was sporadic until the early 1600s. Dutch traders treated them with contempt, thought about them as possible slaves, but traded with them for pelts and furs, paying them with rum and guns.

    The Lenni-Lenape based their culture and life-style on adaptation to the natural environment. Hence they traveled with the seasons, making full use of the environment.

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  • As the story goes, the Puritans purchased a swath of land (most of Essex County) along the Passaic River now known as Newark from the Lenni-Lenape Indians for the sum of $750.00, through goods such as beer, coats, pants, bars of lead, axes, guns, pistols, (gun)powder, and whiskey.

    The people who purchased the land came from four different towns in Connecticut.  They were English born or of English parentage. “Their leader was Robert Treat….a remarkable man and the guiding force of the little colony during its earliest years…”

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  • The Irish started arriving in Newark in the 1790s, but the largest wave of arrivals began in the 1820s. The Puritan founders sought to keep intruders out of town causing antagonism to flare into open conflict against the Irish Catholics. But others kept coming, and the peak was reached after 1846 and the Irish Potato Famine in Ireland. Irish people met with prejudice, and because of poverty lived in the worst parts of the city. “The Irish and other low classes” were particularly hard hit by cholera in the city in 1832. The industries, docks and canals brought large numbers of Irish immigrants, who although they were needed were not wanted, and like African Americans, were labeled with their nationality after their name.

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  • Professor Clement Price of Rutgers University-Newark once said, “The Greek immigrants and their progeny were hardly bystanders to (the) emerging change in the way Newarkers entered the 20th Century. They established a foundation for a community of remarkable cohesions and purpose.” The Greeks started coming to Newark in the early 1900s. At their peak, they numbered about 8,000. Between the 1920s and 1950s, 65% of the city’s downtown eateries were owned and run by Greeks, the smallest ethnic group in the city at that time.

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  • The history of African Americans in Newark dates back to around 1680, when enslaved Africans are believed to have first been brought to the region. By 1694, the colony had already taken steps to prohibit African Americans from handling guns, prohibiting the sale of strong drink (to Indians as well), set fines for harboring “fugitive slaves,” and established tight authority over its enslaved population in a strict legal system. A special Slave Court was established where “Negroes, other slaves, felony and murder cases were to be tried before three justices of the peace…from 1695 until 1768.”

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  • “It is a piece of historic irony that in 1917, the year in which Congress passed the first of a series of laws designed to limit foreign immigration to (the United States), it also gave full citizenship to residents of Puerto Rico and thus paved the way for one of the most intensive periods of immigration in our nations’ history.”

    Puerto Ricans came to Newark in the 1950s when there were jobs available in the city’s leather, brewery, iron and transportation industries. But jobs began to disappear in the 1960s when most of the older factories were closing. In the 1970s, New York Puerto Ricans began coming to Newark in search of housing and jobs, as well as from the island of Puerto Rico. The result was higher unemployment as the new arrivals were hampered by low skills and work experience and inability to speak English. Puerto Ricans were exploited for their cheap labor and discrimination was rampant. Puerto Ricans were citizens but treated as strangers in their own country.

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  • As early as 200 years ago, the first Portuguese came to New Jersey as slave traders. Some of them decided to settle down after sailing between the continent of Africa and North America for some time. Before 1900, there were 38 Portuguese residents of Newark. In the late 1920s, some Portuguese immigrants came to Newark to make money before returning home to Portugal. The majority of Portuguese now living in Newark, however, came from settlers who first went to Massachusetts to live and work, but found their jobs had headed south in the United States.  Upon hearing of job opportunities in Newark, they brought their families to the city.

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