THE NEW BLACK POLITICAL CLASS

While African American politicians were learning how to win elections and to eek out the spoils of victory within coalitions dominated by their white partners, despite their growing numbers, they did so by learning how to compromise. Compromise was the essence of this style of politics in Newark, starting with the election of Irvine Turner. African Americans had the skills to run campaigns and get out the vote. But they believed in biding their time under the umbrella of the white politicians in Newark, or the Essex County Chairman of the Democratic Party.

Everything depended upon patience. Standing was determined by what you brought to the table, and how well you got along with the leadership of the dominant ethnic group. The only disagreements allowed were within the family, which were settled in some way, but not necessarily completely in your interest or the interest of your constituency. So Irvine Turner was pro civil rights and made his fiery speeches, but he couldn’t rock Lou Danzig’s boat. And Central Ward Democratic Chairman Honey Ward may have had his ideas for support of African American interests, but he had to do it in a way to still keep the favor of the Essex County Democratic Party bosses. Honey, however, grew more independent in the later 1960s, breaking with the power brokers on key issues, like the Medical School Fight. Larrie Stalks, and later Calvin West, believed being inside the power structure was the most effective approach, so they made adjustments to their expectations. George Richardson was too forceful with his position against police brutality while working for Mayor Addonizio. He was thrown out of City Hall and kicked off the Democratic Party line. He could have become Mayor of Newark had he not promoted Ken Gibson as a stalking horse in the 1966 Mayoral election, and adopted a political stance more in favor of “Black Power” in 1968-69.

 

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George Richardson was too forceful with his position against police brutality while working for Mayor Addonizio.
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By the mid 1960s, when the Civil Rights Movement was at its peak, those who were involved in political machines—no matter how militant they felt inside—couldn’t rock the boat on issues that weighed heavily on the poor and working class African American majority. Politicians who were “inside” had to continue delivering votes for the Democratic Party and City Hall bosses to keep their jobs and other perks. They could be against segregation, voter suppression, and job discrimination so long as they did in the Southern Civil Rights Movement. They were expected to keep quiet about violent policemen, unscrupulous landlords, the and urban renewal in Newark, and thus the African American community was deprived of their leadership most of the time.

The impact of this style of leadership brought the benefits of City Hall or the political party to only a few. Theirs was a much sought after club, but the benefits of membership were available for only a few.

Between 1962 and 1970, Mayor Addonizio allowed more African Americans to gain the political advantage of access to City Hall than had any other mayor before him. This latter group included, key election operatives, black professionals,and black ministers from the biggest and most influential churches in Newark, some of whom received the most coveted jackpot to be had: urban renewal land and government money for housing.

Larrie Stalks was the consummate inside politician with Mayor Addonizio. Don Malafronte, close confidant of Mayor Addonizio said, “She believed the best way to influence the transition from white to Black was to integrate into the power structure. People of that generation believed you had to stay close to power, to be there when the transition was made (from white to black power). She was younger than the ministers and politicians around her, but tough! She was oriented toward working with the Democratic Party and through City Hall, all the way. And it worked for her. She hoped for a smooth transition for Black people into power positions, including people in her family. She was an integrationist, and believed in a gradual approach.”

 

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People of that generation believed you had to stay close to power, to be there when the transition was made (from white to black power).
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Soon, however, Larrie and all the rest of the Black Political Class were confronted by a younger generation that believed in the idea of direct action; of actually being pushy about what you wanted; by impatience and disdain for the inside seat by the door. And they counted the same black majority and said, “Why wait…let’s take it all ….NOW”. This civil rights breed was a threat to the old rules of ethnic succession; by the slow, deliberate building process that had been used by the Italians, the Irish, the Jews. And thus conflict occurred between blacks, for the power held by whites.

Clip from an interview with community leader and politician George Richardson, in which he describes how he became active on the political scene in Newark in the 1950s. Richardson describes the struggles for Black political power in the Central Ward after the election of Irvine Turner as Newark’s first African American City Councilman in 1954. — Credit: Henry Hampton Collection, Washington University Libraries

Clip from an interview with Larrie West Stalks, former Executive Secretary of the Planning Board and Director of the Department of Health and Welfare, in which she describes “fighting from inside” City Hall for Black empowerment in Newark. Mrs. Stalks worked her way up through the ranks of the city’s political hiearchy in the 1950s and 1960s to eventually become Director of the Department of Health and Welfare. Mrs. Stalks was a major power broker in City Hall during the Addonizio administration. — Credit: Henry Hampton Collection, Washington University Libraries

Clip from an interview with former Deputy Mayor of Newark Paul Reilly, in which he discusses Mayor Addonizio’s appointment of Larrie West Stalks as the Executive Secretary of the Central Planning Board. Reilly served as Deputy Mayor during the administration of Mayor Addonizio, from 1962-1970. — Credit: Junius Williams Collection

Clip from an interview with Newark journalist Tiny Prince, in which he describes a time that he and Councilman Irvine Turner travelled to Washington, D.C. to meet with Hugh Addonizio. Turner became Newark’s first African American elected official in 1954 when he was elected as the City Councilman for the Central Ward. — Credit: Robert Curvin Collection

References:

Robert Curvin, Inside Newark: Decline, Rebellion, and the Search for Transformation

Interviews with Sally Carroll, Tom Parks, George Richardson, and Donald Malafronte (1996)

Conversations with Calvin West

Junius Williams, “Allies and Adversaries,” Unpublished Chapter from Unfinished Agenda: Urban Politics in the Era of Black Power

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Clip from an interview with Calvin West, Newark’s first African American Councilman-At-Large, in which he discusses his sister Larrie West Stalks. Mrs. Stalks worked her way up through the ranks of the city’s political hiearchy in the 1950s and 1960s to eventually become Director of the Department of Health and Welfare. Mrs. Stalks was a major power broker in City Hall during the Addonizio administration. — Credit: Junius Williams