Jobs and Unemployment

Interrelated to the shift in Newark’s population in the 1960s, is the decline in employment opportunities for African Americans and Puerto Ricans left in the city. During the 1960s, 1,300 manufacturers left the city of Newark. In 1960, almost two-thirds or 66% of the residents of the city worked within it, but by 1970, only 56% of the residents of Newark were holding jobs in Newark.

But these figures do not reflect the workforce in Newark’s “business” sector, which was the first workforce in the country with more of its workforce from the suburbs than from amongst its own residents (55%). “Business” Newark flourished, while the “other” Newark struggled for survival.

It is this reality that underscored the conflict around the issue of jobs and economic development, seen most clearly in the building and construction industries.

In 1963, members of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) joined a coalition of other civil rights groups to form the Newark Coordinating Council (NCC). The NCC was mainly the idea of a former assemblyman, George C. Richardson, who said at a meeting, “We need to bring all these groups that are fighting for the same thing under one umbrella.” The first major action of this amalgam was a demonstration protesting discrimination in the construction trades at a site in the North Ward of Newark. Specifically, the plan was to target the site where a new Barringer High School was being built. The Barringer demonstration would be the first display of mass civil disobedience in the city, and it signaled a profound shift in the tenor and tactics of civil rights activity in Newark and New Jersey.

On July 3, 1963, promptly at 6AM, about two hundred demonstrators arrived at the construction site. The group included members of CORE, a loose group of Richardson’s followers called the New Frontier Democrats (a title borrowed from the Kennedy presidential campaign), members of the Essex County Chapter of Americans for Democratic Action, Rabbi Israel Dresner from Springfield (whose years earlier had ventured to the South to march with the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.), neighborhood activists from the South Ward, and a contingent of white far left-leaning suburbanites. Many in the group had spent the previous evening, late into the night, making posters for the picket line. The boldly printed signs said “Negroes Want to Build Too” and “Unions Discriminate”. Violence broke out at the site when the construction workers and police attacked the demonstrators, causing injury to some, including Rabbi Dresner. Eventually, Mayor Addonizio called a meeting to negotiate, but sent representatives of the Black Political Class to confuse and divert. No positive resolution came forth.

The Business and Industrial Coordinating Committee (BICC) was formed shortly after the Barringer High School demonstration, when the NCC announced that its next targets for direct action would be the downtown department stores and banks. The coming together of these conflicting forces was a very new turn—to suddenly have representatives of big business and civil rights sitting together was a hopeful sign to many. Over time, not at first, demands for jobs at retail stores and other business entities gradually produced an integrated workforce at low-level jobs, with a few executives.

References:

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

Kathryn Yatrakis, ”Electoral Demands and Political Benefits” (PhD diss., Columbia University, 1981).

Clip from the film, “We Got to Live Here,” in which residents of Newark’s Clinton Hill neighborhood describe the difficulties in finding employment for African Americans in the city. During the first and second World Wars, thousands of African Americans migrated to Newark from the South in search of greater liberties and employment opportunities. However, many struggled to find work due to industries automating production or leaving the city, as well as discriminatory hiring practices that kept African Americans at the bottom of the economic ladder.

Clip from an interview with community leader and politician George Richardson, in which he describes employment discrimination faced by African Americans in the building and construction trades. Richardson mentions the particular frustrations felt by Newark’s Black communities over hiring discrimination in government funded projects in their neighborhoods. Richardson was one of many civil rights leaders who organized protests against the construction project at Barringer High School in 1963 to demand the hiring of Black workers in the building and construction industries.

Explore The Archives

Employment Discrimination

Clip from the film, “We Got to Live Here,” in which residents of Newark’s Clinton Hill neighborhood describe the difficulties in finding employment for African Americans in the city. During the first and second World Wars, thousands of African Americans migrated to Newark from the South in search of greater liberties and employment opportunities. However, many struggled to find work due to industries automating production or leaving the city, as well as discriminatory hiring practices that kept African Americans at the bottom of the economic ladder. — Credit: Robert Machover

Clip from the film, “Troublemakers,” in which residents of Newark’s Clinton Hill neighborhood speak with Newark Community Union Project (NCUP) organizer, Jesse Allen, about the troubles of finding employment in the city. The men express their frustrations with being denied jobs by private companies and the unemployment office, but still needing to find ways to support their families. When African Americans were able to find employment in Newark, they were often relegated to unskilled, low-paying positions that kept them at the bottom of the economic ladder. — Credit: Robert Machover
 

Clip from an interview with United Community Corporation (UCC) member Mary Smith, in which she describes the difficulties in finding employment for African Americans in Newark. During the first and second World Wars, thousands of African Americans migrated to Newark from the South in search of greater liberties and employment opportunities. However, many struggled to find work due to industries automating production or leaving the city, as well as discriminatory hiring practices that kept African Americans at the bottom of the economic ladder. — Credit: Henry Hampton Collection, Washington University Libraries

Clip from an interview with DeOtis Taylor, an organizer of the Blazer Work Training Program, in which he discusses employment discrimination faced by Black men in Newark during the 1960s. Taylor explains how many of the city’s large industries, like General Motors, would not hire Black men to positions other than “menial labor.” When African Americans were able to find employment in Newark, they were often relegated to unskilled, low-paying positions that kept them at the bottom of the economic ladder. — Credit: Henry Hampton Collection, Washington University Libraries

Barringer Protests
Clip from an interview with community leader and politician George Richardson, in which he describes employment discrimination faced by African Americans in the building and construction trades. Richardson mentions the particular frustrations felt by Newark’s Black communities over hiring discrimination in government funded projects in their neighborhoods. Richardson was one of many civil rights leaders who organized protests against the construction project at Barringer High School in 1963 to demand the hiring of Black workers in the building and construction industries. — Credit: Henry Hampton Collection, Washington University Libraries