Urban Renewal and the Medical School Fight

Between 1952 and 1967, there were 17 urban renewal projects in Newark. Newark was the second most “urban renewed” city in the country, behind only Norfolk, Virginia, meaning more federal dollars were poured into Newark to acquire property and demolish buildings than any other city but one.  Urban Renewal did not mean construction of new housing and neighborhoods—just vacant land, until somebody decided what to do with it.

It was not surprising then, that in 1966 and 1967, urban renewal became the central focus of civil rights and neighborhood groups in the Central Ward over plans to build a sprawling new medical school on 200 acres, right in the heart of the city’s most densely populated black community, displacing 22,000 mostly black and Puerto Rican residents. State and school authorities initially planned to build the new school in Madison, New Jersey, a wealthy suburb about twenty-five miles west of Newark. Madison had a black and Hispanic population of less than 5 percent at the time. There has been much speculation as to why Mayor Addonizio immediately launched an all-out effort to put the medical complex in Newark. It may have been his way of attracting attention to become Governor of the state.

As news of the project circulated, opposition grew. The local chapter of CORE and other individuals and organizations issued public statements criticizing the pledge of land. Assemblyman George Richardson and his Freedom Democratic Party publicly opposed the granting of the land. There were demonstrations, primarily at city hall during the “blight hearings,” which under New Jersey law were required for a declaration of blight as a prerequisite of the taking of the land by the city for the College of Medicine and Dentistry (CMDNJ). African Americans and their supporters flocked to a July 1967 hearing to say “Hell No” in no uncertain terms, led by George Richardson, Jimmy Hooper, Chairman of CORE at that time, Louise Epperson and Harry Wheeler of the Committee Against Negro and Puerto Rican Removal. Someone named Colonel Jehru Hassan from the Black Man’s Liberation Army, originally from Washington, DC, provided the magic moment at one of the hearings: one of his lieutenants snatched the records of proceedings from the Planning Board Clerk. There was bedlam at the meeting. It was turned out, with a promise of more meetings. More and more people came out to see what would happen next and to see if anyone could top that!

When subsequent hearings were terminated with some people still wanting to have their say, the community sued, claiming violation of their due process rights. However, before the decision was rendered, the city erupted into five nights of rebellion in response to the beating of cab driver John Smith. It is conjectured that the medical school blight hearings was one of the reasons for the anger, and the violence that followed.

References:

Kevin Mumford, Newark: A History of Race, Rights, and Riots in America

Compilation of clips from interviews with Larrie West Stalks, Junius Williams, and Louise Epperson, in which they discuss what “urban renewal” meant to Newark’s Black communities in the 1960s. Plans for “urban renewal” in Newark, including the proposed construction of a medical school and highway through predominantly Black communities, escalated tensions in the city leading up to the outbreak of the 1967 Newark rebellion. –Credit: Henry Hampton Collection, Washington University Libraries

Clip from an interview with NCUP member Junius Williams, in which he describes the significance and scenes of the Medical School Blight Hearings. The Medical School Fight and contentious Blight Hearings are credited as one of the precipitating factors of the 1967 Newark rebellion. –Credit: Henry Hampton Collection, Washington University Libraries

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Map of Housing Conditions

Map of Housing Conditions

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This map of “Generalized Environments” in Newark depicts the conditions of buildings in the city in the 1960s. Predominantly white, middle-to-upper class neighborhoods such as Vailsburg, Weequahic, and Forest Hill are seen to be “substantially sound,” while predominantly black, poor and working class neighborhoods in the Central Ward are classified as “predominantly blight.” — Credit: Newark Public Library
Neighborhood Boundaries and Urban Renewal Areas

Neighborhood Boundaries and Urban Renewal Areas

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Map of proposed urban renewal projects in Newark from the city’s 1964 Master Plan prepared by the Central Planning Board. Nearly all of the urban renewal projects were to be located in the Central Ward, where the majority of the city’s black and Puerto Rican communities lived and worked. Though these communities were to be deeply impacted by urban renewal projects, they had very little representation in the planning processes. — Credit: Newark Public Library
City of Newark Urban Renewal Policy

City of Newark Urban Renewal Policy

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The Urban Renewal Policy and Coordinating Board was established by Mayor Carlin in 1961 to “establish an overall policy regarding the renewal program and coordinate the efforts of each and all the agencies combined.” Essentially, Mayor Carlin established the Board to coordinate the implementation of planning proposals and recommendations. Urban renewal policies and projects required a great deal of coordination between city, state, and federal government agencies. Noticably absent in the hierarchy of the Board is any representation for citizens and communities in Newark that would be impacted by urban renewal plans. — Credit: Newark Public Library
Urban Renewal and Civil Rights

Urban Renewal and Civil Rights

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In this essay, Stanley Winters, a veteran organizer in the Clinton Hill neighborhood, describes the interrelated nature of urban renewal politics and struggles for civil rights. Because the vast majority of urban renewal policy makers were white, Black and Puerto Rican communities had little representation in projects that they were disproportionately impacted by. Winters also argues that urban renewal projects were being utilized for the benefit of business interests, rather than community interests. — Credit: Junius Williams Papers
Highways May Destroy Newark Neighborhoods

Highways May Destroy Newark Neighborhoods

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Article from the Advance, an African-American newspaper, covering the proposed construction of Routes 75, 78, and 280 through Newark. Highway construction in northern urban areas has historically involved the destruction of predominantly Black communities for the benefit of predominantly white suburban commuters. Route 75 was one of the most heavily-contested commuter highway proposals in Newark. — Credit: Newark Public Library
Map of Route 75: The Midtown Connector

Map of Route 75: The Midtown Connector

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Map of the proposed Route 75 “Midtown Connector” highway in Newark, prepared by the Division of City Planning. Highway construction in northern urban areas has historically involved the destruction of predominantly Black communities for the benefit of predominantly white suburban commuters. Route 75 was one of the most heavily-contested commuter highway proposals in Newark. Despite years of opposition from Black and Puerto Rican communities in Newark, city officials continued to push forward with plans for the highway’s construction, before finally abandoning the project. — Credit: Junius Williams Papers
Clip from an interview with Frank Addonizio, chair of the Urban Renewal Committee in Newark, in which he describes the city’s plans for a state medical college in the Central Ward. City officials in Newark had lobbied extensively to have the New Jersey College of Medicine and Dentistry located in the city, promising 180 acres of land in the Central Ward for the campus, which would have led to the displacement of thousands of Black and Puerto Rican residents. — Credit: Henry Hampton Colleciton, Washington University Libraries
Clip from an interview with Louise Epperson, head of the Committee Against Negro and Puerto Rican Removal, in which she describes learning of the plans for the Medical School project in Newark. City officials in Newark had lobbied extensively to have the New Jersey College of Medicine and Dentistry located in the city, promising 180 acres of land in the Central Ward for the campus, which would have led to the displacement of thousands of Black and Puerto Rican residents. — Credit: Henry Hampton Colleciton, Washington University Libraries
Central Ward Houses

Central Ward Houses

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These homes in Newark’s Central Ward were demolished for the construction of the New Jersey College of Medicine and Dentistry. Although the areas designated for urban renewal were declared “blighted” by city officials, there were many homes like these that Black and Puerto Rican homeowners worked hard to purchase and took great pride in improving and upkeeping. — Credit: Junius Williams Scrapbook
Clip from an interview with Donald Malafronte, aide to Mayor Addonizio, in which he discusses the efforts of city officials to bring a state medical college to the Central Ward. City officials in Newark had lobbied extensively to have the New Jersey College of Medicine and Dentistry in the city, promising 180 acres of land in the Central Ward for the campus, which would have led to the displacement of thousands of Black and Puerto Rican residents. — Credit: Henry Hampton Colleciton, Washington University Libraries
 
 
 
Clip from an interview with Newark Community Union Project (NCUP) member, Junius Williams, in which he describes his role in organizing against the proposed medical school in Newark. City officials in Newark had lobbied extensively to have the New Jersey College of Medicine and Dentistry located in the city, promising 180 acres of land in the Central Ward for the campus, which would have led to the displacement of thousands of Black and Puerto Rican residents. — Credit: Henry Hampton Colleciton, Washington University Libraries
 
 
 
Survey of Proposed State Medical College Site

Survey of Proposed State Medical College Site

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Survey prepared by A.L. Oliver, Assistant Community Action Coordinator, on the proposed site of the New Jersey College of Medicine and Dentistry (UMDNJ). In his survey, Mr. Oliver provides population demographics, housing statistics and conditions, and reasons for community opposition to the proposed medical school. — Credit: Newark Public Library
Clip from an interview with community leader George Richardson, in which he explains the Medical School Fight and the strategy of filibustering the Blight Hearings. The Medical School Fight and contentious Blight Hearings are credited as one of the precipitating factors of the 1967 Newark rebellion. — Credit: Henry Hampton Colleciton, Washington University Libraries
 
 
 
Clip from an interview with NCUP member Junius Williams, in which he describes the significance and scenes of the Medical School Blight Hearings. The Medical School Fight and contentious Blight Hearings are credited as one of the precipitating factors of the 1967 Newark rebellion. — Credit: Henry Hampton Colleciton, Washington University Libraries
Medical School Agreement

Medical School Agreement

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Agreement reached on June 12, 1967 between the City of Newark, the Newark Housing Authority, and the New Jersey College of Medicine and Dentistry. In the agreement, the City of Newark agrees to deliver land to the college, even though the areas had not yet been deemed “blighted” and the “blight hearings” were still taking place. — Credit: Junius Williams Papers
Peoples

Peoples' Public Hearing

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Flyer distributed by the Committee Against Negro and Puerto Rican Removal to promote attendance at a February 18th hearing regarding the planned Medical School construction site in the Central Ward. — Credit: Junius Williams Papers
Black Unity Meeting

Black Unity Meeting

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Flyer distributed in the Central Ward to encourage community members to attend a Unity Meeting on May 14, 1967 to protest the seizure of land for the construction of a medical school. — Credit: Junius Williams Papers
Flyer to Attend Blight Hearings

Flyer to Attend Blight Hearings

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Flyer distributed in the Central Ward to encourage community members to attend the “blight hearings” on June 12, 1967 to protest the seizure of land for the construction of a medical school. — Credit: Junius Williams Papers
Call to Attend June 12 Blight Hearings

Call to Attend June 12 Blight Hearings

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Flyer distributed in the Central Ward to encourage community members to attend the “blight hearings” on June 12, 1967 to protest the seizure of land for the construction of a medical school. — Credit: Junius Williams Papers
We Ain

We Ain't Gonna Move

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Flyer distributed in the Central Ward to encourage community members to encourage community unity to protest the seizure of land for the construction of a medical school. — Credit: Junius Williams Papers
Shall We Stand and Fight, or Run Again?

Shall We Stand and Fight, or Run Again?

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Flyer distributed in the Central Ward to protest the construction of the New Jersey College of Medicine and Dentistry. — Credit: Junius Williams Papers

Excerpts from the stenographic transcript of various Newark residents’ comments to the Central Planning Board in June 1967 during the infamous “blight hearings.” These public hearings were held to determine if areas in the Central Ward were “blighted” so that the lands could be taken by eminent domain for the construction of the New Jersey College of Medicine and Dentistry. These excerpts were selected from over 500 pages of transcripts to illustrate the high tensions and predictions of impending violence in Newark just weeks before the 1967 rebellion. — Credit: Newark Public Library