Route 75

“By 1969, there was one more urban clearance impediment in the way of realizing the goal of electoral black power in Newark. Route 75 was an eight lane highway planned to run North to South directly across the middle of Newark, connecting Routes 280 and 78, which had already ripped the heart out of the North and South Wards, respectively. Route 75 would cut the Central Ward in half, and displace thousands more black and brown people.  After the Medical School victory in the negotiations, some people went to sleep, but we didn’t.

I felt like we had to go to Trenton, to challenge the highway on the enemy’s turf.  I made a call to the Department of Transportation, and to my surprise got to speak to the Commissioner, David Goldberg, or someone close to being the Commissioner. He had obviously heard about me, in the context of the medical school fight, and he heard we were beating the drum, which grew steadily in volume and tempo to stop the highway. He didn’t say so, but he was scared this thing might tip off another riot. So we agreed to meet.  I told him I would bring a few people to Trenton at the agreed upon date and time.

And I did bring a few people. I got one of our white minister friends from the Ecumenical Ministry to rent us a bus.  On it were black and white ministers, members of the NAACP, Welfare Rights mamas, and the hard corps of the Newark Area Planning Association (NAPA) Family. And we invited the Black Panthers for good measure.

There was no real chapter of the Black Panthers in Newark, although Newark men and women were in the Jersey City Chapter.  I talked to Capt. Carl and he sent some of his guys, with their black outfits and black tams, looking very much the way I wanted them to look.  This was my first time (and as it would turn out my only time) working with the Panthers.  I’m glad it was on this occasion.

Our bus drove up at the Man’s office, and we were shown to the conference room.  Somebody said, ‘we weren’t expecting quite this many,’ with an apprehensive little smile on a cute white face. I said, ‘the people wanted to be heard, and so here we are.’ The conference room available was one that could seat us all. In came the Commissioner, we shook hands and began the conversation. But there were quite a few voices asking the questions, telling him what we thought, telling him what would happen if they brought that highway through our neighborhood.  ‘If you think 1967 was bad….you ain’t seen nothing yet,’ was the general scope of the message. At some point, somebody locked the door, and so you might say this was a ‘Closed Door High Level Meeting.’

I remember seeing Earlene and some of the Panthers standing on the conference room table. Most of the people were on their feet the entire time, cheering on the more aggressive. I just shut up and let them talk to the man.  Some of those people scared me, so I know Goldberg was scared. To this day, I don’t know why he didn’t call the State Police, who I know would have waded through that crowd like General Sherman rode through Georgia. But the Commissioner and his staff were stunned and eventually just sat there in a daze.  And I knew we had to stop it because it was on the way to getting out of hand. So I stood up, thanked the Commissioner, urged him to reconsider Route 75, and we all left…some people slower than others, still selling wolf tickets going out the door.  Somebody had called the State Police. They were outside, but both sides were cool.  We got on the bus and celebrated our presumed victory all the way home!

Within one or two weeks, someone called on behalf of the Commissioner. He said, ‘We really don’t need that highway after all!’ There was joy in NAPA land! Can you imagine knocking off a highway with only one show of strength? We never filed a suit…didn’t get to the legal piece at all. We became one of the few groups in the United States at that time to be able to claim a victory over a highway, wiping if off the books.  And we did it in coalition style.”  -Junius Williams, Head of the Newark Area Planning Association

Stop Route 75 Rally

Stop Route 75 Rally

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Flyer for a rally to be held on December 15, 1968 to protest the construction of the proposed Route 75 highway. Speakers at the event included LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), Thurmond Smith, Junius Williams, Rev. B.F. Johnson, Rev. Levin West and Balozi Zayd. Route 75, an eight lane highway planned to run North to South, would have cut the Central Ward in half and displaced thousands of Black and Puerto Rican residents. — Credit: Junius Williams Collection

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The Midtown Connector

The Midtown Connector

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Map of the proposed Route 75, an eight lane highway planned to run North to South, which would have cut the Central Ward in half and displaced thousands of Black and Puerto Rican residents. — Credit: Junius Williams Collection
Route 75 and Political Power in Newark

Route 75 and Political Power in Newark

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Statement prepared by Junius Williams, head of the Newark Area Planning Association (NAPA), explaining the political implications of the planned Route 75 construction on the 1970 mayoral election. Route 75, an eight lane highway planned to run North to South, would have cut the Central Ward in half and displaced thousands of Black and Puerto Rican residents, thereby eliminating them from the voting rolls of the Central Ward. — Credit: Junius Williams Collection
Route 75 News Clippings

Route 75 News Clippings

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A page from the scrapbook of Newark Area Planning Association (NAPA) head, Junius Williams, containing newspaper clippings on a planned rally to protest the construction of Route 75 in December, 1969. Williams is pictured in the photograph inside the NAPA office on South Orange Avenue with a “Stop Route 75” bumper sticker on the window. — Credit: Junius Williams Collection
The Master Plan Newsletter

The Master Plan Newsletter

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Newsletter of the Emergency Committee to Stop Route 75, a Newark Area Planning Association (NAPA) initiative, to spread information about the proposed highway and the efforts to stop its construction. Route 75, an eight lane highway planned to run North to South, would have cut the Central Ward in half and displaced thousands of Black and Puerto Rican residents. — Credit: Junius Williams Collection
The Truth About Route 75

The Truth About Route 75

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Statement prepared by Junius Williams, head of the Newark Area Planning Association (NAPA), to encourage community support for the fight against Route 75 as Newark prepared for a landmark 1970 mayoral election. Route 75, an eight lane highway planned to run North to South, would have cut the Central Ward in half and displaced thousands of Black and Puerto Rican residents, thereby eliminating them from the voting rolls of the Central Ward. — Credit: Junius Williams Collection
The Midtown Connector with Notes on Plaintiffs

The Midtown Connector with Notes on Plaintiffs

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Map of the proposed Route 75, an eight lane highway planned to run North to South, which would have cut the Central Ward in half and displaced thousands of Black and Puerto Rican residents. Written on the maps are names of organizers responsible for gathering plaintiffs in different neighborhoods to file suit and seek an injunction against the project. — Credit: Junius Williams Collection
Route 75 Project

Route 75 Project

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Correspondence between Margaret Burns (Presbyterian Community Center), David J. Goldberg (NJ Commissioner of Transportation), Aaron Lambert, (Dept. of Housing and Urban Development), and James Hyde (NJ Dept. of Transportation) regarding the planning and construction processes for Route 75 in Newark. Also included in the correspondence is a Feb. 24, 1969 policy statement from Commissioner Goldberg regarding the suspension of property acquisitions for the development of Route 75. — Credit: Junius Williams Collection
NAPA Letter to DOT Commissioner

NAPA Letter to DOT Commissioner

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Letter from the Newark Area Planning Association (NAPA) to John Kohl, Commissioner of the NJ Dept. of Transportation, regarding the planned development of Route 75 in Newark. The letter is signed by several members of the Community Transportation Coalition, a group formed to unite civil rights organizations in the fight against the highway development. Route 75, an eight lane highway planned to run North to South, would have cut the Central Ward in half and displaced thousands of Black and Puerto Rican residents. — Credit: Junius Williams Collection