The Election of Ken Gibson

Ken Gibson ran for Mayor in 1966 and garnered 15,000 votes, forcing a runoff between Mayor Hugh Addonizio, and his rival, former Mayor Leo Carlin. Addonizio won, but it put the idea in the head of the African American community that they could elect a black Mayor in 1970.

The United Brothers (later the Committee for Unified Newark, CFUN) was organized to become a platform for that election in 1970. Ken Gibson let everybody in the United Brothers know that he was running for mayor, based on his showing in 1966. He was not alone in his desire to run, though, as George Richardson and Harry Wheeler had their sights on the election as well.

George Richardson, who had been a Democrat in the State Assembly, urged Ken to run in 1966, but didn’t expect Ken to do as well as he did.  Richardson was Gibson’s campaign manager at that time and lost his own election against Irvine Turner in the Central Ward race for councilman. By 1969, without the councilmatic seat, and his failure to warm up to the concept of “Black Power,” George Richardson seemed to be passé in Newark’s political scene.

Harry Wheeler, co-Chairman of the Medical School Negotiating Team, was lacking in credibility because of a previous scandal involving missing money from a school milk money fund where he taught. Whether he took the money or not, the perception was that he did.  Plus he had taken a job with the Federal Government in Washington, DC after the Medical School fight.

Ken Gibson became the “Community Choice” coming out of the Black and Puerto Rican Convention. His campaign was based upon the work of the coalition of community groups who prevailed in previous struggles like the Medical School Fight, and the Parker Callaghan struggle; a few elected political leaders; and the membership of the United Brothers and CFUN.

Race was the most important factor in the campaign. Ken Gibson was tied to Baraka and painted as a black nationalist. Gibson said he would improve city services, and occasionally talked about corruption. At the time of the election, the incumbent Mayor Addonizio and certain council members on his ticket were indicted—Addonizio’s indictment being for extortion. Baraka coordinated a parade of national celebrities into Newark to endorse Gibson, and raised money nationally from his network.

Gibson became the only viable black candidate by the time of the vote. Harry Wheeler dropped out of the race three days before the election and George Richardson, a warrior in his day, gained only 2,000 votes. All four at-large candidates endorsed by the Black and Puerto Rican Convention made it into the runoff. On May 12, 1970, the grassroots efforts to elect the first black mayor of Newark were rewarded when Ken Gibson led the field of seven candidates, winning 40% of the vote.

Since he did not get 50% plus 1 vote, there had to be a runoff election between Addonizio and Gibson. In the May 12th election, Gibson received 37,000 votes (mostly blacks), while 45,000 (mostly white) voted against him and spread their votes across six other candidates. But Mayor Addonizio’ s trial began in on June 3rd, and he traveled to Trenton everyday during the campaign. White people found out about the extent of the corruption in Newark, so many did not vote, unwilling to vote for Gibson, but turned off by Addonizio.

On June 16, Gibson soundly defeated Addonizio in the runoff election by a vote of 55,097 to 43,086. Additionally, three of the “Community Choice” candidates from the Black and Puerto Rican Convention were elected to city council. It was the beginning of a new day in Newark for African Americans because a new plateau of Black Power had been reached.

Vote for Gibson and the Black Convention Councilmen

Vote for Gibson and the Black Convention Councilmen

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Campaign poster from the 1970 Mayoral and City Council elections in Newark. The 1969 Black and Puerto Rican Convention was organized to formally select the “Community’s Choice” for Mayor and City Council in the 1970 election. — Credit: Newark Public Library

Clip from an interview with former Newark Evening News reporter, Doug Eldridge, in which he discusses the 1970 mayoral campaign between Hugh Addonizio and Ken Gibson. Eldridge describes the election of Ken Gibson as “an inevitability” after the Addonizio administration had lost the support of the majority of Black voters in Newark after years of mishandling racial issues in the city. Gibson won the election, becoming the first Black mayor of a major northeastern city. — Credit: Robert Curvin Collection

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Ken Gibson In The Mayor

Ken Gibson In The Mayor's Office

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Undated photograph of Newark Mayor Ken Gibson in the Mayor’s office. Gibson was elected in 1970 as the first Black mayor of a major northeastern city. — Credit: Newark Public Library
 
 

Clip from an interview with Donald Malafronte, aide to Mayor Addonizio, in which he discusses the 1966 mayoral election in Newark. The incumbent candidate in the election was Mayor Hugh Addonizio, who ran against former Mayor Leo Carlin, and political newcomer Ken Gibson. Gibson was an African American engineer who was active in the Business Industrial Coordinating Council (BICC) and United Community Corporation (UCC) in Newark. Although he lost the election to Addonizio, the 1966 election set the stage for Gibson’s successful campaign in 1970. — Credit: Henry Hampton Collection, Washington University Libraries

Clip from an interview with community activist and organizer Derek Winans, in which he discusses the 1970 mayoral election in Newark. Winans describes how the election was eventually narrowed down to two candidates: Hugh Addonizio, the incumbent, and Ken Gibson, the nominee of the Black and Puerto Rican Convention. Winans also describes the frustrations of insurgent candidate, George Richardson, who tried to persuade Gibson to “be more truthful to the cause that propelled him in the first place.” — Credit: Junius Williams Collection

Clip from an interview with former Newark Evening News reporter, Doug Eldridge, in which he describes reporting on the 1970 campaign for mayor of Newark. Eldridge describes the “excitement” in Newark at the time, as the incumbent Mayor Addonizio was under investigation for extortion, and the challenger Ken Gibson had put himself “in position” for the election after running unsuccessfully in 1966. Eldridge explains that Gibson was seen as “more acceptable” by many Newark residents in comparison to the more “vocal, visible” civil rights advocates. — Credit: Robert Curvin Collection
Ken Gibson Campaign Brochure

Ken Gibson Campaign Brochure

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Brochure distributed by the Gibson Civic Association to promote Ken Gibson’s 1970 Mayoral campaign in Newark. Gibson became the first Black mayor of a major northeastern city after defeating incumbent Mayor Hugh Addonizio in the election. — Credit: Newark Public Library

Ken Gibson Campaign Flyer

Ken Gibson Campaign Flyer

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Flyer distributed to promote Ken Gibson’s 1970 Mayoral campaign in Newark. Gibson became the first Black mayor of a major northeastern city after defeating incumbent Mayor Hugh Addonizio in the election. — Credit: Newark Public Library
 
 
Statement by Ken Gibson at Business Men

Statement by Ken Gibson at Business Men's Breakfast

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Campaign speech given by Mayoral candidate Ken Gibson at the Robert Treat Hotel on June 11, 1970. Gibson became the first Black mayor of a major northeastern city after defeating incumbent Mayor Hugh Addonizio in the election. — Credit: Newark Public Library
 
 
 
 
 
Ken Gibson Campaign Button (1970)

Ken Gibson Campaign Button (1970)

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Button distributed to promote Ken Gibson’s 1970 Mayoral campaign in Newark. Gibson became the first Black mayor of a major northeastern city after defeating incumbent Mayor Hugh Addonizio in the election. — Credit: Newark Public Library
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Campaign Flyer- Vote for the Community

Campaign Flyer- Vote for the Community's Choice

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Campaign flyer for the 1970 Mayoral and City Council elections in Newark. “The Community’s Choice,” seen on the flyer, was nominated during the 1969 Black and Puerto Rican Convention. — Credit: Newark Public Library

Black Power Now!

Black Power Now!

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Bumper sticker from the 1970 Mayoral and City Council elections in Newark. The 1969 Black and Puerto Rican Convention was organized to formally select the “Community’s Choice” for Mayor and City Council in the 1970 election. — Credit: Newark Public Library
 
Benefit for the Newark Fund with Bill Cosby

Benefit for the Newark Fund with Bill Cosby

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Poster announcing a fundraising event at Newark Symphony Hall for the New-Ark Fund on April 22, 1970, featuring comedian Bill Cosby. The New-Ark Fund was established by Amiri Baraka to support the campaigns of candidates nominated by the Black and Puerto Rican Convention, which the United Brothers and Committee For Unified Newark helped to organize. — Credit: Newark Public Library
 
Mayor Addonizio Campaign Flyer

Mayor Addonizio Campaign Flyer

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Campaign flyer for the 1970 Mayoral and City Council runoff elections in Newark. Mayor Addonizio ran as the incumbent against Ken Gibson, the “Community Choice” of the Black and Puerto Rican Convention. — Credit: Newark Public Library
Mayor Addonizio Campaign Brochure

Mayor Addonizio Campaign Brochure

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Brochure distributed by Citizens for Hugh J. Addonizio to promote Mayor Addonizio’s 1970 campaign for re-election. Addonizio was defeated by Ken Gibson in the runoff election, making Gibson the first Black mayor of a major northeastern city. — Credit: Newark Public Library
 
Qualification Not Color

Qualification Not Color

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Campaign flyer distributed to promote Mayor Addonizio’s 1970 campaign for re-election. Mayor Addonizio’s campaign attempted to paint his opponent, Ken Gibson, as a dangerous Black Nationalist based on his association with Amiri Baraka. Addonizio was defeated by Ken Gibson in the runoff election, making Gibson the first Black mayor of a major northeastern city. — Credit: Newark Public Library
 
Mayor Addonizio Campaign Letter

Mayor Addonizio Campaign Letter

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Campaign letter distributed by Mayor Addonizio, informing his supporters that the election is “our last chance to keep Newark free for all people.” Addonizio was defeated by Ken Gibson in the runoff election, making Gibson the first Black mayor of a major northeastern city. — Credit: Newark Public Library
Mayor Addonizio Campaign Potholder

Mayor Addonizio Campaign Potholder

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Potholder distributed to promote Mayor Addonizio’s 1970 campaign for re-election. Addonizio was defeated by Ken Gibson in the runoff election, making Gibson the first Black mayor of a major northeastern city. — Credit: Newark Public Library 
A Dangerous Combination

A Dangerous Combination

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Campaign flyer distributed during Newark’s 1970 Mayoral campaign calling Ken Gibson and Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) “A Dangerous Combination.” Mayor Addonizio’s campaign attempted to paint his opponent, Ken Gibson, as a dangerous Black Nationalist based on his association with Amiri Baraka. Addonizio was defeated by Ken Gibson in the runoff election, making Gibson the first Black mayor of a major northeastern city. — Credit: Newark Public Library
 
Gibson

Gibson's Chief Aid

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Campaign flyer distributed during Newark’s 1970 Mayoral campaign containing an inflammatory newsclipping on Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones). Mayor Addonizio’s campaign attempted to paint his opponent, Ken Gibson, as a dangerous Black Nationalist based on his association with Amiri Baraka. Addonizio was defeated by Ken Gibson in the runoff election, making Gibson the first Black mayor of a major northeastern city. — Credit: Newark Public Library
 
 
Gibson Accepts Support of Black Militants

Gibson Accepts Support of Black Militants

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Campaign flyer distributed during Newark’s 1970 Mayoral campaign tying Ken Gibson to Black Nationalist leaders. Mayor Addonizio’s campaign attempted to paint his opponent, Ken Gibson, as a dangerous Black Nationalist based on his association with Amiri Baraka. Addonizio was defeated by Ken Gibson in the runoff election, making Gibson the first Black mayor of a major northeastern city. — Credit: Newark Public Library
 
 
The Choice is Yours and Mine

The Choice is Yours and Mine

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Letter distributed to Newark residents during the 1970 Mayoral campaign tying candidate Ken Gibson to militant Black leaders. Mayor Addonizio’s campaign attempted to paint his opponent, Ken Gibson, as a dangerous Black Nationalist based on his association with Amiri Baraka. Addonizio was defeated by Ken Gibson in the runoff election, making Gibson the first Black mayor of a major northeastern city. — Credit: Newark Public Library
Portrait of Ken Gibson

Portrait of Ken Gibson

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Portrait of Ken Gibson taken by Newark photographer, Al Henderson. — Credit: Newark Public Library
Mayor Addonizio at Desk

Mayor Addonizio at Desk

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Photograph of Mayor Addonizio signing a document at his desk in 1963. — Credit: Newark Public Library
 
 
Mayor Ken Gibson Speaks at Martland Hospital

Mayor Ken Gibson Speaks at Martland Hospital

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Mayor Ken Gibson speaks at the Martland Hospital Nurses’ Graduation in 1971. — Credit: Newark Public Library
 
James Brown, a

James Brown, a "Gibson Girl," and Ken Gibson

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Ken Gibson (right), chats with legendary musician James Brown (left), and one of the “Gibson Girls” during his 1970 Mayoral campaign in Newark. The potential to elect the first Black mayor of a major northeastern city drew national attention to Newark and Amiri Baraka used his connections to bring celebrity supporters to the city for Gibson’s campaign. — Credit: Amiri Baraka Papers; Rare Book and Manuscript Library; Columbia University
Ken Gibson and Isaac Hayes

Ken Gibson and Isaac Hayes

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Ken Gibson poses for a photo with musician Isaac Hayes during his 1970 Mayoral campaign in Newark. The potential to elect the first Black mayor of a major northeastern city drew national attention to Newark and Amiri Baraka used his connections to bring celebrity supporters to the city for Gibson’s campaign. — Credit: Amiri Baraka Papers; Rare Book and Manuscript Library; Columbia University
Ken Gibson with Supporters

Ken Gibson with Supporters

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Ken Gibson poses for a photo with Theodore Pinckney, Amiri Baraka, and others during his mayoral campaign. The potential to elect the first Black mayor of a major northeastern city drew national attention to Newark and Amiri Baraka used his connections to bring celebrity supporters to the city for Gibson’s campaign. — Credit: Amiri Baraka Papers; Rare Book and Manuscript Library; Columbia University
Mayor and Municipal Council Inauguration

Mayor and Municipal Council Inauguration

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Program from the 1970 inauguration of Newark’s Mayor and Municipal Council. Ken Gibson was inaugurated on July 1, 1970, becoming the first Black mayor of a major northeastern city after defeating incumbent Mayor Hugh Addonizio in the election. Also elected to the City Council were Earl Harris, Sharpe James, and Dennis Westbrooks– all nominees of the Black and Puerto Rican Convention. — Credit: Newark Public Library