Cyril Tyson

Photo of Cyril Tyson from 1966 UCC Program Report (Newark Public Library)

Cyril Tyson arrived in Newark in January, 1965 to help initiate and organize the United Community Corporation (UCC), the city’s War on Poverty agency (a Community Action Agency funded by the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964). The Act was signed by President Lyndon Johnson in August of 1964 as part of his War on Poverty program, and funded the establishment of local Community Action Agencies to provide federal support for local efforts to combat poverty.

Tyson was originally contacted by Timothy Still, member of the UCC Board of Trustees and the Hayes Homes Tenants’ League, to inquire about Tyson’s possible interest in directing the newly-formed UCC. When Still contacted him, Tyson was the executive director of HARYOU-ACT, an anti-poverty program in Harlem and precursor to the Economic Opportunity Act. Tyson had also been project director of Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited, Inc.’s (HARYOU) landmark study of juvenile delinquency and youth crime, which published its findings in the report Youth in the Ghetto: A Study of the Consequences of Powerlessness and a Blueprint for Change.

Although hesitant to leave his position with HARYOU-ACT, Tyson eventually agreed to become the first Executive Director of the UCC, effective January 1, 1965. Tyson made it clear, however, that his intention was to only hold the position temporarily in order to develop the UCC’s organizational structure and establish local leadership. Tyson’s plan for the UCC adopted the model of decentralized Area Boards. Under his vision, there would be nine Area Boards, each with a separate Board of Directors and a budget for staff and programs. The goal of this structure was to promote “maximum feasible participation” of the poor within the anti-poverty program.

In addition to the Area Board structure, Tyson also assisted in the development of Community Action Programs (CAP) to aid and empower the city’s poor, predominantly Black and Puerto Rican populations. Under his direction, CAPs such as the Blazer Work Training Program, Newark Legal Services Project, and High School Head Start were established with representation and direction from the local Area Boards.

Cyril Tyson, 1970 (Eddie Hausner/The New York Times)

During his 20-month term as Executive Director, Tyson oversaw the expansion of the UCC funding base from an initial $184,000 federal grant to over $7 million in federal funds. The growth of the UCC was not without controversy, however, as Newark city officials and residents struggled for control over the anti-poverty agency and its programs. Frustrated by Tyson’s resistance to demands for patronage, city officials, including councilmen Frank Addonizio and Lee Bernstein, launched an investigation into the UCC in 1965. The councilmen issued a report condemning Tyson’s hiring of non-Newark residents for leadership positions in the UCC, though these individuals made up a small minority of the UCC’s staff.

Cyril Tyson resigned in September, 1966 after outstaying his initial pledge of one year of service. “I said that, in my mind,” Tyson recalled, “the UCC weathered the political storm, survived the City Council Investigation, and proved that united community leadership could initiate and implement a creative and sound program.” Although federal funding proved to be short-lived and insufficient to create substantial and sustainable economic change in the city, the struggle for control of  the UCC that Cyril Tyson helped to establish, provided a significant experience in the empowerment process of many Black and Puerto Rican residents in Newark.

References:

Cyril Tyson, 2 Years Before the Riot!: Newark, New Jersey and the United Community Corporation 1964-1966.

UCC Press Release on Resignation of Cyril Tyson (July 28, 1966)

 

Who’s Coming In, Who’s Going Out?

World War II kicked off the second Great Migration, as African Americans from the South sought better living conditions in Newark and other cities. Between 1940 and 1950, the African American population of Newark increased from 45,760 to 74,965—growing from 10.7% to 17.2% of the city’s total population. In many ways, this population influx marked a tipping point for recognition.

For most of Newark, the depression ended. “Help wanted “ signs went up. But African Americans could not always find a job. The New Jersey Afro-American wrote in 1941 that while contracts for nearly a billion and a half dollars in government defense orders have been placed with firms in New Jersey, the Urban League finds that these firms have steadfastly refused to hire colored workers.”

 

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“Help wanted “ signs went up. But African Americans could not always find a job.
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But some African Americans did find employment. Jobs for blacks in the Newark defense workforce improved from 4% in 1942, to 8.8% in 1943. With the overall economy booming, Newark’s downtown stores began hiring some African Americans as elevator operators and janitors. Large restaurants hired blacks as chefs, cooks and waiters—they could work, but not sit down to eat. The war years helped enhance the prospects of some, while still denying prosperity for the many.

Whites Begin to Leave

Around 1947, the white middle class started deserting Newark for the suburbs, along with the businesses that sustained them. The post World-War II boom was good for businesses for a while, but factories, schools, and streets had been neglected during the war. Overcrowding was a problem, especially in the ghettos. These conditions made the suburbs very attractive as alternatives to Newark.

The G.I. Bill of Rights and FHA loans made it easier for whites to buy a house, and brand new highways built by the federal government with taxpayers’ dollars made it easier to drive those new automobiles to the suburbs, in Essex County and further west. These same mortgages were unavailable to most African Americans; and most suburbs were off limits.

 

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These same mortgages were unavailable to most African Americans; and most suburbs were off limits.
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But Newark’s heterogeneous ethnic character remained intact in the early and mid-1950s. Newark was described as follows by writer Joseph Conforti:

The Germans had given way to the Irish who in 1950 shared political power with an Italian and a Jew. The ethnic division of the city could also be observed less directly. Many occupations were ethnically identifiable: the police and fire departments were overwhelmingly Irish; the construction trades were Italian; the merchants were largely Jewish, the small luncheonettes were Greek, the large businesses were owned and operated by WASPs, skilled craftsmen were likely to be German, and the factory operatives were Irish, Polish and Italian. Even the city’s taxicabs had ethnic identifications…yellow cabs were operated by the Irish, 20th Century cabs by Jews, Brown and White cabs by Italians, and Green cabs by blacks.

Newark’s Changing Demographics

Ghettoization continued in Newark. By 1940, the Third Ward (today’s Central Ward) alone contained more than 16,000 black residents. By 1944 nearly one third of the apartments and housing in the black areas were below the standards of minimum decency. Some houses still had outside bathrooms.

The slums were among the worst in the nation. The situation was particularly grim for African Americans, clustered on “the hill” just west of the Essex County Court House. Public Housing did not help a lot. There were 7 low-income projects finished before the war, but by 1946, there were 2,110 white families and only 623 black families in the buildings. Four of the projects housed no black people. The best low-rise public housing, such as Bradley Court, was reserved for whites; while the poorest units, such as F.D.R. Homes, were reserved for blacks. Ultimately, the majority of African Americans were steered into the growing number of high rise public housing which just happened to be built in the center city where black people had been confined beginning at the turn of the 20th century.

 

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Four of the projects housed no black people.
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The 1950 Census showed the trend in population increases for blacks, and decrease by whites. Newark’s total population rose only slightly from 429,760 in 1940 to 438,776 in 1950. Black residents had increased from 45,760 to 74,965—more than a 60% increase. When newspapers took a look at the faces of misery, increasingly they were black.

Even though the city began hemorrhaging jobs (250 manufacturers left between 1950-60; 1,300 manufactures left during the 1960s), the more dramatic change in the city’s socioeconomic structure was the rapidly changing composition of the city’s population.

African Americans were rapidly become politically and economically obsolete in a city where they would soon be in the majority. Segregation and discrimination by race and class defined Newark’s offering to the city’s newest immigrants.

Listen to the people speak about their experiences as newcomers to Newark below…

Newark residents, politicians, journalists, and civil rights activists reflect upon their experiences with Cyril Tyson and the United Community Corporation (UCC) in the city from 1965-1966. (See Vimeo link for credits)

Memo on UCC Area Boards

Memo on UCC Area Boards

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Tactical memo from Cyril Tyson on January 18, 1965, in which he describes plans for organizing area boards to promote community involvement in the UCC. — Credit: Newark Public Library

UCC Program Report

UCC Program Report

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Report published by the United Community Corporation (UCC) to provide an overview of the agency’s Community Action Programs from 1965-1966. — Credit: Newark Public Library

UCC Press Release on Resignation of Cyril Tyson

UCC Press Release on Resignation of Cyril Tyson

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Press release from the United Community Corporation on July 28, 1966, announcing Cyril Tyson’s resignation as executive director. — Credit: Henry Hampton Collection, Washington University Libraries

Explore The Archives

African American Repairman

African American Repairman

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Photograph from the PSEG archives of an African American repairman at work. — Credit: PSEG

22 Clayton Street Stove

22 Clayton Street Stove

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A look inside the apartment of an African American family at 22 Clayton Street in Newark. — Credit: WPA Photographs, NJ State Archives

22 Clayton Street Bathroom

22 Clayton Street Bathroom

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A look inside the apartment of an African American family at 22 Clayton Street in Newark. — Credit: WPA Photographs, NJ State Archives

African American Stoker

African American Stoker

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Photograph from the PSEG archives of an African American stoker at work. — Credit: PSEG