Eulis “Honey” Ward

(L-R) George Richardson, Dennis Carey, and Eulis “Honey” Ward pose for a photo in the 1960s. (Newark Public Library)

Eulis “Honey” Ward was born October 25, 1923 in Key West, Florida and moved to Newark with his family two years later. Ward grew up in the predominantly Black old Third Ward and graduated from South Side High School. While Ward was growing up in the 1930s-1940s, racism and segregation were a part of daily life in Newark, and Ward recalled seeing “White Only” signs on rooming houses on Belmont Avenue and segregated theatres on Springfield Avenue. As a young man in the 1940s, Ward got into boxing after watching the successes of Joe Louis in the ring, “cause to whip a white man at that time was something that we all got [to think] about,” Ward later said. Ward would go on to become an amateur welterweight champion boxer.

After serving in the Army in World War II, Ward joined the Merchant Marines at the suggestion Morris Parker, a fellow boxer in Newark. It was Parker who also got Ward into the political arena in Newark after leaving the Merchant Marines. Parker was a district leader for Third Ward Democratic Chairman Charlie Matthews, and brought Honey Ward into the fold by canvassing in his district. From this beginning, Ward climbed the ladder of the political power structure in the Third Ward (later Central Ward).

At the time of Irvine Turner’s election as the city’s first Black councilman in 1954, Ward was working as a butcher and member of the Meatpackers Union. He was a supporter of Turner in the election, and loyal to the Irish political bosses at the city and Essex County level.

(L-R) Juanita Jordan, Julia Ward, Eulis “Honey” Ward, and Pearl Simpson. (Julia Morgan Ward)

In 1960, Honey Ward became the Central Ward Democratic Chairman, defeating the Italian Chairman, Salvatore Dispensere. Irvine Turner supported Dispensere and not Honey Ward. The Ward Chairman was elected based upon the number of elected district leaders he could bring to a meeting to vote him into office. District leaders run on the Democrat or Republican lines at county and state elections. So Honey Ward had to build his base by getting people elected, holding them in place until he accumulated enough votes to challenge, overcoming the promises for jobs and favors from the other side, and getting district leaders to stand up and vote against a white man; which is why Honey had to develop the muscle to protect himself and his supporters from physical violence. When he heard that a polling station at the 13th Avenue School was locked to prevent Blacks from voting, Ward kicked down the door of the school.

As the Civil Rights Movement emerged in Newark, Ward’s brought his brand of local politics into struggles for Black empowerment in the city. As a co-chairman of the Committee Against Negro and Puerto Rican Removal, Ward took part in the struggle to prevent the construction of a state medical school on 180 acres of land in the Central Ward. For Ward, the urban renewal project was a personal affront to the efforts that he and many others had taken in the Central Ward to build a political base. “We had broke our ass registering Blacks…and they’re all being displaced, which cut our votes down enormously,” Ward later recalled. Ward also joined the Black political organization, the United Brothers, to run candidates for the 1968 City Council election and 1970 Mayoral election.

References:

Komozi Woodard Interview with Honey Ward, 1986.

Junius Williams Interview with Eulis “Honey” Ward.

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…

Transcript of Oral History Interview

Transcript of Oral History Interview

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Transcript of an oral history interview with Eulis “Honey” Ward, conducted by Komozi in 1986. –Credit: Komozi Woodard

Committee Against Negro and Puerto Rican Removal

Committee Against Negro and Puerto Rican Removal

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Letter from the Committee Against Negro and Puerto Rican Removal to Robert C. Weaver demanding that all urban renewal projects in Newark be stopped. — Credit: Junius Williams Collection

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