George Richardson

George Richardson (left) chats with Essex County Democratic Assemblymen and Mayor Ken Gibson outside the assembly chambers in 1972. (Newark Public Library)

In 1960, George Richardson was a bartender and manager of Knobby’s bar in the Central Ward, and organizer of Knobby’s softball team. The group could not get a decent ball field  and they only got promises from city hall.  That’s when Richardson decided they had to become political, and so he put together a slate of district leaders, won several seats, and joined forces with Honey Ward, a local leader in Newark’s Central Ward..

Richardson and Ward demanded that Dennis Carey, Essex County Democratic Chairman put more blacks on the ticket for county and state offices at a meeting. (The County Chairman had the power to endorse a candidate, which put the candidate at  or near  the top of the ballot; and access to Party funds). A scuffle broke out at the meeting and Richardson took the microphone from Carey. The next day, Carey met with Ward and Richardson, and said he would support Ward for Central Ward Chairman and Richardson for a state Assembly seat in the 1961 election.

Ward won in 1960, and Richardson won in 1961. In 1962, Addonizio became mayor and appointed Richardson as Insurance Commissioner for the city of Newark.

However, in 1963 Richardson supported the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in petitioning Mayor Addonizio for a civilian police review board, because of the rampant cases of police abuse in Newark. Addonizio fired Richardson, and he lost his position on the line for re-election in 1963. Richardson then organized an insurgent political organization called the New Frontier Democrats, which ran people for several county and state seats.  This split the Democratic Party, caused Richardson to lose friends (like Honey Ward); and the Republicans got control of the NJ State Assembly.

Photo of George Richardson from the 1969 Annual Report of the Greater Newark Urban Coalition. (Newark Public Library)

Richardson was  instrumental in coordinating protests against hiring discrimination at the construction site of Barringer High School in 1963. During the Barringer protests, Richardson helped to form a coalition of civil rights, religious, and labor organizations known as the Newark Coordinating Council to demand racial equality in hiring in the building and construction trades. The Building and Industrial Coordinating Committee (BICC) was also an outgrowth of the Barringer struggle. These protests marked the emergence of large-scale, sustained civil rights activity in the city.

Richardson continued his advocacy against racism in alliance with groups such as CORE and the Committee Against Negro and Puerto Rican Removal. He ran another slate of candidates in 1965 under the banner of the United Freedom Democratic Party, lost to Irvine Turner for the City Council seat in 1966, and to Ken Gibson for Mayor in 1970. Ironically, it was George Richardson who put Ken Gibson up to running for Mayor in 1966, when Gibson lost to Hugh Addonizio.

Richardson was one of the only African American politicians in Newark’s  modern era to rely upon an independent party to seek election, in defiance of the Democratic Party.

References:

Junius Williams, Unfinished Agenda: Urban Politics in the Era of Black Power, unpublished chapter, “Allies and Adversaries”

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…

George Richardson describes how he got involved in the political scene in Newark’s Central Ward in the 1950s. — Credit: Henry Hampton Collection, Washington University Libraries

Police Memo on Barringer Protests

Police Memo on Barringer Protests

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Newark Police memo on protests at the Barringer HS construction site in July, 1963, naming Richardson as a leader of the demonstration with Bob Curvin of CORE. — Credit: New Jersey State Archives

Community activist Derek Winans discusses George Richardson’s role in organizing the Newark Coordinating Council. — Credit: Junius Williams Collection

Clip from the documentary “Troublemakers,” covering NCUP’s involvement in George Richardson’s 1965 State Senate campaign. — 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