After Washington, D.C., Newark was the first American city to have a black majority. After Watts, and before Detroit, Newark experienced the third worst riot in recent history. Since the July, 1967, “disorders,” the city’s 402,000 blacks and whites have coexisted in an uneasy armistice within 23.6 square miles on the west bank of the polluted Passaic River. Each day, white-collar executives and white-collar workers flood the city, doubling its population; each evening, they desert the sullen streets for suburban security. Windowless vacant buildings and lots piled with bulldozed rubble pock the city. The prognosis is decay.

Newark has long since reached its legal bonding limit, and the state limits its taxing powers. The city cannot impose a sales tax, nor levy a payroll tax or income tax. It derives 75 percent of its income from a near confiscatory property tax, and the balance from state and federal funds. Taxable property— “rateables”—has contracted, while land cleared for urban renewal, highways, or the expansion of educational facilities lies fallow or otherwise tax-free. Health and welfare costs per capita are twenty times as great as in some of the surrounding communities. In Newark, the war on poverty seems likely to end with the prosperous suburban ring choking off the poor who are ensnared in the city.

Newark was one of the first cities to receive public-housing assistance after the program began in 1937, and it now has the largest per capita public-housing program in the country. Roughly 12 percent of Newark’s population lives in some form of public housing. Newark was the first city to apply for urban renewal funds in 1949, and has received $325 million in federal aid since, and is fifth in the nation in the amount received for urban-renewal purposes. Its Model Cities application was among the first sixty-three in the nation to be approved and to receive planning funds. Community organizations proliferate, and the president of Western Electric has announced that the company will stay in Newark and occupy a new office building in the downtown area. There are educational and medical construction programs; and along the river, a thousand acres of unused or underutilized meadowland are scheduled for reclamation and extensive industrial development employing thousands.


Up on Springfield Avenue, there is a row of storefronts housing various antipoverty agencies—TEAM (Total Employment and Manpower, Inc.), Operation We Care (a division of the United Community Corporation), the Fourth Precinct Community Relations Bureau, and the Joint Apprenticeship Program (JAP) . The locals call it “Poverty Row.” Posters in the windows announce that 500 men are needed now for Project Seed, a manpower training program. Training courses for cook, upholsterer, child-care aide, baker, automatic-screw-machine operator, and workers in automobile assembly and machine trades offer weekly stipends of $46 to $76. There doesn’t seem to be much going on; unemployment is down in Newark, though still running higher—at 9.1 percent—than in most cities. But the lack of visible activity is deceptive, if JAP’s recent scores are any indication of what goes on behind these shuttered storefronts. Sponsored by the A. Philip Randolph Educational Fund and the Workers Defense League, JAP in Newark has tutored 360 young blacks for apprenticeships; placed 83, including the first black apprentices in Newark’s Ironworkers and sheet metal local unions; and secured journeymen’s jobs for over 50 black workers. Still, it is an uphill struggle in a slow season, so JAP’s senior field representative, George Fontaine, offered to show me what the odds were for progress in Newark.

They do not look good along Springfield Avenue, where gaping, glassless storefronts and gutted buildings still stand open to the sky, evidence of the fury that wracked Newark two short years ago. Along a long stretch of empty storefronts and half-demolished buildings only the Dollar Pawnbroker, which would appear a looter’s paradise, and a shabby store selling WonderSpray for Rats and Roaches seem unscathed. Up further, a scatter of record shops, cheap clothing and furniture stores cling to business. One, featuring a Crispus Attucks Day Sale, offers cribs at $19.99 and kitchen sets for $34.00 and displays a sign, “We Welcome State Aid Welfare.” Liquor stores and taverns thrive; a Black Castle hot dog and hamburger stand urges passersby “Unite for Prosperity”; and cheerful yellow lettering invites one to the Keep the Faith Thrift Shop. A fading Nixon-Agnew billboard promises “A Piece of the Action, Not Charity.” A fire engine screams along a back street. Weary black men sit on the benches in the tiny Amato Danielle Memorial Park commemorating a World War II hero.

Standing on the sad street outside a meat market with a sign in the window announcing the sale of “Chitterlings, Rabbit, Coon . , . Mountain Oysters,” Fontaine muses over “the great change.” Slight of figure, walnut-skinned, with a sparse mustache, Fontaine speaks with an attractive hesitancy about the past. “Our block was integrated,” he says. “We had everything—Italians, Jews, Negroes, every kind of people. Before the war, we were all poor. As kids we wore the same kind of shoes, you know, welfare shoes.” A wirepuller by trade, who made “pretty good money” in a factory just outside Newark which he helped unionize, Fontaine lives in the Central Ward, a few blocks from the JAP center. One of his married sons lives in East Orange; the other, in the South Ward, which is to Newark’s blacks, and Jews before them, what Flat bush and the Bronx were to New York’s Lower East Side Jews— a place of escape. “After the war,” Fontaine continued, “everything changed. The white people made money, and moved. The black people remained poor, and stayed.”


Puritans from New Haven, Connecticut, founded Newark in 1666. The Irish helped build the city, which flourished in the post-Civil War era of industrial expansion, and then took over city hall. The Germans established thriving breweries, then founded singing societies and sports programs. The WASP’s went in for insurance, and Newark became the fourth largest insurance center in the nation. The Italians were absorbed into manufacturing and construction, and the Poles soon followed. Jews were active in trade. Before World War II, Newark was a city of the foreign-born; they and their children made up slightly more than three fifths of the city’s population.

Back in 1911, there were 11,000 Negroes out of a total Newark population of roughly 350,000. Their number tripled during World War I, and World War II brought a wave of Negroes out of the South seeking semiskilled and unskilled jobs in the Newark area, raising the black population to 75,627 out of a total population of 438,776 in 1950. Spurred in part by farm mechanization in Alabama, the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida, blacks continued to move into Newark, pushing the percentages to over one third of the total population in 1960, and to over 50 percent seven years later. As of spring, 1967, according to a Rutgers survey, Negroes made up 52 percent of the population of Newark; whites, 38.3 percent; and “others,” mostly Puerto Ricans and Cubans, 9.7 percent. Someone has estimated that of the 9.7 percent of Spanishspeaking Newarkers, roughly 8 percent are black, and so in the popular mind, blacks and whites in Newark now see the city as 60 percent black, 40 percent white.

Professor George Sternlieh of Rutgers found in a survey of tenement ownership “one clear-cut group. . . . These were the elderly remnants of previous white immigrant groups. The elderly Italian widow, and her equivalent, whether Jewish, German, or Irish, dominate this group.” As Mayor Hugh J. Addonizio put it, “We have a lot of elderly white people and a lot of young black people.” Almost one quarter of Newark’s population is fifteen years of age and younger. And, again in the mayor’s words, “Newark is mainly Italian and Negro.”

While that ethnic constellation sets the style of Newark’s politics, the substance is determined by the status of its citizens. There are fewer than fifty blocks in Newark zoned for one-family houses. What’s left of the city’s upper-class, few indeed, still live in Forest Hills, a quiet residential area where large frame and brick houses and landscaped grounds are still to be found. Some middle-class Jews still live in the Weequahic section in the South Ward, home of Philip Roth and source of Portnoy’s complaint. Other members of Newark’s dwindling middle class are found in Vailsburg, Clinton Hill, and tucked in other odd corners of the city. The black middle class, first-level professionals and teachers, live in the South Ward. The rising young and already arrived executives of IBM, Western Electric, Prudential, the successful lawyers and doctors, and the growing number of professors teaching at Newark-based colleges mostly live in the suburbs. The head of Newark’s Urban Coalition lives in Maplewood. As a black poverty worker told me, “If they get to the doctorlawyer classes, they usually move out of Newark.”

Black or white, it takes, according to recent Department of Labor statistics, $9076 a year for a four-person city worker’s family to maintain a “moderate” standard of living. The median income of white heads of household in Newark is $7579 a year; for the black, it is less, at $6892. Not surprisingly, twice as many black Newark families as white Newark families have incomes of less than $5000 a year.

Walking through Central Ward with George Fontaine, it is easy to see why so many people left, including a goodly number of blacks. Browns and grays accent the drabness of the decaying threeand fourstory frame houses that line the countless side streets. Almost a third of the city’s houses were described in Newark’s Model Cities application as substandard or dilapidated. The city’s Office of Economic Development—no flaming radicals they —estimate that the city needs 20,000 new housing units immediately, and another 20,000 by 1975 just for replacement. But rehabilitation as a way of saving houses is not economically feasible in Newark, a city where two thirds of the dwellings are frame houses, and 80 percent were built before 1929.

Most of those vacant buildings one sees in great number throughout the heart of the Central Ward were emptied by fire, not by the 1967 riots. Nowhere did I see any evidence of any landlord repairing fire damage. “Fire insurance gets cancelled and that’s it, baby,” says George Fontaine. As a consequence, buildings are closed and shuttered despite a pressing need for housing. Taxes fall, and the landlord waits for the urban-renewal bulldozer and a “fair price” for his property.


Newark, unlike, say, Detroit, is a city of renters. Though much of the adequate or salvageable housing one sees is of a kind that ought to encourage owner-occupancy, landlords who want to sell cannot find buyers. It is not solely a question of Newark slum dwellers’ lack of money. There are workers in the Central Ward, as there are in Bedford-Stuyvesant or Roxbury, who could make down payments and meet mortgage payments out of rentals. It does happen in other Newark-like cities, why not Newark?

“Fixing one house in a block is a waste of time,” one discouraged owner told me. “Maintenance men won’t come into the neighborhood for fear of being mugged, or losing their tools. You can’t get fire insurance. The only people willing to live here are problem tenants, and they steal the fixtures and strip out the plumbing. The buildings were not built to carry the traffic of large families. Taxes are confiscatory. So, anyone who can afford to buy says the hell with it. What you need is an intelligent mass program of upgrading an area. Maybe, then, if a guy is sure an area is going up, he’ll do something.”

Even in better neighborhoods, houses are hard to sell. On a house worth $20,000, a Newark homeowner pays $1536 in property taxes; on the same value in nearby Irvington, the homeowner pays $825 a year. “I wouldn’t mind the taxes if I got more services for the money,” I was repeatedly told. When pressed for examples, the service most wanted turned out to be more police protection.

Crime and taxes. That’s what you hear from almost everyone over twenty-one in Newark. Newark is a city of scared people. A businessman is quick to tell of a friend “held up at knifepoint in his own office.” A black executive explains how he bought a $40,000 house in a quiet, safe section where “I get robbed only every other week.” At a prestigious law firm, it’s a house rule that a man must be in the office whenever women work into the evening, and he walks them to a cab, or otherwise sees them off safely. A white lawyer ticks off on his fingers the reasons for the recent move of his office to the suburbs, despite the fact that his Newark landlord hadn’t raised his rent in twelve years and that suburban rentals were up $6 and more a square foot as against $3.50 two years ago. “One, I can’t get clients to come into the city, not since the riots. Two, I can’t schedule night meetings, nor even Saturday meetings, day or night. And three, I can’t get experienced girls, who can go into suburban offices and get top pay and work without fear of molestation.” It even appears that the lure of big-city shopping during noon lunch hours no longer suffices, “not with those new shopping centers outside the city, not anymore.”

Newark, then, is a city of remnants—the poor, near-poor, the recent poor, and the just-making-it. Back in 1962, a spunky, ex-quarterback, World War II hero, and a sixterm liberal congressman, Hugh J. Addonizio, pulled together a coalition made up of dissident Democrats, liberals, Negroes, and Italians to defeat an old-line political machine.

Perhaps Addonizio’s coalition was faulted from the first. As Donald Malafronte, Addonizio’s aide, put it to me, “By 1966, the mayor began to lose liberal support—first, the liberal Jews were moving out rapidly; second, black responsiveness was coming on strong; and third, the Italians were never that liberal.” Blacks, too, felt they were overlooked when it came to appointments. In the 1966 election, a thirty-three-year-old black city engineer, Kenneth A. Gibson, garnered 16,000 votes to Addonizio’s 45,817 in a six-man race. It was enough to force a runoff election between the mayor and Leo Carlin, a former councilman and mayor, who came in second with 18,740 votes. Addonizio won the runoff, but a serious crack had developed within the coalition. The 1967 riots finished it off.

Paradoxically, this is what will probably keep Addonizio in office for another term. “Realistically,” Malafronte told me, “the question in 1970 [given the percentages of eligible voters—47 percent white, 45 percent black] is, can the whites come up with a candidate who can muddle through until 1974, when population changes guarantee a black mayor? So far, the answer is Addonizio.” Many white voters firmly believe that only Addonizio stands between them and a black militant as mayor; and many black voters just as firmly believe that only Addonizio stands between them and Anthony Imperiale, aggressive organizer of urban white vigilantes, Newark’s leading Wallaceite, elected to the city council in 1968 on a safety-in-the-streets campaign. Also, there is the nitty-gritty of city politics. To put it positively, as the mayor did to me, “Every department in the city has been integrated, and black people will tell you that this was not the case before my election.” These are, in the contemptuous phrase of a black militant, “city hall blacks.” “Addonizio,” added another, “controls the Welfare Department [headed by a black, Mrs. Larrie Stalks], and a majority on welfare are blacks who are afraid of losing their relief checks.” So, the mayor, a shrewd man, does have a built-in black vote, barring any drastic change in voter mood or temper.

Ken Gibson, who recognizes that he needs white votes to become mayor, says, “The job really is not to be a black candidate, but to be a people’s candidate and not get hung up on the racial thing.” Sitting in as the City Council hears budget testimony, one sees how difficult it is for Newark to avoid that particular hang-up. Short, stocky, with closely cropped hair, and back muscles tense beneath a black finger-length jacket, Gibson faces the Council and asks about the Council’s “obsession with giveaway programs.” Challenging what he calls “the secret giveaway” of the facilities of the Water Department to a proposed autonomous Water Authority, Gibson softly asks, “Is the administration unable to manage the city’s resources, or is it out to remove as much power as possible from future administrations?”

Beefy, black-haired Imperiale glowers at him, “I’m sure—bein’ as you’re running for mayor—you’re concerned about taxes. . . . Now, we’re paying $14,000 for a structural engineer—that’s you—so as we don’t go outside. We still have to go outside the city, bring in people to do the work you’re unable to perform . . .”

Later, in talking with me, Imperiale comes on even tougher, calling Gibson “a liar and a hypocrite.” Though he has a racist reputation among liberals, Imperiale denies it. “I live in a slum area,” he told me, “but soap and water are cheap. We keep our house and street clean, and so do my neighbors—Turks, Puerto Ricans, and Negroes and Italians. One block from me is a housing project with a majority Puerto Rican and Negro. I did pretty good in that area.”

A small contractor and a karate instructor turned politician, Imperiale describes himself as “mainly a self-educated guy.” He views his election as “the start of something new, something where people no longer are going for machines and are going for the man.” It’s not a new note in our politics, though there is a slightly different pitch. “It’s like old Western days,” Imperiale explains, “with suburbanites trying to box us in. They’re saying, ‘We’ll help you, but stay in Newark.’ ”

Since his election, it is said, Imperiale has toned down, “become a statesman.” When I asked about the possibilities of a black mayor, he said, “I don’t think they got a strong black candidate. Too many of the good Negro leaders are still in the woodwork and are afraid to come out. If there is a good one, you can bet your bottom dollar, I’ll jump on his bandwagon.”

“Some people call me conservative,” says Imperiale. A Newarkian Poujadist, I’d say, except that he doesn’t reflect the small shopkeeper mentality so much as that of the small taxpayer, the recent poor, and those who have just made it. These are the people who are thumbing down school bond issues and who back welfare budget cuts by state legislators.

Race makes the black and white people of Newark antagonists, yet they are more alike in their fears and hatreds, and perhaps in their aspirations and hopes, than the politics of confrontation would allow. The similarities in their response to city hall, crime, and welfare are striking. Hardly a Newarker now alive believes that his city government is honest. Wherever I went, I was assured that a big scandal was about to break.

In trying to get behind rumors to hard leads, the best I could find was a likelihood that Newark’s poverty program might suffer similar weaknesses—some corruption and thievery—to those recently exposed in New York City. Still, as Governor Hughes’ Select Commission on Civil Disorder soberly put it, “There is a widespread belief that Newark’s government is corrupt.” Since the riot, a grand jury has been looking into this, but so far with little success. The only indictment handed down was one against Police Director Dominick A. Spina for criminal nonfeasance. Allegedly, Spina was lax in the enforcement of gambling laws. However, busting up gamblingin Newark is rather like sweeping back the sea into a tidal basin, and perhaps in recognition of this, Spina was acquitted.

Obviously, a common scorn of city government, or even a like fear of crime, is not enough to bring together people who are at odds over crucial economic issues. The whites of Newark blame the blacks for driving up the costs of living in the city; the blacks, the whites for blocking their way to well-being. Translated into politics, the Imperiales emphasize savings, while the Gibsons emphasize the need to spend more to cure the ills of society. “It’s up to the administration to keep down unnecessary appropriations,” Imperiale told me. Since even he admits that budget cuts couldn’t save Newark from bankruptcy, Imperiale does “look for a little home rule to enable the city to look for funds without [state] legislation, a head tax at the airport, and a payroll tax for people who don’t live in the city.” But, he quickly adds, “you could put all these taxes on, and in another five years we’d be in the same boat unless you put controls on.”

Kenneth Gibson, who takes Imperial’s attacks lightly (after all, they do him no harm among black voters), worries about the money question, too. But like Addonizio, he counts on more state and federal aid. “What I think I could do,” Gibson told me, “is create a climate of respect and honesty. You can’t expect the state and federal governments to allocate money to an administration they feel is corrupt. They gave him over $11 million last year in state aid, and they haven’t got a proper accounting of what happened to that $11 million. Pickets and demonstrations are not going to make those guys shake loose with more money.”

Black power is lustily present in Newark, but increasingly it moves in the spirit of Newark’s successful annual Crispus Attucks Parade. “It is better to March with Pride than to March in Protest.” True, “Burn, Baby, Burn” flickers in the slums, black youth shut down Rutgers-inNewark for a short time and are likely to create more rather than fewer disturbances at the colleges and in the city schools. And, too, predictions of more and worse riots are heard, among both blacks and whites. The middle classes still flee the city, and bankruptcy appears imminent. I left agreeing with Don Malafronte’s remark, “Wherever our cities are going, I’ll bet Newark gets there first.”