By the 1920s large numbers of Germans, Irish, Italians, and Jews (among them future New York City Mayor Edward Koch) had settled in Newark. African American migrants from the south were moving to the city as part of the Great Migration. Living separately but near each other, these communities competed for access to jobs, housing, and political power.
White ethnics dominated city hall. They didn’t give black people, who were a small but growing percentage of the population, a voice in government. Shut out of the political process, African Americans gained a foot in the door with the hiring of the first black police officer, Carlton B. Norris, in 1930. He was promoted to detective a few years later. Ironically, Norris developed a reputation as “not a friend to (black) folk” for his “heavy handed” use of the “Billy club.”
The first black person hired by the police with the intent to serve as a liaison and representative of “the community” had now become “persona non-grata” with the community. Relations between the police and the black community would grow into one of the most explosive issues in the city within a few decades.
“The type of politician that then began to dominate city hall was a self-made man, usually from the lower middle class, closely identified with specific ethnic, religious, or political group, and tending to speak for special interest rather than the general welfare.”
– Stanley Winters, Historian