What Caused the 1967 Newark Rebellion?

March with No Med School signs

As indicated above, not all acts of resistance during the Rebellion were violent.  New levels of anger over combined forces of police brutality and the medical school project resulted in widespread community opposition from a variety of diverse activist groups.

Three Key Causes of the 1967 Rebellion:

URBAN RENEWAL

Newark had one of the most active urban renewal programs in the country. The plan to build a massive medical school on 150 acres in the Central Ward angered residents, mainly people of color, who would lose their homes. Community member Louise Epperson organized public meetings against the medical school. Grassroots opposition grew with the creation of the Committee Against Negro and Puerto Rican Removal. After the rebellion subsided and thanks to community protests, an agreement for less acreage to build the school passed.

LACK OF POLITICAL POWER

In 1967, Newark appointed an African American educator to serve as the president of the school board. Whites occupied the remaining seats. Since Newark had recently become a black majority city, with the African American population topping 50 percent in 1965, parents challenged the board’s ability to represent their interests. When the position of secretary to the board opened, Mayor Addonzio appointed James Callaghan over the more qualified Wilbur Parker, New Jersey’s first African American certified public accountant. Community members questioned why they had so little control over their children’s future.

POLICE MISCONDUCT

The New Jersey Afro-American reported on several incidents of police brutality between 1964-1965. Benjamin Banker died under mysterious circumstances while being held in police custody.  On June 12, 1965 Lester Long was shot and killed by a police officer. A few weeks later Bernard Rich died in a jail cell. Activists took to the streets but Mayor Addonizo refused to organize a civilian review board. Instead, he launched the Newark Police-Community Relations Training Program to settle tensions.

 

THE PREDICTABLE INSURRECTION OF '67

A July 1967 traffic stop went awry when police beat John Smith, a young, black taxi driver. Rumors of his death sparked several days of violence in Newark's Central Ward.  Businesses were looted. The streets became a war zone of indiscriminate shootings by Newark and New Jersey police forces and the heavily militarized National Guard.

Crowd with Civilian Review Board Signs

Protesters demand a civilian review board in 1965. Robert Curvin, leader of the Essex County chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), warned that the “people were fantastically aggrieved” over the lack of police accountability following the arrest of cab driver John Smith. 

 

  

 “Urban renewal had the effect of driving a wedge through the heart of Newark’s black community.”

– Max Herman, Historian