Newark History Society program will uncover historical touch points from city’s colonial period

The Newark History Society’s next program in their series marking Newark’s 350th anniversary, “Puritans, Protestors, and Patriots: Newark in the Colonial Period,” will take place in NJPAC’s Chase Room on Monday, April 18 at 6:00 p.m.

Even after 350 years, fully one-third of Newark’s long history took place in the 117 years from the founding in 1666 to the surrender of the British in 1783 at the end of the American Revolution. Timothy Crist, who was educated at Yale and Cambridge University, and is also the co-founder and president of the Newark History Society, will discuss key themes related to Newark’s Puritan founders, the town builders and land protestors who followed them, and the patriots and loyalists who fought and suffered in the American Revolution.

This program is open to the public at no charge, and light refreshments will be available.

Newark History Society will hold opening reception for 350th anniversary exhibition

newark celebration 350 cardThe Newark History Society has announced the opening reception for an exhibition entitled Newark at 350: Settlement, Growth, Renewal and the launch of the program series Newark Lifetimes: Recollections & Reflections. The reception will take place Tuesday, January 19th from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. at the Newark Public Library.

The Settlement, Growth, Renewal exhibit is curated by Thomas Ankner, a professional genealogist and librarian of the Charles F. Cummings Information Center at the Newark Public Library, and traces Newark’s history from its founding 350 years ago to the present the day.

The Newark Lifetimes series will feature local author and historian Guy Sterling in conversation with several notable Newarkers, including attorney Donald Karp, who also once served as vice chairman of Independence Community Bank and chairman and CEO of Broad National Bank, and Dr. Victor Parsonnet, who pioneered cardiovascular procedures here in New Jersey.

Those who plan to attend the opening are encouraged to RSVP to rsvp@npl.org.

Honor Academy Award winning Newark composers Jerome Kern and Ralph Rainger at a History Society event this month

Celebrate the golden age of film and the beautiful scores that came out of Newark long ago at the Newark History Society’s new program “Music in Early 20th Century Newark: The Rise of Jerome Kern and Ralph Rainger, Newark’s Academy Award Winning Composers,”  on November 16.

At the dawn of the 1900s, Newark had a thriving arts scene that produced two of America’s greatest composers in the first half of the century, Jerome Kern and Ralph Rainger. The program will discuss and celebrate the work of these men.

Both men won Academy Awards for Best Original Song. Kern won in 1936 for “The Way You Look Tonight” from the film “Swing Time,” and in 1941 for “The Last Time I Saw Paris” from the film “Lady Be Good.” Rainger won in 1939 for “Thanks for the Memory” from the film “The Big Broadcast.”

The program will be hosted by Guy Sterling, author of The Famous, the Familiar and the Forgotten: 350 Notable Newarkers. Sterling is also a former reporter from the Star-Ledger, where he wrote about musical history in and around Newark. In 2007, he won the ASCAP Deems Taylor award, the most prestigious honor in music writing.

The event is free to the public, and will include light refreshments. The program will take place at 6 p.m. at the historical society located at 52 Park Place in Newark.

Interested attendees are encouraged to RSVP by emailing NewarkHistorySociety@verizon.net or by calling 973-376-8273.

Featured image courtesy of the Newark History Society

Traveler’s Newark: New Jersey History Society Walking Tours

The New Jersey Historical Society walking tours are a mini history lesson packed in a lunch break slot. In partnership with Military Park, NJHS offers midday tours around the park while giving the attendees a lesson of the park’s history.

“The history of the park goes all the way back to the 1600’s, so the tours cover the history of the park. The tours also talk about the buildings surrounding the park and the history of the city,” said Steve Tettamanti, executive director of the Historical Society.

Maribel Jusion-Iturralde, the Historical Society’s director of education and a 17-year alum of the institution, conducts the walking tours. Along with the physical scenery of the park, Jusion-Iturralde provides accompanying material such as vintage post cards and newspaper clippings, to give visitors an idea of what life was like decades earlier. Tour attendees range from students to families to business professionals.

“The best part of the tour is when you see the eyes of the tourists open up when you tell them some history about the park or the city,” said Jusion-Iturralde.

“You know that they’re participating and they’re excited and they get it,” she continued.

The idea of object-based and interactive teaching is one that the society employs in all their educational programs, both inside and outside their classrooms. On the third floor of the Historical Society’s Park Place building, Jusion-Iturralde stores props and antique devices that she uses in teaching students about the lives of New Jersey residents during the Civil War era.

“It’s part of a critical thinking exercise. I show students the props or images and discuss what it was used for. You don’t just want to teach them facts; you want them to participate in the learning experience.”

From teaching in the classroom to tours outside of them, Jusion-Iturralde stresses the importance of teaching not just history, but the lives of the people that were a part of it. “History is about sharing stories, and that’s what I’m doing.”


 

New Jersey History Society tours take place on Fridays and Saturdays at 12:30 p.m. in Military Park. The New Jersey History Society is located at 52 Park Place.

A traveler’s Newark: The New Jersey Historical Society is a sight to see in Newark

A Traveler's Newark highlights sites and experiences in Newark ideal both for natives looking to rediscover the city and for visitors interested in exploring it.

If something has been around for nearly 170 years, it must be doing something right. That’s why if you’re ever in Newark you should make it a point to check out the New Jersey Historical Society (NJHS), located in the downtown district.

The NJHS is the oldest private non-profit cultural institution in New Jersey. It started out as a library and an archive, and eventually transitioned into a museum. The society has called the Brick City its home since 1846. (Coincidently, 1846 was also the same year in which the first ever game of our national pastime, baseball, was played right here in New Jersey.) Despite being located in its current location at 52 Park Place for only 17 years, NJHS still provides a great insight into our nation’s past through the lens of New Jersey’s history. The books, exhibits, and other artifacts that the NJHS has acquired over the years is expansive enough that it takes a library and two floors to showcase just fragments of the impressive collection. Most of the unseen exhibits are kept in climate-controlled rooms until they are cycled into display.

The five-floored building, which was once a luncheon club, features the library on the top floor. Here, members and historians can often be found immersed in textbooks conducting research or exploring for their own knowledge. On the second and third floors is where the exhibits are on display. The exhibits are set up and interchanged depending on their educational purpose, timeliness, and popularity. Paintings, photos, maps, artifacts, letters, furniture, equipment, and uniforms are just some of the many items on showcase to the public and for member tours. The NJHS also plays host to gatherings, lectures, and other events, collaborating with numerous New Jersey organizations whenever possible.

Some may assume that reach and searchability of the internet means museums like NJHS are obsolete. However, its clear after touring NJHS that there is no substitute for seeing some of these historical artifacts up close and in person, and hearing the historical facts and stories that the guide combines with the tour.

“It’s all about education,” said Steven Tettamanti, acting executive director of NJHS. “Education drives our exhibits.”

So stop by NJHS Tuesday through Saturday, 10am to 5pm at 52 Park Place. You might learn a thing or two. 

 

Native son Bob Curvin assesses his city with ‘Inside Newark’

The first thing you need to know about Robert Curvin is that on the night of July 12, 1967, when the air outside of the Fourth Precinct in the Central Ward was fraught with anger and tension in response to a black cab driver named John Smith being beaten and dragged into the police station by his feet, Robert Curvin was the young black civil rights activist who twice got on top of a car with a bullhorn and urged the people in the gathering crowd not to resort to violence.

“I mounted a car that was parked in front of the building and told the crowd that the prisoner was alive, that this was another example of police mistreatment of black citizens, but that we should not respond with violence,’’ he recalls in his book, Inside Newark: Decline, Rebellion, and the Search for Transformation. “We could not win or accomplish anything that way. I urged the crowd to organize a peaceful march to City Hall where we would let the mayor and city officials know that we would not accept this kind of treatment anymore.’’

Of course, as history tells us, that did not happen. Rocks started flying, and the city exploded into five days of violence that left 26 people dead and over 200 seriously injured. Property damage was estimated at more than $10 million. Inside

Newark (Rutgers University Press, July 2014) is Curvin’s take on the last 60 years of Newark history, with an emphasis on how the city has struggled to transform itself since the devastation of 1967.

It is a subject Curvin knows well, both as a long-time Newark resident and as an expert in urban politics with a long and impressive resume that includes the following: member of many Newark non-profit organizations; donor and adviser to political campaigns; Ph.D in political science from Princeton University; member of the editorial board of the New York Times, director of the Ford Foundation’s Urban Poverty Program; professor at Rutgers University and City University of New York.

Indeed, today, at age 80, Curvin is one of Newark’s well-respected elders. Or, as Curvin more modestly puts it in the introduction, “I’m the guy who gets the Newark questions at the party in New York or on a plane ride to Washington. Were you there during the riots? Do you know Cory Booker? Do you think he’ll be president someday?’’

Machine politics, the rise of black power and a modest agenda

The book covers a lot of familiar themes. There’s de-industrialization and the flight to the suburbs that began in the 1930s; the entrenched corruption and boss politics that seems to be a historical through line that still pervades city life today; the rise of black political power in the wake of the 1967 riots. Curvin ends the book with a seven-point “modest agenda’’ which essentially comes down to two things: fix the schools and increase civic engagement.

His hope, Curvin told me in an interview last week, is that the book will help promote dialogue about the depths of difficulty that exist in fostering change in an urban community like Newark where poverty is so deep and so pervasive.

The book is meticulous in its analysis and use of interviews, with more than 100 key figures about Newark’s recent past, as well as documentation culled from dozens of newspaper articles, academic studies and personal papers. Even Curvin’s acknowledgements are useful; they are a Who’s Who of people who know the city well.  (By the way: Of those 100+ interviews, about 60 were videotaped, and Curvin hopes to eventually make them available to the public through the Newark Public Library, a priceless gift.)

Dissecting the civil rights movement

Readers may be particularly interested in Curvin’s take on the civil rights movement in Newark, given his role as the co-founder of the Newark-Essex chapter of CORE (the Congress of Racial Equality) and the organization’s chairman from 1962 until 1966. He was not chair at the time of the 1967 riots.

Curvin, who at the time was a case worker for the Essex County Welfare Board, says CORE was on the vanguard of local civil rights efforts, taking on issues like discrimination in employment and education and the problem of police brutality. He chronicles, for example, how, in 1963, CORE, a racially integrated organization with members from Newark as well as the neighboring suburbs, worked with other local organizations to orchestrate a major campaign against discrimination in the building trades by picketing the Barringer High School construction site.

The efforts, he says, “accomplished a major objective by forcing the problem of racially closed unions onto the public agenda.’’ CORE and other groups also took on New Jersey Bell Telephone, and the resulting negotiations lead to the development of a training program on civil rights for management employees and a documentary aimed at minority high school students about how to prepare for a job.   

In contrast, Curvin argues, the Newark branch of NAACP had a cozy relationship with Newark’s boss mayor, Hugh Addonizo, making the organization reluctant to really shake things up. “Paradoxically, throughout the early 1960s, as protest throughout the nation attracted many new members to the NAACP, the Newark branch was effectively co-opted by the (Addonizo) administration, and thus became less effective,’’ Curvin writes.

Curvin also addresses the role of Tom Hayden and Students for a Democratic Society, who arrived in Newark in 1964 and then left after the 1967 riots. While Curvin offers a respectful critique of their organizing efforts, he notes Hayden’s group only operated in the Lower Clinton Hill neighborhood and ultimately concludes SDS could “only point to a few tiny victories.’’

Rating the mayors

Nor does Curvin hold back on some scorching criticism of the three black mayors who succeeded Addonizio, starting with Kenneth Gibson in 1970. Although Curvin concedes Gibson governed in difficult times, Curvin is ultimately disappointed with Gibson. “On the basis of the three important characteristics for effective mayoral leadership, Gibson might fairly receive an okay for management. However, on the matters of vision and integrity, he failed,’’ he writes.

As for Sharpe James, Curvin credits him for a lot of good things that happened in Newark – most especially for being the driving force behind the construction of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center – but he also argues that James’ record “is terribly marred in several ways. First, there is the stain of his conviction [in 2008, James was convicted of fraud in connection with the sale of nine city lots to a friend] and his transgressions for which he was not tried that continue to leave impressions of abuse of the public trust. Then there is the flaunting of conspicuous symbols of wealth like a Rolls-Royce, which is not a crime but certainly not something to convince the people of Newark he is worthy of their support. His record is also marred by his meanness and ruthless retaliation against organizations that did not support him. It is especially spoiled by his failure to focus on the needs of Newark’s poor citizens, particularly children.’’

Booker, too, is taken to task. While Curvin concedes Booker helped the city materially, he ultimately concludes: “The people in Newark, who initially bought into the vision and inspiring promises of Booker, ultimately saw a leader who overpromised, did not remain true to his pledges to avoid the traditional shady deals; was not around much and could not gain the support of the African American community, partly because he did not need it.’’

It’s the poverty

At its core, Curvin’s message is sobering. Despite all the hype about Downtown redevelopment, Newark’s “overarching problem,’’ he says, is concentrated poverty. “Its complications are most prominently manifested in the dysfunction of the schools, the pervasive violent crime, and the reality of joblessness for thousands of people, many of whom are young and who have no legitimate options for a safe and crime-free livelihood.’’

As Curvin sees it, dealing with pervasive unemployment is critical, and he advocates “a massive public service and public works program that can provide work opportunities for any adult who can show up.’’

So is fixing the schools, another huge undertaking that he says will require a rethinking of education in order meet the needs of a district where close to 40 percent of the children live in relatively deep poverty. “The problem of education in Newark is not the children, but the careless politics, and the antiquated, ineffective approaches that are simply inadequate to meet the special needs of poor children,’’ he writes.

Despite having spent the bulk of the book documenting the less-than stellar track record of Newark’s elected leaders, Curvin does have faith in people, and he ends the book with a call for increased civic engagement that brings all stakeholders – residents, non-residents, civic and business people – into the conversation.

“Newark leadership cannot alone solve the problem of unemployment or the shortage of affordable housing,’’ he writes. “But local leadership can take actions to make the city a better place. Granted, there are some people who will say that politics is politics and it will never change, particularly in a city that has been behaving in the same way for almost a century. However, I have seen the good and strong people who continually try to make Newark a better place. There are many, but they need the help of others and they need better leadership.’’


Robert Curvin will be talking about Inside Newark at a book signing at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center on Monday, July 28. The event, which begins at 6 p.m., will also feature a panel discussion with four veteran observers of Newark life and politics: Walter Chambers (moderator), Richard Cammarieri, Rebecca Doggett, and Warren Grover. The event is free and open to the public, but attendees are asked to RSVP at NewarkHistorySociety@verizon.net.