The Riots from Down Neck

by Rich Olohan


I was 11 years old when the riots occurred, sending Newark into a downward spiral, a spiral that is still apparent on some Newark Streets today,37 years later. Down Neck aka The Ironbound section of Newark lies on the eastside of Penn Station. The violence, the rioting never physically touched Down Neck Penn Station stood as a barrier, a frontier fortress standing between the riots and my neighborhood.

I remember the adults talking about business owners being openly armed, "just in case". The neighborhood taverns filled with their patrons talking about bearing arms to protect their homes. Some spoke as if opening day of the hunting season was nearing. Anthony Imperiale visited our closely knit neighborhood, promising to be there to protect us if the time ever came for such a need.

There were black residents Down Neck, but I don't remember seeing any walking the streets during this time. The housing projects, the majority of the tenants black, stood silent, the tenants fearful of reprisal for the violence occurring Uptown by Blacks. It changed the City and my youth.

After the riots, the bus rides with Mom uptown to go shopping ended. Many longtime neighbors left the City for the safety of the suburbs. Doubt began to show in Mom & Dad's faces when I declared my desire to attend Essex Catholic High School on Broadway in North Newark. It was a 2 bus trip each way, waiting for the connecting bus on Broad & Market Sts. My older brother was attending Essex at that time, and I did attend the school in the Fall of 1969. It would be a few more years that the after effects of the riots were felt at the school and sent it and it's declining registration to East Orange. I am not claiming this to be the demise of Essex catholic ,officially, but I personally believe that the racial tensions in the post riot days sounded the death knell of a great Newark Institution.

Yes, today there is hope in the City of Newark, a "renaissance", a "rebirth", is happening there. The scars of the 1967 riots will always be a part of Newark. Healing has begun, but the recovery process will take more than a lifetime, more than my lifetime at least. I always say that people look for the bullet holes in me even today when I tell them that I grew up in Newark.


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