by Karetha Cooper


My Grandparents moved to Newark in the summer of 1960. She lived on 13th Street over by Park Avenue. By the time I was born, my parents and my brother and I moved to 13th Avenue.

I remember going downtown Newark as holiday snow fell in big flakes. All the shop windows were lit with beautiful "Old Fashioned" Christmas attire and people were bustling here and there shopping. I remember the smell of pretzels warming on the corner where Bamberger's used to be. Everything was magical and all seemed right with the world. 
I also remember holding my mom's hand tight because I'd heard my family talking about how high the tension was everywhere because Blacks were moving toward demanding their civil rights. How Blacks wanted to sit down and get served at the Woolworth's lunch counter like the everyone else.

I remember being in our apartment and hearing faraway gunshots and wailing police sirens and people screaming.  

My mom told me that when she and my aunt (my father's sister) went to Haynes Department Store to apply for a job my aunt didn't get the job because she was "too dark", yet my mom got the job since she could almost pass for a white girl. I cried in my bed that night because I am the same beautiful brown as my aunt. Didn't God create everyone equal? Doesn't he love us all the same? This is what I'd always been taught, I didn't understand why we were not good enough in the White person's eyes since we were all the same to God. Go figure.

I remember going on Springfield Avenue with my mother where she purchased a beautiful cashmere coat with a fur collar (she still has it to this day and it's worth a small fortune). She couldn't try it on in front of other customers, but the shop keeper let us go in the back so my mom could try it on. He was a very nice older gentleman with an accent, who seemed to be sympathetic to our struggle. I remember my mother showing me the place where she'd purchased her wedding gown. I remember going to Branch Brook Park for picnics in the summer, there would always be someone playing a guitar or the drums or dancing. In the winter we'd go to the ice skating rink also in Branch Brook Park where this friendly young girl taught us how to ice skate. She didn't care that we didn't look like her.

I remember when Dr. Martin Luther King was murdered, I didn't understand then the way I do now. I remember when Robert Kennedy was murdered, I didn't understand then the way I do now. The city of Newark mourned for them both in a way that I can only know through other people's experiences of that time. I was just too young.

Every now and then my family still talks of how grand Newark used to be. How everything was bigger than life and lights were bright at night, and how people really dressed up to go out on Saturday nights, and how women wore gloves everywhere and men wore ties.  

I remember the tie-dyed shirts the long hair, peace, love and afros, the Supremes, the Temptations the Four Tops, Elvis, Ray Charles...


Email this memory to a friend.
Enter recipient's e-mail: