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
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
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...