From Summer Camp to the Newark Riots

by Ron Lewis


It was the third year that my twin brother Greg and I were at summer camp when the riots started. There was a rumor going around camp that something was happening in Newark. We were able to find a newspaper that someone left at the mess hall. I and some of the other campers from Newark read about the violence that was happening but we just didn’t understand it or the reason. I remember one camper said that he lived close to the area the paper was describing. We were confused but not really afraid of going home. When the last day of camp came we were packed and said our good-byes to our friends and than boarded the bus back home.

In the pervious years our bus left from Green St. next to Newark City Hall and came back the same way with our parents waiting for us, so we can show them what we made and the stories we couldn’t wait to tell them. But on this trip coming back we didn’t come to City Hall, we were detoured to School Stadium on Bloomfield Ave. on the other side of the city. Just before our bus was coming in to Newark one of the counselors sitting at the front of the bus made an announcement that we are going to School Stadium and our parents will be there to pick us up.

When we turn on to Bloomfield Ave. we saw something that was unbelievable. The National Guard was set up here and we saw soldiers in their green uniforms, helmets, rifles, trucks and armored vehicles. Looking up and down from inside the bus all you could see were several street blocks of people and equipment in army green. You can see a police officer was directing our bus where to park. When the bus came to a complete stop a smiling adult boarded and ask us if we all had a good time. Than he told us that we are going to get off, get our duffel bags and other belonging from the bus storage compartments and wait on the sidewalk for our parents to pick us up. Being young we though it was cool seeing all the activities around us.

After the bus was empty of passengers and luggage it drove off. One by one we saw parents picking up their kids, but we were becoming the last to be picked up and than we started to be a little concern. We knew our Uncle Esmo was picking us up and we were looking for his car. We finally heard him calling us and we pick up our bags and ran to his car. On our way home we were expecting to see the same images that we saw from the pictures in the newspaper, but everything looked the same when we left two weeks ago. I than told my uncle that we read about a riot in the paper and he told us that was “up the hill”. We lived in the ironbound section (“down neck”) of Newark at the Hyatt Court public housing project where we were no where near the disruption. We always referred to Springfield Ave. and above as “up the hill” and having a reputation of being the rough section of Newark. When we got out of our uncle’s car we could see our mother in the third floor window waving at us.

Most of the evening was talking about our trip, eating a welcome home dinner, watching television and enjoying the new bedroom furniture that our mother surprises us with. Everything wasn’t all that different. Until the evening came, because the entire city had a 10:00 pm curfew and no one was allow on the streets after that time. The store and tavern across the street had to close early so the only lights that were on were the street lamps and overhead entrance lights at each building. There was an unfamiliar silence around the neighborhood since it was a weekend. There was no loud jukebox music, no singing quartet, no laughing or arguing. The only thing that was moving was the black and white police cars with the single cone shape revolving red light on its roof patrolling up and down the street.

In the next month our uncle took us to our barber shop that was on Springfield Ave. Driving up you could see the stores that were burned out, windows broken, security gates bended out of shape and blocks of boarded up doors. There was a five & dime store with a fish market next to it on Springfield Ave. near Irvine Turner Blvd. that my mother would go to shop. All that was left was a shell of a building with the interior totally ransack and void of any merchandise.

We don’t have the war stories that others had living in the riot area but it did affect the entire city one way or the other. I don’t think I will ever forget that summer.


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