Rare Footage In The 1960s Shows New Jersey In A Completely Different Way

New Jersey is a diverse, vibrant state with a rich history. So many wonderful, interesting, and all-around amazing things have happened here… We were home to the world’s first drive-in movie theater (Camden County, 1933), the first brewery in America (Hoboken, 1642), and the first ever boardwalk was built in Atlantic City back in 1870. We’ve also had some life-changing inventions come out of the Garden State…air conditioning, bubble wrap, bar codes, vacuum cleaners, submarines… But not everything that has happened here is something to smile about.

There are things many would rather forget but it’s important to remember so that we can learn from the past. In our current cultural climate, perhaps we might be able gain relevant (and valuable) insight by looking back on the 1960s. As cops clash with minorities in inner cities and suburbs across the country, I wonder…what can we learn from race riots throughout history? While some may see inequality as something that only happened in the distant past, it wasn’t long ago when interracial marriage was illegal (until 1967). Many of us were alive then and if not us, our parents. The same year the Supreme Court declared anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional, race riots broke out in Newark.

These riots took place between July 12 and July 17. Over the four days of rioting, looting, and property destruction, 26 people died and hundreds were injured. Why did these riots take place? By 1967, Newark was one of the United States’ first majority-black cities, but was still controlled by white politicians. Racial profiling, redlining, and lack of opportunity in education, training, and jobs led the city’s African-American residents to feel powerless and disenfranchised. Specifically, many felt they had been largely excluded from meaningful political representation and were often subjected to police brutality.

Unemployment and poverty rates were very high and a push to clear tenement buildings left thousands of residents displaced. And, despite being one of the first cities in the country to hire black police officers, the majority of cops were white. Residents claimed black youths were frequently harassed for no reason but this wasn’t what caused the riots…all of this only contributed to the tension that came to a head when two Newark Police officers arrested and beat John Smith (an African American taxi driver). This perceived excessive force that occurred during this incident is what spurred the riots. Rumors that the cab driver was beaten to death (he was not) only added to the fury.

On July 12th, stones shattered police precinct windows but the riots died down after residents learned John Smith had been released. The next day, a peaceful march was planned to protest Smith’s beating. During the rally, an unidentified woman smashed the windows of the precinct with a metal bar… Things only went downhill from there. Soon, more and more people turned violent, shattering windows, and looting nearby stores. Molotov Cocktails were thrown into shops and the city burned. When all was said and done, 16 civilians, 8 “suspects,” a police officer, and a firefighter were dead; 353 civilians, 214 suspects, 67 police officers, 55 firefighters, and 38 military personnel were injured; and 689 civilians and 811 “suspects” were arrested. Property damage exceeded $10 million.

How could this tragedy have been prevented? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Please remember to be thoughtful and respectful. While you ponder this question, I recommend watching the short videos below for further insight. The first video comes from a British television network (British Pathe), the second from NJ.com:

What do you think of the footage? The way the events were covered? The same summer, race riots would take place in Plainfield following the killing of a local police officer. If you lived in New Jersey during the time or have first hand accounts of either, please share your stories. If you’re as fascinated by New Jersey’s history as I am, you can learn more about the Hamilton-Burr duel by clicking here.