Newark '67 Center Stage at Rutgers MTW Lecture Series

Feb 19, 2017

Historians Thomas Segrue and Alondra Nelson at The 37th Annual Marion Thompson Wright Lecture Series, Rutgers-Newark.
Credit Ishmael Martinez / WBGO

There were 163 reported protests, riots, rebellions, and uprisings across the United States in the summer of '67.  No communities more impacted than Detroit and Newark.  Max Herman is the author of ‘Summer of Rage: An Oral History of the 1967 Newark and Detroit Riots’.  He says that year is difficult for many residents of both cities to revisit.

“In Newark it has been commemorated but in Detroit, I think for the first time they’re having a program this summer,” Herman said.

67’ has been more recognized and commemorated in Newark, Herman says some residents want it put to rest.

“They worry that Newark is characterized by this one event, fairly or unfairly, and people fail to look at the larger context and the positive aspects of Newark.”

There’s a bit of controversy over what to call the events of 67’. Are they riots?  Rebellions?  Professor Herman explains.

“Whether you call them rebellions, uprisings, riots and so on.  As soon as you start putting those labels on the event, you start dividing people up into camps.  Some people call it a riot will not talk to people who call it a rebellion.  People that call it a rebellion will not talk to people who call it a riot.”

Historian Thomas Sugrue, a professor at New York University calls it an uprising. 

“The uprisings had all sorts of affects short and long term,” Sugrue said.

Sugrue says it’s difficult for people to detach the reputation of a city from one of its most infamous moments.

“But I think it’s important to, what happened in Newark in 1967 was a result of generations of violence, of predation, of exploitation, of neglect.  What happened afterwards wasn’t just a consequence of 1967, but it was an outgrowth of public policies and social movements that had deep roots.”

In today’s political climate, Professor Sugrue says those roots are as deep as they’ve ever been.

“As a historian I don’t want to look into a crystal ball and make predictions but what I can say is over the last several years we’ve seen an intensification of protest.  Protest about criminal justice, protests about the deaths of African American men at the hands of police, protest against the current Administration and its immigration policy.  It’s possible if the grievances of the protestors aren’t addressed that folks may take more extreme measures.”

Protest organizations gather at the Rebellion Monument in Newark’s central ward every July.  They’ll show up in large numbers for the 50th anniversary, but don’t expect extreme measures.  Expect an emotional gathering of family members who lost loved one’s during those hot summer days in 1967.