Newark Unveiled: ‘twas an exciting Place
by Kofi Ayim
Once upon a time, the city of Newark, New Jersey, was an exciting place to live. This
assessment was made by two historic political figures with insightful knowledge and understanding of New Jersey’s largest city. Hon. Mildred Crump and Hon Sheila Oliver made this remark in a chit chat session with Mr. Guy Sterling, a former New Jersey Star Ledger Reporter, at the Newark Public Library March 10, as part of “Newark at 350” celebrations organized by the Newark Public Library Hon. Mildred Crump who arrived in Newark from Detroit in 1965, already a political and community activist, said she initially thought of Newark as a concrete jungle but later
realized that it was a city worth living in. “Bergen Street was bustling and alive with businesses and activities” she said.
She said that attempts in 1978 and 1982 to elect a black woman to city government were not successful because of fierce resistance and competition from the wholly male establishment. She then decided to run for
office in 1986 but was not successful. It was not until 1994 that she made history by being sworn in as the first female and African American woman to be elected to the Newark City Council. In 2006 she became the first female Council President and again elected to the presidency in 2013. Hon. Crump made no apologies in pointing out that when she first arrived in City Hall in 1994, there was more respect for women outside City Hall than inside.
Hon. Sheila Oliver on her part, said Newark was the place to live when bus fare was fifteen cents. She said generationally, high school students in Newark were more conscious and enlightened about issues within and outside their communities than most other high schoolers elsewhere. She remarked that the aftermath of the 1967 riots of Newark facilitated Black Topological Libraries not only in Newark, but in other cities to re-educate people of color through symposia, seminars and forums. Historians believe that the Newark riots of 1967 impacted the City. She added that Weequahic High School, was one of the best to attend with first top notched teachers, most of whom could have been college presidents but for discrimination and racism that existed at the time.
Hon. Sheila Oliver, an East Orange resident said she worked for the City of Newark after high school in 1970 and later in 1999 worked her way up to become the President of the Board of Education for the City of East Orange. She eventually run for Mayor in East Orange in 1997 where she learnt her first political hard lessons. She said after happily retiring to bed with a presumed 1200 lead over her closest competitor, she woke up the next day to learn that she had lost the elections by 51 votes. She also served on the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders. She was elected to the New Jersey General Assembly in 2004, representing the 34th Legislative District, and became the first African American female Speaker of the New Jersey General Assembly in November 2009. Nationwide, she’s the second African American woman to hold the position of a State Assembly Speaker.
Both Mildred Crump and Sheila Oliver share some parallel backgrounds and traits. Brought up in Detroit and
Newark respectively with doses of civic and community activism, and described as “a rebel with a cause” these fearless and non-manipulative female lawmakers are fiercely grounded in their convictions as fighters for social justice and common causes, helping to empower and speak for the poor and the voiceless.
The Newark at 350 event moderator Guy Sterling has published a book The Famous, the Familiar, and the Forgotten: 350 Notable Newarkers that was on sale at the event.