ONCE IRISH NEIGHBORHOODS:
IMMIGRANT COMMUNITIES IN TRANSITION, 1910-1970

America has always built upon a wide mixture of ethnic and racial groups. There is a popular mythology that immigrants to America initially faced the basic problems of survival and then the equally formidable adaptation to an Anglo-Protestant culture. Recent scholarship has challenged this mythology by documenting the influx of many non-English immigrants and a surprising number of non-Protestants during all of America’s history. In the 19th century when large numbers of Irish and German immigrants presented themselves to America’s shores, the Protestant leadership (never completely homogeneous itself) worried that founding traditions would be eroded.
19th Century Immigrant Ships Out of Cork, Ireland

Their anxiety was both overly selective and myopic. The official Protestant establishment did not fully represent the diversity of the American citizenry, however much they insisted that their values were coincident with the country’s. Then and now, America’s national imagery and rhetoric have masked the ethnic and racial diversity of the country, and even more, the constructive contribution that immigrant ingenuity and energy have made in the shaping of American society.

Elizabeth NJ’s history is instructive in clarifying the dynamics of this larger national story. The 1868 HISTORY OF ELIZABETH NJ by Rev. Edwin Hatfield is a narrative of religious and political crises that reasonable and civil men settled among themselves. Hatfield was surely mindful in 1868

Rev. Nicholas Murray

of the larger (left: Hatfield’s HISTORY OF ELIZABETH front piece)crisis that the nation had faced in its Civil War. He implicitly offered one model of how a community reshaped itself through debate and legal processes. The author acknowledged a Dutch presence early on in the 17th century and spottily an African-American presence – usually associated with rioting and mayhem. Principally, however, it is a story of English-speaking Anglicans and Presbyterians tolerating each other within a Protestant framework. There is no mention of the Protestant backlash that drove out early Catholic residents from Elizabeth in the 1820s. There is also a great regard for the Presbyterian leader, Rev. Nicholas Murray but no mention of his part in the sale of land on the Southern side of the Elizabeth river for an early Catholic parish. By the 1840s the construction of railroads throughout central New Jersey put the NJ Railroad and Transportation company, the Elizabeth and Somerville Railroad and the Delaware and Lackawana Railroad on the alert for brawny laborers.

Irish Politician Caricature

The incoming Irish became a necessary labor resource, momentarily overcoming earlier fears of an alien and diabolical religious commitment. Murray sought to encourage a stabilizing church to insure a basic decorum and civility among the rough and untamed workmen, who they regularly depicted in their magazines with disparaging images.

Old St Mary’s Church

St Mary’s Church (f 1844) appeared on Elizabeth’s horizon in this context of tentative hospitality. And in part, the Protestant suspicion of Catholic Irishmen translated into a need for the Irish to use their church as a rallying point for their distinctive community. The Irish sense of themselves as a group apart was only underscored by the impact of the 1846 Irish potato famine.

Blessing Of The Departing Irish
Hordes of Irish left their homeland – indeed a quarter of their 8 million population died or departed as a consequence of the famine – for Canada, Australia and America. Even more important, for successive generations of Irish was the memory, not only of starvation but of English indifference. “God brought the potato blight,” one familiar adage insisted, “but the British brought the famine.
Irish Famine Family


Even into the 20th century Irishmen often buried their differences in the face of external threats by hostile Protestant cultures. The memory of a collective injury – made possible by popular woodcuts like those just shown - became an ongoing, reusable resource in keeping impacted Irish loyal to their church and sustaining themselves as a social oasis in crowded American cities.


Civil War Soldiers At Mass

In post Civil War America, the Irish had the distinct advantage of speaking the native tongue (or at least they thought they spoke English). Many Irish immigrants served on both sides of the Civil War and especially for veterans of the victorious Northern Army, many Protestants considered the Irish risk of life and limb for national unity merited the reward of US citizenship. Wartime loyalty trumped the suspicions about an Irish Catholic Church. Others were not so sure that eventually the Church allegiance would not be a Trojan Horse. This mixed assessment, however, was often complicated because the Irishmen’s English literacy meant easy access into many public employments – police units and fire companies, public school teaching, music and entertainment, and above all, labor unions and politics. By the early 20th century the Irish held a substantive presence in basic social and cultural roles: acting and education, government service and domestic work, and increasingly the health and legal professions. By adhering to special brands of self-effacing humor, poetic oratory, and a adaptive joie de vivre, Irishmen “assimilated” to American expectations by transforming America’s clichés of the Irish.

Old Sacred Heart

In spite of this expansive outreach into American culture the Catholic Church in America promoted self-consciously nationalistic churches. In Elizabeth St Mary’s was Irish in its origins and leadership, as was St Patrick’s (f 1858) in Elizabethport (though its longtime pastor was German - Rev Martin Gessner) and Sacred Heart (f1871) on Spring Street. St Michael’s (1852) was predominantly German; Sts Peter and Paul (1895) was Lithuanian; St Anthony’s (1895) was Italian; and St Adalbert’s (1905) was Polish; in 1973 Sacred Heart became Our

Our Lady of Fatima Church

Lady of Fatima and moved its allegiances from the Irish to Portuguese. But were these distinctly nationalistic parishes as homogeneous as they seemed, and if so, did their very coherence help or hinder the immigrant acquisition of an American inheritance? A recent sampling of St Mary’s neighborhood – based on data from the US Federal Census – shows some fascinating patterns in this “Irish” parish.

 

 

St. Mary's Neighborhood Statistics
 
1910
1920
1930
Europe
53%
45%
44%
       
Ireland
12%
9%
6%
Germany
12%
7%
5%
Other
29%
39%
34%
Italy
12%
16%
Russia
7%
7%
Poland
3%
2%
       
United States
47%
55%
24%
NJ
27%
27%
74%
NY
7%
11%
Other
12%
17%
Penn
6%
6%
South
8%
9%
Unknown
1%
--
--
       
Occupations
Unskilled
36%
28%
32%
Skilled
40%
44%
41%
Managerial
13%
15%
13%
Professional
3%
3%
5%
Unknown
7%
10%
9%

First, between 1910 and 1920 the neighborhood of St Mary’s parish shifts from 47% to 55% American born, half from New Jersey itself. The Irish born component of household heads represents but 12% of the entire sample. Even if we acknowledge that many of those born in New Jersey and New York had one or both parents born in Ireland or Germany, the Irish by 1920 represent fewer residents than the Italians – not to mention rising percentages from Poland and the Ukraine or indeed (8%) from Southern-born African Americans (living largely at the intersection of Washington Avenue and Pearl St). In spite of an over-whelming number of non-Irish neighbors, St Mary’s sustains an aura of a quintessential Irish church. What does this mismatch help us understand?


St. Nary's Neighborhood Map

Old St. Mary's Interior

First and foremost, the ethnic and religious variety of St Mary’s neighborhood draws special attention to the sociological truism that American Catholic parishes have stabilized urban neighborhoods for much of the 20th century. They did so primarily by providing their congregants, often working class communicants, not only with spiritual focus but with an array of social channels: youth activities like the scouts; young adult dances, literary associations, choir and picnics; Holy Name, Rosary and Sodality societies for seasoned members, and above all, organized sports for all seasons.

Old St. Mary's Exterior

St Mary’s provided these concentric circles of activity, filling many voids for congregants without leisure time or extra money for entertainment. In addition, the Sisters of Charity opened, first, in the 1870s an elementary school, then in 1930 a high school, plus an essential health care facility in St Elizabeth’s hospital. The entire network rooted neighborhood residents into their larger city community when, later in the inter war period and after World War II, less grounded households relocated to the suburbs. While many parishes aspired to such an organizational matrix, St Mary’s distinctively contributed an Irish tradition in the form of its pastors. With a few exceptions from the time of the Civil War, the names of St Mary’s pastors – Kane, Corrigan, Kiernan, O’Neill, Larkin – put a public face to a parish whose actual Irish-born members was steadily declining.

Rev Francis O’Neill

In the first third of the 20th century two men – Rev Francis O’Neill and Rev James Lundy – led the parish from 1891 to 1936. In 1930 Pastor James Lundy, age 32, like his curates – Rev. James Neafsey and Thomas Conroy – were all young NJ natives with Irish immigrant parents. Similarly in 1930 nine of the 15 nuns (average age 48) residing in St Mary convent on South Broad street, had at least one Irish born parent. The convent head – Sr Loretta Cecelia O’Leary, age 53 – a NJ native, nevertheless had both parents Irish immigrants.

St Mary’s and High School

Not all neighborhood adolescents attend St Mary’s of course; many non-Catholics from this neighborhood clearly attended public school. Hence into the 1960s most of St Mary’s Elementary and High School students posted a selective roster of Irish, Italian, Polish and a sprinkling of German and Lithuanian names. Still, given their public face and leadership, the parish was “Irish.”

It is perhaps worth noting that parishes like St Mary’s and earlier Sacred Heart became successful not simply because of organizational and fiscal probity. Later principals of St Mary’s High School like

Sr Mary Matilda Zegers

Sr Matilda Zegers SC underscores the point. Sr. Matilda (principal at St Mary’s for 27 years [elem 1961-64] [St M HS 1964-87]) was a formidable presence but sought most of all to create an institutional esprit, an non-ethnic organizational culture that prodded both students and teachers alike to overachievement.. She and her teachers, one interviewee insisted, “would literally will their class to come along with them: we’re going to learn this – we will learn this … I think they had expectations that were obtainable … for about 50 kids in a class!” The same elevating espirt, others have attributed to Sr Matilda’s fellow Sister of Charity,

St Elizabeth’s Hospital

Sr. Ellen Patricia Mead, who for many years shaped St Elizabeth’s Hospital into a facility that the neighborhood and the city felt was cutting edge.

It is not clear how another “Irish” neighborhood acquired its ethnic characterization. Keighry Head had originally called itself simply “North Elizabeth.” From its development for factory workers by Edward Kellogg in the 1850s, the area centered on an area named after Kellogg family members: Julia, Laura, Olive, Mary, Emma, Flora, Anna and straddled Spring St (now Rtes 1 & 9). The emergent Irish population probably had issues with German-dominant parish of St Michael’s which insisted strongly on German baptismal names whatever the family tradition.


Map of Keighry Head Area

Interior - Old Sacred Heart

(Ex: Henrich O’Malley, Wilhem Gatti] In 1871 the Newark archdiocese created a new parish, first St Henry’s, then in the early 1880s renamed it Sacred Heart. The new parish was staffed by the Order of St Benedict from Newark’s St Mary’s Abbey and led by a sequence of leaders of German and Irish descent. They too quickly created an elementary and then a high school and many of the larger social networks that paralleled St Mary’s organization. Similar to St Mary’s but more rapidly, Sacred Heart’s neighborhood continued to increase its foreign-born percentage, with German-born household heads representing (29%) to the Irish-born (20%).

 

 

Keighry Head Stats Place of Origins
 
1910
1920
1930
Europe
57%
62%
50%
       
Germany
29%
22%
13%
Ireland
20%
21%
18%
Other
8%
19%
19%
       
United States
42%
37%
51%
NJ
20%
20%
29%
NY
13%
8%
9%
Other
9%
9%
13%
       
* Six of these household heads were African American born in southern states of Georgia, Alabama, and the Carolinas and residing mostly on Olive St. In the 1910 sample only one Southerner appeared a white Alabaman. In the 1930 census three African American households appear, two on Olive Street.
Occupations
Unskilled
17%
15%
28%
Skilled
54%
62%
49%
Managerial
17%
12%
11%
Professional
--
--
--
Unknown
12%
9%
12%

Singer Sewing Machine Company

German and Irish over the next two decades. The percentage of foreign-born, however, did not decrease but increased to a solid half of the residents, drawing upon the incoming dislocated of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. By 1930 Keighry Head’s Irish-born immigrants represented but 18% of our neighborhood sample. Perhaps more to the point, possibly because of greater proximity to the Singer Sewing Machine plant, half of Keighry Head residents in the 1910-30 period were skilled laborers, benefiting by union-buttressed wages and with decidedly American middle-class aspirations.

Moving Sacred Heart

In the 1920s, as America’s war production converted to peacetime industry, the state of New Jersey decided to expand access to the Holland tunnel and Hudson river crossings. In Elizabeth they planned to widen Spring Street from a busy, tree-shaded, two-lane highway into a modern multi-laned thoroughfare. This expansion divided Keighry Head and indeed Sacred Heart parish. Immediately the Newark diocese created in the early 1920s a parish on North Avenue they named Blessed Sacrament, also staffed by Newark Benedictines. The immediate impact on Sacred Heart was a gigantic engineering project-the hoisting of the 3000 ton church onto steel skids and moving it 80 feet back and 11 feet sideways. Its original neighborhood was literally razed to make room for the highway. Even before the destructive force of the Great Depression in 1929, our sample statistics suggest that the result was a rise in unskilled residents and a decline in householders with skills or managerial talent.

SH Parishioners 19th Century

The statistics do not tell the entire story because the work of the church for 50+ years had created, however fanciful, the experience of a common culture. For the Irish in Keighry Head, however minority their actual status, their basic routines made Keighry Head “home.” This home generally consisted of a multi-family domicile, where child-care and supervision became a collective responsibility. Growing up in such families gave children a sense of

1920 Boehm Residence-452 Monroe St

three and four sets of parents. Any important difficulty for anyone family generally resulted in a large meal to which all family members came.

1930 Hanley Residence-728 Jackson

After the meal the difficulty was collectively discussed and addressed. When larger quarters were needed for any one family, one interviewee has explained, one found a larger house in Keighry Head. Not until after World War II did family members consider the suburbs a possibility. From the viewpoint of those who remained in Elizabeth, the budding suburban family members displayed an element of disloyalty to family and their city place.

Post War Hanley/Rabaneau Residence 829 Madison Ave

Ultimately the sale of the family residence, however necessary or practical, became a wrenching experience.

Emma Collins 1916 – 165 Washington Avenue
Young Irish girls faced a particularly poignant version of this familial solidarity. Every family member grilled a young woman with a boyfriend. “Is he Catholic,” was the first question. “Is the Oirish” was the second. The lore of most families recalled no late lights and an adult awake and alert until the young woman returned home from a date. Through such a phalanx it is a wonder that any Irish married non-Irish. Yet nationally the Irish produced more single women in their immigrant patterns to America than any other ethnic group, and more importantly, over half of them did NOT marry Irish men! The Irish of
George Boehm And His Sister, Marie – 452 Monroe Avenue. Their Father, A Sacred Heart Communicant, Married Margaret Collins Of St Mary’s Parish
Keighry Head may have given a special veneer to their multi-ethnic neighborhood, but the powerful forces of assimilation assured that marriage and family became the primary engines that broke down inter-ethnic reservation and bias.

During the 1930s and 1940s many non-Irish moved into Keighry Head. (Germans, Czechs, Poles, Romanians, Hungarians and a sizeable group of Italians, alongside English and Scottish newcomers). In part because of wartime industry, many African-Americans poured out of the South. Usually these itinerants were able bodied and among the best educated of Southern blacks. They often sought out industrial cities in the North but as frequently towns and suburbs on the metropolitan fringe. These migrants came from an agricultural culture and sought living quarters that permitted them gardens. In Keighry Head, African Americans had resided since 1920, usually on Olive Street or Spring Street, like George Brooke in 1930 whose family originated in North Carolina and Georgia.

1930 George Brooke Residence-510 Spring St

This small core expanded in later years into Bond Street and elsewhere. However, much like their fellow ethnic neighbors, the black community never settled in sufficient numbers to alter the sense of a vibrant ethnic and racial mixture. It was ultimately the intense diversity of Keighry Head that provided a functional equality and civility that virtually every resident of the neighborhood fondly recalled.

This sense of civility and security in Keighry Head may well have derived from the fact that during the inter war years and afterward, the three Elizabeth mayors – John Kenah, Joseph Brophy and James Kirk – all boasted one or more Irish parents and were raised in Keighry Head: Kenah on Anna Street, Brophy on Mary and Kirk on Madison. They seemed to embody the Irish fantasy that “Irish catholicism” was one word, and salvation had a direct association with the Democratic party. Even more, the substantive political presence of the inter war neighborhood was the long-serving councilman, Morris O’Keefe, whose roots were on Spring Street. He was, one interviewee recalled, an old-line politician, “in the good sense.” There was no distinct ideological agenda. O’Keefe simply fixed problems, no matter how large or small. His neighborhood connections with the Mayor’s office helped expedite all problems, particularly when he presided at Gillespie’s pub on Spring St. O’Keefe’s successor, Charlie Harris, the first African-American councilman, learned his role from predecessor’s pattern.

New Zion Baptist Church
Siloam Hope Presbyterian Church

The prevalence of African-Americans in postwar Keighry Head resulted in increased memberships for New Zion Baptist church and Siloam Hope Presbyterian Church. It also spelled a decline for Sacred Heart Church, since most African-Americans were not Catholic. However, the Newark Archdiocese, shortly after Sacred Heart celebrated its centenary in 1971, proposed a merger of Sacred Heart and an emergent Portuguese congregation in Elizabethport. After much soul-searching and worry about upsetting deep-seated emotional ties, the church changed its name to Our Lady of Fatima in 1973.

Archbishop Thomas Boland Receives Sacred Heart Parish From Rev. Gilbert Caldwell, 1973

The new congregation set about to modernize the buildings’ interiors and to apply the Portuguese’s well-known skills in masonry, carpentry, electrical and plumbing work. The emergent parish, now activated for every age group , has become a hive of activity, particularly on weekends and holidays, becoming once again a model of the nationalist (Portuguese, not Brazilian or Latino) church so dominant at the turn of the century.

Our Lady Of Fatima Church

By contrast, St Mary’s has gradually conceded that is no longer primarily a distinctly ethnic, especially, an Irish parish. Similar to the experience of Sacred Heart, after the 1960s an influx of Hispanic peoples - Central American, Caribbean and Filipino –dominated the church membership and produced a well-attended mass in Spanish. Msgr Robert Harrington, St Mary’s current pastor, follows a model not of a cohesive nationalist identity but one more internationalist. The church itself becomes a ”bridge” for multi-ethnic and multi-racial interaction, a device for encouraging mutual understanding. In addition to many traditional organizations, the parish now hosts, for example, a highly popular dinner in which every ethnic and racial group represents itself with a distinctive meal to be sampled by others.

Herrera’s Residence On Grove St

In actual fact, St Mary’s has followed this international model pragmatically for many years, while insisting on its Irish identity, an association some members with deep parish allegiances still do not wish to relinquish.

Just as originally there was no homogeneous Protestant culture to which immigrants necessarily adapted, each immigrant tradition brought with it multiple, internal variations. People’s “parish” allegiances – more important than one’s street address or actual place of origin – seemed on one level to make the notion of a cohesive city highly fragmented and disjointed.

Ted Matlocz And His Brothers, Going To The 1954 Pulaski Day Parade

Yet in another sense, this patchwork sensibility grounded each individual in a rooted, residential place, a point of allegiance from which every citizen ventured out into the opportunities that the larger society offered. Urban or metropolitan cohesion is historically never a simple thing: at times it has meant one dominant ethnic group identified by its church; at others the church itself encompasses many traditions and tolerates distinctions within the whole. At still other times a putative attribution, like an “Irish neighborhood,” or a “Protestant America” over-privileges one group among many.
Each of these constructs produces a distinctive brand of American assimilation, and in a city, striving to make democratic values functional realities, each seems to require from the responsible citizen, not simply a range of choices and problems, but necessarily a distinctive historical understanding of one’s place and time.

 


COMMUNITY TREASURES:
ST MARY'S AND KEIGHRY HEAD NEIGHBORHOOD PROJECT


Ted Matlocz

Rev Leonard Cassell OSB

John Moriarity

Pedro Herrera


Sr. Margaret Elaine Ormand SC

Barbara Burke


Rev Hilary O'Leary OSB

Rev John Anteo

Mary Rabaneau

Linda C. Epps


Msgr Robert J Harrington

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LINDA EPPS, CEO OF THE NEW JERSEY HISTORICAL SOCIETY,
AT THE ELIZABETH FORUM, JUNE 22 2006

Remembering Keighry Head
For those of you who read the Sunday NY Times, you must have been astounded by their cover story about a month ago. The story was about the search for the best novel published in the last 25 years. There were a number of titles suggested, and the winner was Beloved by Toni Morrison, but the number of books nominated for the honor by Philip Roth astounded those of us from NJ, and especially this northeastern corner of NJ. I guess one would consider this as an honor for Mr. Roth, and it is a tribute to his writing skills. I would suggest however, that Mr. Roth’s writing skills, although good, are not why his works are so popular and intriguing. It is the subject matter that counts and his subject matter is NJ – most notably Newark, but also inclusive of Elizabeth. Those of us in this room know that Newark would not be if not for Elizabeth so Mr. Roth needs to credit NJ and more specifically Newark and Elizabeth for his fame and fortune.

Thanks for inviting me back this year. I look forward to any event that brings me back to Elizabeth. I am a great admirer of the work of the Historical Society of Elizabeth and am happy to share any moments with all of you.

My husband and I have been over the past five years blessed to be able to rent a beautiful house on Long Beach Island for a week. We are not so well off that we can afford to rent this magnificent house that sleeps 10 alone. We share it with friends and we enjoy a little of the good life for seven days. We do nothing but sit on one of the four decks overlooking the beach and the ocean, talking about the days when we were young. Because four of us were born and raised in Elizabeth, a good deal of our talk centers on people and events that took place in this City.

Who knows if the City was as clean as we remember? Who knows if everyone was as nice as we remember them to be, or if it was as safe as we felt it was. Most likely it was not – but during our story telling, we like to believe that it was one of the best places in the world – we knew fun here. We knew love here. We felt protected and safe here. Although not one of us lives in Elizabeth now, we still feel, even in my case after over thirty years of being away, that this is our home.

One thing is true – we did not feel the cynicism of the world growing up in this city. We learned about the history of this City in school. I went on to the Elizabeth web site in preparation for speaking to you today and found the following:

In 1664, a group of Englishmen formed the Elizabethtown Associates and purchased a land area west of Newark Bay, including the area of current day Elizabeth. Elizabethtown, named in honor of the wife of Sir George Carteret, was established on the banks of the Elizabeth River in 1665. Elizabethtown thrived with a population of 700 and the City became the first capital of New Jersey.

From the days of Elizabeth’s founding, great men have walked the City’s streets. Alexander Hamilton called Elizabeth home for a time during his youth and George Washington came here en route to New York to be sworn in as the first President of the United Sates in 1789. Elizabeth's proud history can be seen in the numerous memorials, historic sites, and the statues that dot the City’s landscape.

Sounds pretty much like the Elizabeth history I learned while attending Lafayette Elementary School as a child. I believed Elizabeth was a perfect city then – and, during nostalgic peaceful moments with friends vacationing on the Jersey shore, I go back to that time – believing that the Elizabeth of 30, 40, 50 years ago was not quite utopia but pretty close to it. We all know that was not the reality.

906 Olive St in 2006

I grew up on Olive St. – the edge of Keighry Head. My parents, almost life long residents of Elizabeth – my father moved here in 1915 at the age of one and my Mother moved here in 1921 at the age of 3 and they died in Elizabeth in 1984 and 1986 respectively.

908 Olive St. in 2006

They bought a home at 906 Olive St. one hundred feet from the south corner of Henry St. on October 28, 1950 for the sum of $3, 7000. They purchased this home in anticipation of my birth that did occur on January 10, 1951 and I resided in that house until the age of 22.

My parents loved this city and never had a desire to leave. Most black adults I knew growing up felt the same way. Most whites I knew felt the same way until the late 1960’s when the whites very orderly and quietly began moving from Olive St. to either north westerly parts of Keighry Head or west of the City to Cranford and Clark or south to Sayreville or Toms River.

Elizabeth was not immune to the largest migration of the 20th century – the migration of millions of blacks from the south to the north.

• The black population in NJ in 1900 was 69, 844 out of a total population of 1,883,669.
• By 1970, the black population grew to 77,292 of an overall population of 7,168,164.
• The black population of Elizabeth grew from 1,139 to 17,480 during the same time period.

With that kind of addition of individuals from an undesirable racial or ethnic group-taking root in a city, there are bound to be difficulties. Elizabeth, contrary to the wonderful nostalgic memories my friends might have -could not have been without racial difficulty.

My parents were products of the migration. Their parents were among the millions who came north looking for better opportunity. They found jobs and they found housing but they did not always find the kind of educational and cultural opportunity they thought would be open to them. The jobs, although more plentiful and better paying did not lead to a lush life. The educational and cultural opportunities were better but there was discrimination there as well.

The oral history project that that this society is undertaking is extremely important. Paul and I talked last week about the lack of documented history concerning Elizabeth after the mid 19th century. We are finding information from the colonial and revolutionary periods. The research almost dries up after that, so historians of today are in the position of pouring through documents trying to record information from those missing years.

I have found, in trying to complete research for my doctoral dissertation, an amazing lack of information on this migration period as it concerns Elizabeth. There are some around who experienced the migration, though their numbers are dwindling. There is general information in paperbacks and textbooks about the migration but not about Elizabeth and the migration. I have found a scattering of newspaper articles about Elizabeth and black crime during the time of the migration, but we all know the issue had many dimensions. Crime was only one. My job now is to enrich this information with personal histories for those personal stories are integral to my work. Let me give you an example of what I mean.

Secondary Source: From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans by John Hope Franklin:
The problem of housing, common to all persons migrating to the city, was aggravated for Negroes by the determination of white citizens to segregate them in one section of the city. Municipalities gave sanction to this practiced by enacting segregation ordinances.

The parks and playgrounds movement that was developing throughout the country early in the century did little for the Negro and when he attempted to avail himself of the opportunity to use public recreational facilities, violence and bloodshed frequently resulted.

In an article from African American Newspaper - Primary Source: Article titled: “Doing Our Bit” in the Newark Herald News, 27 August 1938. The following passage is describes one of several incidents around African American attempts to use public facilities formerly restricted to white patrons.

Immediately upon discovery last week that Negroes were being assailed by whites when they attempted to swim in the city-owned Dowd Natatorium in Elizabeth . . . and that tomatoes had been hurled at women of our race . . . the NEWARK HERALD dispatched a representative to that locality to see why the police of that locality were not rendering protection to members of our group.

Chief Frank Brennen of the Elizabeth Police Department told our representative that there was no excuse for the reign of disorder at the Dowd Pool and that from then on law and order would prevail there regardless of race, creed or color.

It is particularly gratifying to note that Negroes utilized the pool on Saturday and Sunday . . . AND WERE NOT MOLESTED. We feel that our efforts along with that put forth by residents in that immediate vicinity have succeeded in breaking down the open discrimination that previously held sway at that particular spot.

My reading of the primary sources in response to the secondary source:
The migration of large numbers of African Americans from the south to the north created tension in the urban cities. Use of public recreational facilities was of particular concern. It took special effort by law enforcement agencies to settle disputes by either passing legislation segregating public facilities or creating a strong legal presence that guaranteed peaceful coexistence. The primary source tells of a specific incident and the outcome as reported by a Newark African American newspaper. The article skillfully reports the incident and describes attempts at peaceful resolution popularly employed by African American community organizations and publications of the time period.

We know from research that incidents like the one described were common in areas where newly migrated blacks tried to use facilities historically used by whites. We also know there was a white press interpretation and a black press interpretation – both politically influenced. Wouldn’t be nice to have insight from someone who lived through the experience?

I remember having a conversation with my father about the difficulty he had in securing permission to use an Elizabeth pool facility in working with the Boy Scout troop he commanded in the 1930’s and 1940’s. I have no idea if this particular pool is the one he referred to in his stories. I wish I had listened better. I wish my memory were stronger. My Father, in 1938, lived very close to the pool referred to in this passage. A dedicated race man and Garveyite, his version of what happened that August of 1938 – when he would have been 24 years of age would add so much to the documentation of this incident. The perspective of those whites who protested is also needed to get a fuller understanding of what did happen on August 28, 1938.

My point in all this is to say that history is a fluid experience we all have. The website for this organization states that:
Each city neighborhood has a building or a park or a store or a house of worship that is especially significant to the residents and City’s public history. Some might even be defined as secular yet sacred. We want to understand historically how those sites function in the sustenance of distinct ethnic and racial cultures. In addition, we want to know how these sites connect individual neighborhoods to the heart of our City and its function.

Few who grew up in Keighry Head would deny that integral to their growing up experience were the corner stores and the particular culture that each one possessed. Few could deny the impact that the two churches erectly guarding the Keighry Head neighborhood – Sacred Heart and Hope Memorial - were sacred spaces, even for those who were not congregants.

History is common to us all. It is something we all have. It is something we all either embrace or run away from. It is something we share with family and friends or it is the reason why we run away from family or friends. It is with us every day, every hour, every minute – our history is who we were, who we are, and who we will become. We are building on the legacy of those who came before, and laying the foundation of the legacy for those who will come later. History cuts both ways. Good history chronicles the good and the bad. But even these not so pretty parts of our history can result in positive learning opportunities.

So all of us may not feel Carteret and the founding guys had us much in mind in 1664 when they sought to carve out a utopia dedicated to achieving economic prosperity and privilege. I doubt Mr. Bonnell ever envisioned the likes of us sitting in his basement - together, black, white, men, and women discussing the history and culture of this Elizabeth community.

Linda Epps with Novickie’s during party event

But, their vision of what should have been should not stop us from honoring what they did and including in our honors, the work and contributions of our ancestors – those marginalized by the Carteret’s and the Bonnell's but so important to the McBean's, and the Mattingly’s and the Epps and the Novickie’s and Faella’s and Haggerty’s of Keighry Head and William Street, and South Park St., and South Broad St and Washington Ave. All played a role in making Elizabeth what it is in 2006 and all those contributions should be documented and memorialized and we all have a role to play in that memorialization.

Good times and bad. Triumphs and tragedies. Financial crunches and great prosperity are all parts of our history. Our past is part of our teaching. Our present is what we celebrate. Our future is what we are building.

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