THE COMMUNITY TREASURES PROJECT: RECORDING OUR DIVERSE HISTORIES
The Community Treasures Project has come full circle and begun its second wave of collecting rich first person accounts of the past from our historic City

SHARING OUR COLLECTIVE PASTS
The Community Treasures Project began with an understanding: The ethnic and racial groups of this city know little about each other’s traditions.

We also recognize that understanding each other’s traditions is a building block for community change. Showing our collective history—the powerful connections and common ground we all share—is a force for economic and social unity in Elizabeth.

The goal of the Community Treasures Project: To document and record our common ground and foster a respect for the diverse voices that shape our future.
To make this happen, we are interviewing the individuals whose narrative make up the story of Elizabeth: recording their voices, experiences, and ideas on the past and the future of Elizabeth.
 

ENGAGING STUDENTS IN OUR SCHOOLS
Our first efforts have focused on two major resources of the city: its youth and the public high school. Informally we have received the support and cooperation of high school staff and have already had inquiries from student volunteers. Our goal is to encourage student interest with a stipend, and to train students in both historical thinking and in the technical production of website construction and video documentary.

Student involvement will also help identify key individuals whose stories would compose the larger narrative, and to create video documentary projects for screening in public forums, on the Internet and on cable television Channel 70.

This is currently a summer project, but with increased funding we plan to engage students throughout the school year, and bring Elizabeth, NJ history into the curriculum of our schools. And as the project evolves, the city will develop a deeper understanding of the diverse communities that shape our future economic and policy decision making.

 




STEPHEN BERCIK: A MODEL MAYOR
[Stephen Bercik passed away June 14, 2003 as we finalized this website. Later we will include his actual words in this place alongside his fellow “Treasures.” For now we would like to remember him with information derived from interviews with himself and his Councilpersons Mary Gillen and Sidney Stone, whose picture were taken together the day of their interviews with the Historical Society; Elizabeth NJ Inc]

Stephen J Bercik, the former Mayor of Elizabeth NJ and NJ Superior Court Judge, died June 14, 2003 at the age of 84. From his even-tempered demeanor and his strong commitment to his family – nine children and twenty-three grandchildren – one might easily overlook the dramatic political contribution Mayor Bercik made to the 20th century history of Elizabeth, NJ.

Bercik’s family represented the singular demographic shift in Elizabeth during and after World War one. The breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire resulted in a large influx of Slavic and Hungarian immigrants to many cities on America’s eastern seaboard. Bercik’s father was among them, seventeen years old at the time. His son Stephen was born not long afterward in Elizabeth NJ and received a strong preparation at St. Patrick’s High School, where he made a host of friends, like Superior court Justice John Ord, who remained close for the rest of their lives. Bercik went to John Marshall Law College which later became Seton Hall University’s School of Law. He was athletic, playing baseball and basketball which helped him win college fellowships. He always credited education and sports as foundational experiences for his later career decisions.

Thirty days after Pearl Harbor, Bercik joined the Army Air Corps and quickly became an instructor. He served in Europe until October 1944. He then returned home and finished law school. Since 1948 he has had his law office in Elizabeth, on North Broad Street across from the Post Office. He gravitated into a series of active, volunteer positions: the Young Democrats, where he eventually became president; Knights of Columbus where he became a Grand Knight; the city’s Chamber of Commerce, where he served as president; an a member of the Holy Name Society of both St. Joseph’s and St. Catherine’s. This volunteer apprenticeship attracted supporters who elected him onto the city Council in 1955.

At the time the city government had reached a critical juncture under Mayor Nicholas LaCorte. The city structure still operated under an older ward system, very democratic in a city of much smaller size but by the 1950s clumsy and inefficient in trying to achieve quick and clear decisions on policy issues. In addition, there were a number of unseemly episodes of corruption in the police department and in city contracting. The moment called for a person of consummate integrity and indeed idealism to overcome entrenched patterns of political expediency and nepotism, the bane of the twentieth century American city.

The Democratic party discovered that several, very ambitious Democratic councilmen had no interest running in an election where Eisenhower Republicans were very likely to win. They approached Bercik, who later recalled at the meeting “they did but I didn’t think I was the underdog.” Bercik handily defeated the opposition and became the youngest elected mayor (age 35) and the first Slavic mayor of Elizabeth, serving two terms, from 1956 to 1964.

Immediately Berick set to work to create a new Charter for Elizabeth NJ, one which reflected a modern decision making process. He was joined by a number of other “young guys and former veterans,” who were determined to realize a democratic structure worthy of the sacrifices so many of them had recently made in wartime. The New charter would redress the organization which placed too much power in the hands of 13 ward representatives. These “ward heelers” wielded considerable clout as sales distributors and influence peddlers for the annual political affairs and office appointments. Bercik remembered the adverse effect of such favoritism growing up in the First Ward and resolved to be a mayor for the whole city rather than a single ethnic group or geographical sector.

Ably supported by Councilpersons Mary Gillen (the first woman of the City council) and Sidney Stone, Bercik’s charter passed in the election of 1960 and has served ever since as the democratic blueprint for Elizabeth NJ. The Charter centralized power into the office of the Mayor, making the primary elected leader the clearly responsible agent for the quality of city life. The Charter simplified many of the city’s departments and committees. Immediately he appointed a chief Tax Assessor of impeccable integrity, indeed a former seminarian, who introduced a new standard of tax equity. He worked hard to attract other able men to fill key positions especially the Chief of Police, the Superintendent of Schools and the City Administrator, men brought in from outside the city’s culture to insure both expertise and even-handedness.

Bercik monitored the early implementation of the Charter to insure the blueprint was well-rooted and took justifiable pride in his achievement. After his mayoral tenure was over in 1964, he returned to his private law practice until 1972 when he became a New Jersey Superior court judge, serving until 1988. In an interview with the Historical Society; Elizabeth NJ Inc (December 9, 2000) he recounted his satisfaction in giving back to the Elizabeth, the city of his birth and of his entire career. Elizabeth, he said, was a city with a heart. It is a sentiment, backed by distinguished achievement that the Historical Society has recorded again and again in the immigrant voices of Elizabeth’s residents. In Stephen J Bercik and his life, Elizabeth has received an extraordinary benefit, a high political standard and a significant historical legacy.

The stories that come from our one-on-one personal interviews tell a rich history of Elizabeth. Below is just a sample of some of the accounts that keep the story of Elizabeth alive and thriving.

Click on a name to read their story:

CHARLES ACQUILENA
STEPHEN BERCIK
VIRGINIA BODDEN
HERB BROWN
ORLANDO EDREIRA
RALPH FROEHLICH

MARY GILLEN
MIKE GUARINO
THELMA HURD
IMAN HASHAM JABBAR
ED KOSBERG
COSIMIR KOWALCEK
CARMELLA LO BRACE
CARMEN AND SALVADOR MALDONADO
PAT MALONEY

CEIL MANTIA
WILLIAM NEAFSEY
MSGR HUGH O’DONNELL
JOHN REILLY
JAY RICE

STEPHEN SAMPSON
CHARLES SHALLCROSS

SYDNEY SHREIBER
SIDNEY STONE
MYRA SUSSMAN
NIDA E. THOMAS
CARL ZARO

CHARLES ACQUILENA
When I started [as a Social Studies teacher in the public school system], I started a history club in Elizabeth, in Battin High School. And it became Elizabeth High School but I remember telling one of the students, please, observe as much as you can … and then they’d take pictures of things, you know. But in the meantime I got so interested in Elizabeth and its past, that I started, you know, studying it, and gave talks, and had slide presentations... From a little more than an unconcerned, almost indifferent person, I became aware that each of the people were part of a neighborhood, … and you could actually go to the different parts of Elizabeth and eat their food and enjoy some of their festivals and so forth. I doubt whether the city is conscious of this history… ah well, our New Jersey History Club had a number of awards for recognition by the New Jersey Historical Society and because of it, I got the Teacher of the Year, only because of this thing I love.
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STEPHEN BERCIK
[The pro-charter people] were a pretty good group. Under the standpoint of sticking together and knowing what we wanted …. We were going to have a new setup under the 1958 City Charter revision]…. I went to get the best guys I knew for the Charter. You know, Dr. [Ralph] Miller from Princeton. He was one of the top guys in the nation at the time…. Now we got him. And then I am looking for a guy by the name of Jean Martini, at a Navy Base of twenty thousand at the base, and he ran the whole show. And he was retiring and he came to Elizabeth. I got him. And this is what we did; it was one of the first times where we actually went out and got somebody who could run the whole show."
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VIRGINIA BODDEN
I think in those days, when I first came here [to Elizabeth NJ in 1960], I think we weren’t prepared to work with children of immigrants and also children of minorities. And that was the thing that prompted me to go back to school, because I had done work in New Mexico, in this small little setting with teachers that were all unified. We were all pushing together for the same purpose. Then when I came to Elizabeth I felt kind of isolated in a sense from other teachers. There were all friendly but as for working together, you sort of took care of your own class. And I did not know how to teach children, for instance with [problems]. In those days I had 38 children and lots of boys. And they needed a lot; they needed a lot of help. And that was a different culture: they were black and I was white. I didn’t quite know how to go about meeting their needs. I felt that I wasn’t getting enough help from the school system itself, so I decided that I would go, go someplace where I could learn to work with, with different ethnic groups."
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HERB BROWN
“…Down in the port where most of the Russian Jews settled, their streets were South Park and Court around Fourth, Fifth, Third and so forth. And they began many little synagogues and a couple of big ones. All Orthodox. And people were fine. Most people kept a kashrut, which is the Jewish tradition … the dietary laws. And they were alright. They never got into fights with Catholics. The Catholics did the same thing. The churches for the Catholics were separated all around the town, and of course, the people all followed their faiths. The Protestants all had churches around the town….Jews finally started to move uptown when their children grew up. All the immigrants that I talked about before, they all worked very, very hard.”
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ORLANDO EDREIRA
When I finished my term [on the Elizabeth Board of Education] in 1989, … I was elected to the City Council of the City of Elizabeth ….One of the main problems that we had in the City of Elizabeth was the economic problems. And we ran on the slogan, Economic Development and New Vision, new movement, the new energy and we were elected to that and it seems to me that the city has changed a lot in the time I was on the City Council … I served [there] until December 2000 ….[the accomplishments?] The attraction of business, the new movement to the city of Elizabeth, new companies to the City … which enhance economically the development of the City of Elizabeth, and the new order within the administration itself are all examples ….and we were able to have members of the African-American and the Hispanic communities in positions like directors within the city government. We were able to have the first judges in the City of Elizabeth coming from these ethnic groups.
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RALPH FROEHLICH
Well, I’m a member of Urban League…I have been for about twenty years. In fact, I was the chairman three times. Now right here, right on this spot, this spot [Union County Sheriff’s Office] … There used to be a restaurant. And next door was a little church. And in that church, and the church was on Madison and Grand, Reverend Wipper. Thank God for Reverend Wipper. There was no courthouse annex and there was no parking garage. And they [the Freeholders] decided to build a parking garage and an annex. And there was no, no minorities in the construction trades…at least, on those jobs. You could work on your own, but you weren’t in any trades. And then the demonstrations began….And we had our demonstrations, and if it weren’t for the good leadership in the minority community, and the leadership on the police department. ..We could have had some serious [problems] … We had hundreds of people. This whole block, from Caldwell Place all the way down to Rahway Avenue, was full of people. And it came a time where we had to remove everybody…this is in 60s. . And even though there were a lot of people we didn’t have serious problems. Only once on First Street things got a little out of hand. But that was temporary. .. And, my partner, at that time, was Bucky Hazel. He was an African-American. In those days everybody was, - we didn’t know what African-Americans were, - you were Black. Or that you were colored or that you were Negro. You know, this is the progression. But, he was so proud and he was a heck of a policeman but he was proud because his daughter sat down at the demonstration. And here her father, and her father’s best friend had to pick her up and take her to the wagon …We were chuckling on one hand, but we were saying this is the right thing to do, on the other hand. It was important to all three of us.
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MARY GILLEN
I think the most frustrating thing [about Elizabeth’s city government before the 1958 Charter revision] was, you know, you had thirteen wards, thirteen councilmen with two year terms, tax assessors with four year terms, and then you couldn’t get anything done. It was a five man redevelopment commission. The Washington Avenue area was in my ward. I couldn’t get a straight answer for when or whether the people needed to order their oil or coal for the winter. You had an eight man Health and Welfare Board, five man Fire Commission, four man Police Commission. And then you had a three man Board of Public Works, which was like another governing body. And there was always a conflict as to whose jurisdiction was over what. And that’s one of the reasons I worked very hard for the charter change, because otherwise you could get nothing done. It was Evers to Tinker to Chance all the time.
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MIKE GUARINO
You see, Peterstown means Peterstown. And it doesn’t mean right now just Italian-Americans, anybody, Spanish, African-Americans, Lithuanians, Slovak, whatever they are. I mean they got a chance to use the library [at the Peterstown Community Center] named after Nicholas La Corte. They’ve got a chance to a part of whatever is going on….There are some wonderful people who were but, trapped in an area, and maybe can’t get out; they gave up on the inner city. And this [Peterstown Community Center] gives them the opportunity to be a member of any club here, but they can come down to the Center and try to enjoy, to watch TV, if they want to, Tuesday night at the movies, maybe do something in the library or just to feel they are a part of something. And, a little bit selfish, was the fact that I, when I became the director here, through Mayor [Chris] Bollwage, I wanted to make this the pride and joy of Peterstown, and I might have been a little bit selfish thinking like that, because it’s the pride and joy of Elizabeth is what it should be, the pride and joy of Union County. That’s what it should be, because being that I grew up here, I wanted to make sure that people came into the areas and as they left, they say, "Hey, you know the building is nine or ten years old, the johns are clean. This is clean, that’s clean and this is great. And it’s good for the inner city, because it shows we’re not bums. We’re not bums in the inner city. We got a feeling and we got a right to live. And we like certain things too. And we’re going to go out there and make sure that this is done the right way.
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THELMA HURD
“… when I came here in 1956, [my husband and I] couldn’t find a house because, at that time when you went to a real estate company, they had two kinds of books. They had one book with colored and we were colored … and one book for white… Currently I am chairperson of the Human Rights Commission for this entire city …[and have served on it for over twenty years since] it was formed by Mayor [Thomas] Dunn … [W]e have been able to work with the Mayor and police departments in behalf of people who felt they were being ill-treated by the police….We have also worked with housing, to improve and help people. You can go to the Human Rights Commission for any issue that really bothers you, employment, housing, education, police brutality. All those areas they serve.”
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IMAN HASHAM JABBAR
“I am an Imam and my credentials make me a Shaykh because of my schooling … I came to Elizabeth in 1949, after a commitment to the Federal government, after doing my time in the military [US Army]. … I liked it because it had easy access to South Jersey [where he was raised and where he raised his family, ie Hamilton Township]…. In 1962 I went abroad on my first Hajj and went to school in Mecca … where they begin to orient all the leaders or anyone young into the doctrines of the Sunni or Orthodox Islam. … I was studying Islam, the doctrine of Islam for the language and the law, we call Shari’ah, the laws of Islam, and how to establish yourself in a non-Muslim society… what I try to do with my training is to educate [individuals] to be real human in a society that is built on humanity and try to get them to understand that all people form a nation. And like many of them say, well, there’s Christian, there’s Jews, there’s this - I say no. I try to educate them to the fact that it says in the Qur’an, there is no compulsion in religion. … [U]nder no circumstances can I try to herd or pressure you into something … my task is to educate into it and then you have the truth at a distinct level.”
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ED KOSBERG
“… the downtown area, when I was a child growing up in the 1940s, was the hub of Union county. There were a lot of nice stores . . . and people used to come to Elizabeth to shop or better yet, they would go into Newark if they wanted a step higher… There were two major department stores – Goerkes which became Steinbeck’s and Levy Brothers – and a lot of clothiers … Now my family was in the paint business [Kosberg’s]. I have been taught that there were probably seven paint stores in Elizabeth in those days. There were movie theaters … the Broad Street, the Regent, the New, the Ritz and the Liberty…

I was told that stores used to hire extra help to accommodate the customers that would come into town on Thursday night.”
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COSIMIR KOWALCEK
Yes, basically, I am an old-style politician …. I like to deal with people one-on-one or in groups. Believe it or not, when I was first elected to city council, I did not go to bed. Instead, I got in my car and drove around the entire ward. It’s true; I did it. And I did it to see what street lights were out, and what lights were on, whether there was any noise in the neighborhood and the taverns were behaving themselves. There weren’t any kids or gangs hanging out …. But I did that for a number of years and then I stopped that and I had community meetings. Aside from the council meeting I would have a monthly community meeting in one of the local community places, whether it was a church, school or the backroom of a tavern. I had monthly meetings to speak with the constituents. And I kept that up for a number of years and when it got so I couldn’t make meetings here and meeting there, I just couldn’t handle all the meetings. I had to let that go and wait for the people to call me…. Whenever they wanted, I would make myself available…. I was very forward and upfront. They appreciated that. My word was my bond.
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CARMELLA LO BRACE
Peterstown was, you know, Italian. [But] like down the port was probably Polish. And then Kerry Head the Irish, you know, they congregated there… Yes, and everybody came along [Q: No hostilities?] No. Everybody got along. … On Elizabeth Avenue we had all the nice stores, like DiZefalo … it’s a department store … and Hellerman’s was there … children’s clothing … and there was Ashley’s, a lingerie store, and Binders for housewares …[we] used to give them several dollars a week, you know, until we paid them. They knew us…. And Burke’s and Levy’s, all those stores are gone … It was all so convenient.
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CARMEN AND SALVADOR MALDONADO
“We came to Elizabeth in 1960, because I met some Spanish people and I felt comfortable with my people, and with the church, Immaculate Mary, which did have Spanish masses. St. Pat’s was Anglo, so Irish, we couldn’t understand, you know, the masses. But afterward we started Spanish masses at St. Pat’s, when my kids went to the first grade, then all four thru high school. … I [Carmen] went to school to study beauty culture … then I opened my own business on Broad Street: Lupi’s Beauty Salon … Because of people from my business, I know a lot of people. Then Mr Acevedo of the Board of Education called me to help part time to co-ordinate a bilingual program .. He told me I was going to be working for two months … The two months became twenty-seven years! I was helping in the community, and I gave to them, you know.” [Return to list of names at top]

PAT MALONEY
Standard Oil was a family oriented company …. You had a family-oriented company that provided for the family. When my father got sick – he developed cancer in ’59 – and they kept in touch with him and he got his checks and different things like that though he didn’t go to work. And when he died, they came in and helped my mother with a settlement and everything. And when I had typhoid fever – I am probably the last reported case of typhoid in Elizabeth – I was eleven years old. My family never saw a bill for forty days in St. Elizabeth’s [Hospital]. All the doctors treatments, including the growing of my hair back ….The company picked up every bill … But Standard Oil imported people to manage the company. So eventually that changed. The Rockefellers were good for the company. The people that came later were more interested in making a profitable company …. Singer’s, I think, was on the opposite side of the scale … They didn’t do the things for their employees that Standard Oil did.
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CEIL MANTIA
[In old Peterstown my parents, who were from Calabria] “lived in an apartment ….They had cobblestone roads and horse and carriages and still had gas lighting. Then later they bought their home, [because] they had to live where they worked. Singer’s was very big and a lot of people that lived in Elizabeth, the whole of Elizabeth practically, worked there at some point. Sometimes it was good and other times, the wages weren’t so great. It was sometimes difficult for certain groups to get into Singer’s. I think most of the supervisory personnel were of German background. And within Elizabeth, there were different ethnic groups. Lithuanians and Poles were downtown . . .” [Return to list of names at top]

WILLIAM NEAFSEY
Well, it [a defining moment in his fire department experience] was known as Chem Control, that was the name of the corporation. ..It was on South Front Street. Well, the fire was April of ’80. The site was a collection area for 55 gallon drums. . . of used chemicals. . . All right. And the fellow who owned the site had a makeshift incinerator where he would be burning up some of the chemicals, but then EPA stepped in and wouldn’t let him use the incinerator or he had to make so many changes to whatever, and the barrels would be coming in and coming in and coming in. So, eventually. … I mean we knew it was going to go up. It was just a matter of time. And in April of 1980 it went up. . I mean nothing was ever proven. . . Well, my crew was working that night, and I was the first one on the scene when Chem Control went up then. We were there for, I guess about two weeks. Well, as fate would have it, most of the smoke was blowing to Staten Island. … We had mutual aid in from all over the county, plus eventually we got two fire boats from New York City to, and they contained it. It burned itself out… But they contained it to so it didn’t spread any further. .. Well, it was after the fire they [Hazmat] came… Well, there were probably long term [consequences], even though, it’s tough to prove. We had about a dozen firefighters who were at that scene who contracted some form of cancer or another… That’s a high number, it’s a high number. Because, you know, before or since [there were] very little [cases]… and they had after the fact, all sorts of bureaucracies wanted to become involved in it because it was a headline. . .grabbing move. And most of them did absolutely nothing. But, we had a pre-fire plan, my guys did exactly what they were trained to do. They followed the plan to a tee. We did everything we possibly could, but it was just, you know, too much. . .
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MSGR HUGH O’DONNELL
Well, right after the war [World War II] a lot of the young men were getting married and they were moving out of town. There weren’t apartment and things, so they moved to the suburbs and they were putting up, apartments there. And also, the malls were going up, you know, shopping malls and everything. And people started going there. Broad Street, you could see, was starting to change, that it wasn’t as crowded as used to be, because they went to different malls for their shopping. One stop parking and put everything in the car and go back and continue your shopping and everything. But still Broad Street held a great hold for everybody in the city of Elizabeth because most people always went to Broad Street to do shopping. Or down on First Street in the Port and people did their shopping there and you met your friends and it was Saturday night used to be till 9 o’clock shopping and also on Thursday nights that was also a big shopping night too. And then people were working during the day so it was wasn’t as crowded during the weekdays, but for Thursday nights and all day Saturday were big shopping days for Broad Street businesses .
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JAY RICE
I started there [Singer Sewing Machine Company] in ’49 and I got drafted from Singer’s. I came out of the service, went back to Singer’s and they told me, "Your job was taken!" And I said, "Let me check." I went to the veteran’s organization at that time. But when I went to the American Legion on West Grand Street in Elizabeth … I asked them, "Am I entitled to my job?" They said, "You definitely are." So they were ready to send somebody down with me. I went and I spoke with the union representative of the electrical workers union. He said "Don’t worry, you’ll get your job back. I waited and waited and finally my mother called me and said to me that a girl she went to St. Pat’s with, her husband said they were hiring at Elizabethtown Gas Company where Union County College is now. Oaky! I went up there and spoke to this guy, Leroy Wolfe. Leroy said, "Go up to Green Lane and I started at the gas company. And I was a little perturbed that I didn’t get back into Singer’s. But the bottom line was I got called by the [Elizabeth] Fire Department.
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JOHN RILEY
“… one of my colleagues [at the Hackensack (NJ) Tapers Pharmacy, a fellow graduate of Howard University] told me that there was a pharmacy for sale in Elizabeth. He told me that the community was increasingly black and Hispanic and that my knowledge of Spanish, - by the way I was born in Panama – would have been quite helpful… So I was probably the only pharmacist who spoke Spanish. I came August 8, 1963. In 1968 I bought the old Pioneer Pharmacy, the building and pharmacy on Second and Bond: 214 Second Street. In the beginning the neighborhood was Eastern European, then gradually Hispanic, Portugese and Cuban. But originally people streamed past my store on their way to the Singer’s plant, all well dressed. Then I found out that they would all dress like they were going to church but when they got there, they would change their clothes. You would think that they were working in the office but most of the men, especially the black men, worked in the foundry, in the menial positions”
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STEPHEN SAMPSON
“… when I was eighteen, I left Georgia and went to Orlando, Florida, to school and was working in a barber shop. This is a good place to be, [because] a lot of people come through and they all talk … it was more than a barbershop; it was an educational thing. I had the first big library on African-American history and in that period you couldn’t find those books in the school library. [After awhile] half of my barbershop became a book concession and the other half was a barbershop. Then I got several voting machines. I ran the voting class for some thirty-five, forty years in the barbershop. Everybody who came into my shop had to register to vote. And I used that machine to demonstrate to them how to use the polls, the ballot. … I’m on the political action committee for the NAACP, right here on West bank Street. Still. And what I do, I give classes on the new voting machines.”
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CHARLES SHALLCROSS
Well, when the trains first came in, I guess, 1830s, ’36,’37. It was the Somerville Railroad, I think, connecting Somerville and … Elizabeth. I guess it followed the old stage, stagecoach routes... Anyway, but as the railroad, you know, expanded there was, it was a very strange setup in Elizabeth. It was unique in the country. ..There were two major railroads. . . crossing at the main street of the city. This didn’t occur in any other city. . . It’s just the way the geography worked out. And for many years that was a great crossing, before the arch, and that was very, very dangerous. ..Almost two hundred trains a day came through it. Can you imagine? Well, the train stations were the airports of that time... There were a lot of passenger trains too. You know, it’s funny in the old post cards, from 1907, 1908, you would, you would see one, apparently they sold them in the station, you know, when you got off the train. And, they would be addressed to, you know, somebody in Newark. It said, "Arrive back in Elizabeth safely. Thank you for dinner." Or something, they’d be visiting in Newark and when they got to the station, they’d dash off a postcard and drop it in the mail. There were no telephones in those days. …In fact, you could trace it, because they were cancelled when they were mailed and then when they were received. …And, and, well, anyway, this, the grade crossing was so dangerous, that, you know, the railroads and the city got together, I guess, and decided to raise, they kept one track, I think, at grade level and they raised one track about that high and then lowered the street below that almost forty feet so that some businesses had their front doors like twenty feet above the street.
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SYDNEY SHREIBER
See, when I was with the Securities and Exchange Commission [in the 1940s], I was in the Public Utility Holding Act Division…. [In the 1950s] I became very active in the Citizens’ League … in Elizabeth … As a matter of fact, I became president of it … and we were interested in reforming the city government … getting a new charter … and the motivating force was the Citizen’s League…. We were a bunch of do-gooders … and simply wanted the city to grow and improve. [Between 1946 and 1972, Shreiber worked with his Newark law firm, McCune and Shreiber, while living in Elizabeth, first on (#321) Elmora Avenue, then to Westfield Avenue before purchasing his present home on Malden Terrace in 1955. In 1972 he came NJ St Superior Court judge and from 1975 to 1984 served on the NJ State Supreme Court]
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SIDNEY STONE
Have you read Tom Brokaw’s book, The Greatest Generation? … It’s about me … it’s about us [World War II veterans]. Tom Brokaw, I can’t believe it, but he says it’s the greatest generation of all time. (laughter) Kids grew up in the Depression and got through that, then they have to go to World War II; they come back and they have to start all over again. There were no riots; there were no marches on Main Street, things of that sort. Kids just did it. And I have to appreciate that because I am one of them"
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MYRA SUSSMAN
“I came to Elizabeth through friends who found a home for me on Decker Avenue. The neighborhood was just a wonderful, wonderful environment for raising children. They were all the same age and they all went to school together, they all went to religious schools together. … [My son] said the people who are in the [Decker Avenue] homes have changed … are of a different ethnic group, but they are keeping their houses up .. I think Elizabeth, even though it has changed considerably, has changed for the better…. [Were there any facilities now that had not existed before?] “There was nothing in Union county that serviced special handicapped adults from the age of eighteen up before we contacted them. There were in the houses, they were in the closets, they were homebound. And the Council of Jewish women … contacted me because somebody had told them I was in Special Education and had that knowledge. … We were able to open a small workshop on East Grand Street with four clients. And we hired a director and from those four clients, we now have three hundred and eighty clients [plus] three buildings. …The Occupational Center of Union County is the largest, most successful workshop in the State of New Jersey now.” [Return to list of names at top]

NIDA E. THOMAS
"…I was a graduate student [at Atlanta University] … On Sunday evenings when he[W. E. B. Dubois] would be in town, sometimes he would agree to talk to the students and we’d all go into the living room, the parlor at the college dormitory. And we’d sit on the floors and in the chairs, whatever, and just listen to him talk. Well, now you can imagine my surprise. Here’s this man talking about things going on in Europe and going to Russia and doing things in this country and doing things in that country … and I didn’t even know where these countries were. I sat there really in a state of absolute unbelief that this man knew so much about everything. And he, he never let us forget that we had a right, and we shouldn’t let color prevent us from having set goals for ourselves, and that we needed the appropriate education to be able to do these things. What I learned later was that he was way ahead of the times. He was thinking things that people didn’t think were possible. Later I learned that he was one of the first to help set up the Crisis magazine for the NAACP. And he spent a lot of time with the NAACP. And of course, the Crisis magazine is still done, and that was quite a long time ago."

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CARL ZARO
"Now when I came in this country [from a town near Naples], I had quite an experience, as you can understand. Sixteen years old, don’t speak the language, don’t have no friends, [only] …some family members, cousins and what have you …. In 1933 I got a job. Again not able to speak English, I couldn’t go to work in a factory or anything. [So his first job was in an Italian bakery on Center Street, until Japan invaded Pearl harbor]. So I was drafted into the army. Now the strangest thing is this: I was not a citizen … but they took me in the army regardless. And the upshot is that while I was in England just before the [Normandy] invasion [in 1944], somebody from Washington … they came over there, there was a few of us, five or six of us, and they made us citizens."

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