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George Breitman

City Hall No Friend of Newark’s Negroes

Both Political Machines Responsible for
Jim Crow Practices in City Departments

(12 April 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 15, 12 April 1941, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Newark’s 45,000 colored people represent one-tenth of the city’s population. In every sense, they are the most exploited and oppressed people in the city.

They are locked out of most of the big industries, forced to serve as janitors or porters or as domestic workers. Only in some of the steel and allied factories are they hired; and then almost exclusively as laborers, doing the heavy and dirty work.

The big corporation, Public Service, which milks the public out of millions each year, refuses to hire them except in menial jobs such as cleaning toilets or digging ditches.

The Brewster Aircraft plant of Part Newark, invited here by the City Commission under very favorable tax and rent terms, refuses to hire a single colored laborer. Prudential insurance company, one of the biggest in the world, which gets millions from its colored clients, will not hire any.

Consequently, a large part of the colored people are forced onto the relief rolls, or, if they are a little more lucky, onto WPA jobs, at standards which make it practically impossible for them to bring their families up under healthy conditions. This explains why the ’flu and pneumonia epidemics each year start sooner and are more malignant in the colored neighborhoods than elsewhere.

City Hall No Better

The overwhelming majority of the city departments, although they are supposed to be conducted under civil service, maneuver to have only one or two, or no colored employees at all.

The City Hospital refuses to employ a single Negro doctor or nurse, although many are eligible and one fourth of the hospital’s patients are colored.

Thus the City Commission itself, including tire representatives of the Ellenstein-Franklin and the Byrne-Clee factions, help to propagate the theory of “white superiority,” and furnish the employers with an example of job Jim Crowism which the bosses are only too glad to point to and follow.


A survey of housing in Newark’s Third Ward three years ago brought to light a few of the facts on housing in those neighborhoods to which the colored workers have been segregated and from which it is so hard for them to escape.

Out of 2,010 homes that were inspected, it was found that 1,874 showed violations of the sanitary code. In addition, about 300 were declared to be “unfit for use,” about 800 were said to “need major repairs,” and close to 800 others were in need of “minor repairs.”

And yet the Department of Health, run by Commissioner Franklin who is desperately seeking the Negro vote, declared:

“Economic conditions have persuaded this department to be somewhat lenient with the owners of the buildings insofar as ordering drastic alterations and improvements are concerned ... To overburden these property owners with expensive alterations is not a solution to the problem.”

In other words, Franklin, the self-advertised “champion of the underprivileged,” is really champion DECEIVER of the underprivileged, and “lenient” friend of the landlords who charge such high rents for unhealthy fire-traps maintained in open violation of the sanitary and building codes.

Vicious Inequalities

The colored workers’ economic problems are directly tied up with the problems of social equality. There can never be real economic equality for them as long as they are not permitted into certain places like others, for the Jim Crow bars in public places do their share in contributing to the idea that Negroes are inferior, which is used as the basis for denying them equal opportunity to jobs, relief, housing, etc.

A vicious Mason-Dixon line running through Newark confines the colored people to one or two areas. And even inside these areas they face insult and segregation every day in the year.

Just a few weeks ago five colored women went into the luncheonette owned by one Max Grundfast on the edge of the Third Ward. He demanded 40c for a cup of coffee, and then physically threw them out of the place, setting his dog and his son on them. Last week a man who tried to get a drink in a tavern in the same area was beaten up and thrown in jail under $1,000 bail. Theatres in this area refuse to permit Negroes to sit in the orchestra, selling tickets to them, only for the balcony, in violation of the weak New Jersey Civil Rights Act.

(Next week: The Role of the Colored “Leaders” in the Elections)

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