Black communities across the country still wrestle with the same cocktail of racist structural violence—including police brutality, poverty, incarceration, attacks on Black activists, economic segregation and educational divestment—that prompted unrest throughout the late-1960s. Today (July 12) marks a half century since that unrest erupted in Newark, New Jersey, a predominantly Black city plagued by those issues. WNYC radio host Rebecca Carroll investigates the tumult’s origins and legacy, and taps the perspective of a Black Newark family in a special radio series that premiered on Monday (July 10).
“The Newark Riots at 50” begins with the anger ignited when two White Newark policemen beat a Black cab driver, John William Smith, for passing their double-parked car. The first episode then tells the story of Junius Williams, a Black activist who chose to remain in Newark after a near-fatal encounter with police on the second night of the unrest, which he refers to as a “rebellion.”
The second episode follows Camille and Junea Williams, Junius’ daughters from his first marriage, as they grow up in a city plagued by economic neglect and the burgeoning War on Drugs and then decide to stay and fight for a better Newark.
The third episode highlights Che and Junius Onome, the senior Junius’ millennial-age sons from his second marriage, who plan to continue their family’s work by moving back to Newark after college.
Carroll discusses the Williams’ linked fates and various approaches to social justice advocacy in a Mic article about the series:
All four siblings recognize their privileges—growing up with loving and attentive parents in a middle class family with money for private schools and college and some amount of generational wealth, all while rooted in a strong foundation of Black culture and history. Junea talks about “passing the baton” to the next generation of Newark leaders, while Che emphasizes the innovative music that comes out of the city. Camille focuses on making sure the elders in her community always have what they need, and Junius appreciates the safe haven of their family home.
WNYC confirmed via email that tomorrow and Friday’s episodes will focus on other Newark natives’ experience and the rebellion’s impact on subsequent Newark political leaders, respectively.
Check out the full series at WNYC.org.