Bloomfield College Students Recover Forgotten Aspects of Newark's History

By: Alicia Cook

With the opening of their exhibit, the students in the Topics in New Jersey History class at Bloomfield College have resurrected forgotten history of Newark, New Jersey.

“It was really great to do a presentation on something so overlooked by history,” said Diana Santiago, a junior at the College.

On May 2, "Kawaida Towers: A Tale of Two Cities" was unveiled. The exhibit examines the race relations between Italian-Americans and African-Americans in Newark, New Jersey during the 1970s and sheds much needed light on life in Newark following the 1967 riots.

Almost 50 years ago, Newark, New Jersey erupted. Followed by Detroit, then city after city across the country. African-American communities were met with brutal violence by police and National Guardsmen.

Following the 1967 Newark Riots, renowned poet, playwright, activist and Newark native, Amiri Baraka, birthed the idea of the Kawaida Towers. The project was initiated by the Congress of African Peoples in an attempt to create better low-income housing in Newark’s North Ward.

At the time, the Towers signified to many a better life and an ideal community.  It was scheduled to be built in 1972. However, due to picketers, most notably Anthony Imperiale (whose Wikipedia page makes no mention of his active, relentless protesting of the Towers), the construction was continually delayed and began to lose money.

In 1976, the project was abandoned. What was to be a utopian structure, never came to fruition.

According to the class, the loss of the Kawaida Towers symbolized the decline of the black power movement and the continued racism in New Jersey’s largest city.

Comparatively, little is known about the Towers. A quick Google search does not provide nearly as much information as the exhibit.

Under the guidance of Michelle Chase, an Assistant Professor in the Humanities Division, the class worked collaboratively all semester on this project. The effort and attention to detail that went into the compiling and creation of this exhibit is impressive.

Working as a team, they visited the Newark Public Library and thumbed through numerous newspaper clippings as well as rare archival photographs from the New Jersey Star Ledger, which are displayed in the exhibit.

“It was so important that we recover aspects on the history of Newark that had been lost,” said Chase. “This exhibit offers a better explanation of the continued racial conflicts that went on outside of the riots in 1967.”

It is not every day you can truly say you learned something new. Be sure to check out the exhibit on the lower level of the library.

View pictures of the students and the exhibit.

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