|TWO COMMUNITIES: ELIZABETH, NJ USA AND CALI, Colombia|
NJ has a substantive and growing population of residents from Colombia,
South America. One member of that community, Yamil Avivi, a graduate of
New York University and a Fulbright scholar, became interested in the
distinctive features of the two Colombia communities: one in the US and
one in Colombia, South America.
Perspective From a Community
Monday, March 25, 2002
|Shortly after the attack on
the World Trade Towers, the Municipal Society of New York City initiated
an organizational effort to reimagine New York City. The starting point
of this effort was to recreate town meeting situations in which a cross-section
of citizens throughout the metropolitan region could register their anxieties
and suggestions. The Municipal Society extended their effort to New Jersey,
especially the New Jersey Historical Society (and its director, Sally Yerkovich)
and the Historical Society, Elizabeth NJ Inc among many other groups. The
first such meeting in New Jersey took place on March 25, 2002 in the Peterstown
Community Center, sponsored by the three above-named organizations. The
event became the Historical Society; Elizabeth NJ Incs Forum II: "September
11: Perspectives from a Community."
The multiple ethnic and racial voices at this meeting not only listed to the Historical Societys co-presidents, Orlando Edreira and Nida Thomas, they received words of welcome from Mayor Chris Bollwage (especially his earlier career which involved work in the Twin Towers), Freeholder Angel Estrada and the full participation of city dignitaries like the Citys Fire Chief, City councilmen, and other representative leaders. After these focused remarks, the entire group re-organized into multiple (and several bilingual) break-out groups for close discussion. After a period of time the entire group reassembled as a whole to listen to each break-out groups spokesperson. The effort was to provide multiple summary viewpoints.
Among many sentiments people registered their sense of loss, not simply of lives and property but of a lost sense of conception and understanding. Some people expressed the need for decisive reaction but were not clear where or how; others felt the need for discussions with neighbors and relatives whom they now felt were more precious than ever; others felt the importance of engaging non-American cultures , especially as Americas military and economic might registers itself internationally. Still others felt the need for greater personal and national security.
NJ Historical Society Director, Sally Yerkovich, and Elizabeth Historical Society trustee Paul H Mattingly attempted some concluding remarks by noting the importance of historical societies in times of confusion and crisis. Historical knowledge provides no panacea or facile clarity but it does orchestrate facts and experiences which contextualize new phenomena and invites discussion which permits citizens to gain their bearings. Historical societies are not simply passive storage houses but are at their best educational resources and activist clearing houses; they respond to the question, how have we come to this particular place or impasse. The orchestration of historical knowledge is always the first step to new clarity, even in the face of something as disruptive and overwhelming as the September 11 disaster.
|NEW JERSEY ASSESSES THE
WORLD TRADE CENTER MEMORIALS
PAUL H. MATTINGLY
TRUSTEE, HISTORICAL SOCIETY, ELIZABETH NJ
The afternoon of November 21, 2003 found a gathering of New Jersey residents poised to discuss the World Trade Center Memorial sites for New York City. Imagine NY is a product of the Municipal Art Society of New York City, which has an ongoing commitment to the social-cultural impact of the 9/11 attack on New York City. They want to know how people have reacted after the event and later, now two years later, to the event, how we have changed and their consequences. Their outreach has created a metropolitan cultural network to respond, first, to 9/11 and then the publics later reactions.
During the afternoon of November 21, 2003 The New Jersey Historical Society and the Historical Society of Elizabeth, NJ, two organizations in the ImagineNY network, sponsored the only state-wide New Jersey event responding to this metropolitan exercise. They arranged a discussion of the proposed memorials and registered citizen reactions to the recently released designs for the former site of the World Center. At Elizabeth NJs beautiful Peterstown Community Center, fifteen New Jersey citizens, ImagineNYs specified limit on critique sessions, assembled to register their reactions. The sponsors viewed the audio-tape of the selected designs and discussed the eight proposals in detail.
In the course of the three-hour discussion citizens made clear that the memorial was not to be cemetery-like, over-particularized in terms of the victims (esp the time-line biographical specifications of one proposal), or overly complicated in terms of the technology of some designs (busy light displays etc). In general, they favored open-space presentations adaptable to different celebrations, maintenance-free constructions, respectful conceptions of national values no differentiation between victims or victim groupings, no differentiation of memorial access (victim families vs ordinary citizens), accessible public walkways and street enhancing promenades.
Two designs received special approbation: LOWER WATERS by Mattias Newman and Bradley Campbell and INVERSION OF LIGHT by Toshio Sasakui. In the first design, citizens applauded the access from the street, the exposure of the slurry wall which showed the engineering ingenuity of the original conception, the outside wall of names with prairie grass and sense of open space. The citizen sense was at once acceptance of the place, accessibility to the existing neighborhood, adaptability to tourist interest, accommodation to museum values and exploration of the causes of the disaster.
THE INVERSION OF LIGHT design was another favorite for its simplicity and elegance of design, adaptability to multiple publics, openness to the elements earth, air, light and water subtle presentation of victims names etched on 2-inch fronted glass with water flowing behind plaza effect in central square with accented lighting.
The citizen discussion addressed the multiple demands of the site memorial to the victims, icon for the nation, expression of international networks. In some ways, the order was descending, with a primary concern for the victims but with a sense that the memorial implicated the entire nation. Much discussion went to the maintenance problems, the accessibility to the names and the center of the structural event where deep respect became intimate, the durability of the designs compared with other memorials less technologically sophisticated but solid like the pyramids. Citizens took particular care to dismiss cemetery designs and to privilege those that favored "living memorials" with a sense of present appreciations and use (an urban park) not to mention future adaptability.
The facilitator of the event was Sally Yerkovich, President and CEO of The New Jersey Historical Society, who prodded the discussion and noted reactions on static-sensitive wall charts. The charts will be sent to the Municipal Art Society for collation into the other metropolitan area reaction-group reactions. The Historical Society; Elizabeth NJ co-sponsored this event, the only one in New Jersey, to insure a ground-level reaction to 9/11. Once again Elizabeths Mayor, Chris Bollwage, personally endorsed the event, recognizing its regional importance as well as Elizabeths contribution to the emergency and to its memory.
New Jersey is now two years away from the 9/11 tragedy, a distinctly metropolitan experience. The states role in the healthy economy of metropolitan New York is too obvious for comment; what needs further emphasis is the role New Jersey constantly plays in the regions multiple structural supports, not least of which is its emergency operations like those activated during the 9/11 crisis, where so many NJ police and firemen and other emergency workers served beyond the call of duty. ImagineNY, The Historical Society of New Jersey and The Historical Society; Elizabeth NJ, working together, underscore this metropolitan view, not only looking backwards but also in working toward our collective futures. We hope the museum constructions at New York Citys 9/11 site will make clear the full import of a metropolitan operation, in peace and in crisis.
ELIZABETH FORUM MARCH 22, 2005
"CRISIS IN AFRICA - WHOSE PROBLEM IS
The Historical Society together and the Elizabeth
High School, courtesy of Principal Michael Scarpato, sponsored an Elizabeth
Forum with an international scope. US Congressman Donald Payne addressed
a substantive Elizabeth audience in the auditorium of the high schools
Halsey House. In his welcoming remarks Principal Scarpato noticed Mayor
Chris Bollwage and Council members Patricia Perkins August and Bill Gallman
among other distinguished attendees. The Principal also began the evening
with a presentation of the colors by the Junior ROTC unit of the high
school. [(picture on right) Congressman
Donald M Payne and Elizabeth High School Principal Michael Scarpato with
the Jr. High School Color Guard]
ELIZABETH FORUM MAY 5, 2005
"VISIONS OF AMERICA; VISIONS OF JUDAISM: JEWISH IMMIGRANT COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT, ELIZABETH NJ 1900-1950"
AN INTERACTIVE DISCUSSION WITH PHILIP WOLGIN
On November 21st, 1944, the members of Elizabeths Young Mens-Young Womens Association (Y.M.-Y.W.H.A.) and the Elizabeth Jewish Council met with the members of the Jewish Educational Center (J.E.C.) at the J.E.C.s new headquarters at 330 Elmora Avenue. The discussion at hand revolved around the future of the Jewish Educational Center and its place in Elizabeth. The J.E.C. marked a radical departure for the community a synagogue and community center based on a traditional-orthodox approach to Judaism.
Orthodoxy had its roots in Elizabeth since the late
nineteenth century, but the J.E.C. marked the first time that an orthodox
synagogue and community center combined into one, rivaling the power of
the established secular center, the Y.M.-Y.W.H.A. Even its location in
the Elmora section of Elizabeth was controversial: the majority of Elizabeths
Jewish immigrants first settled in the downtown Elizabethport area, almost
an hours walk from the J.E.C., and had only recently begun to move
up to Elmora.
During the first stage, the dominant concerns of Elizabeths Jewish immigrants revolved around immigrant needs such as finding capital, settling into American life, and assuring proper burial. (While these are not necessarily immigrant needs per se, they are some of the first things that any fledgling community must deal with.) Thus during this time, the nexus of community revolved around a series of charitable, fraternal, and philanthropic institutions which served these immigrant needs. By serving the common needs of the immigrant, these organizations became a way for the Jewish population to ally themselves to acculturate into American life and society. In doing so they also became an important method of socialization, and places like Elizabeths Library Hall, a meeting house opened in 1897 in the downtown Port section, became one of Elizabeths early Jewish community centers. In this first stage, the idea of one Jewish community formed in Elizabeth, when pressing needs came before a discussion of religious ideology in the community. Here the functions of synagogue and community center were by and large separate, with institutions playing much of the later role.
Though a discussion of religious ideology had been
absent from Elizabeths institutions during this first stage, as
the immigrants began to move into the middle class, they realized that
their old practices would not translate to their children. With growing
middle class status, the needs of the immigrants shifted to the needs
of their children, and here two different visions of how to synthesize
Jewish and American arose. One the one hand, Temple Bnai Israels
constituents updated its practices towards a more progressive form of
Judaism, ultimately joining the United Synagogue of the Conservative movement,
while on the other Holche Yosher and its constituents began to modify
Jewish education and practice to stress traditional practice in American
life. In short two visions arose in Elizabeth, one which sought to adapt
Jewish practice to American life, and one which sought to adapt American
life to Judaism.
By the late 1930s and early 1940s two main synagogue
centers community centers that combined a synagogue and community
center emerged in Elizabeth, Temple Bnai Israel and its affiliate
the YM-YWHA, and the Jewish Educational Center, the successor to Holche
Yosher. These two synagogue-centers personified the visions of an American-Jewish
community that had developed during the intermediate stage, solidifying
the visions into community centers. Here Elizabeths Jewish population
split between two centers and two differing religious ideologies.
WHOSE OLD NEIGHBORHOOD?
NATIONAL ORIGINS OF HOUSEHOLD HEADS
The question, Whose Old Neighborhood?, itself
documents an important transition: someone who remembers a neighborhood
well and likely for a long time perceives a challenge to established patterns.
The question points to a major feature of most 20th century neighborhoods:
they change and one group who once took ownership for granted sees not
only changes but ignorance and misinformation about the incoming dynamics
of well-loved places. Whose Old Neighborhood is part of a larger discussion
about Whose Tradition will receive ongoing respect and remembrance. The
questions are basic features of any effort to create a new urban narrative,
a major objective of the Elizabeth Historical Society.
This neighborhood also registered householders
who were unskilled chauffers, porters, watchmen, gardners etc
from a quarter to a third of residents. But many more of its residents
native and foreign held skilled, middle class occupations
like Fred Sang a 1920 resident of 1074 William St ,
where Norman Harris lives today . Sang was a native of Germany and a bookkeeper
for the Gas company. There is a long standing middle-class respectability
to this neighborhood, which several interviewees characterized as "open
Perhaps most important here were the churches still to this day a central anchor of both religious, social and cultural activity represented in 1920 for example by Rev. Lilburd C Hurdle born in Va of a father from North Carolina and at age 37 pastor of Union Baptist Church. Hurdle resided at 1086 E Grand St with his wife Martha and son Lilburd Jr, a NJ native. He shared a two family structure with George and Edith Reed, an African American couple. George Reed was 22 and a Virginian who was employed at Singer Sewing Machine Co. Important here too is that none of their immediate neighbors were African Americans but rather a heady mix of New Jerseyans, Germans, Irish and a lone Canadian. Early on African Americans did not cluster, like the Italians in Peterstown or the Jewish community moving northward and together out of South Park St in Elizabethport. What did this non-cluster pattern signify?
As important as the anchoring church for new African-American migrants was health. In 1920 Dr. Jeremiah G. Brown, an African-American physician, and his wife Lavinia, ages 33 and 34 he from So Carolina, she from Virginia resided and likely operated out of his home at 173 Madison Avenue. Brown still resided at this address in 1930. Though many of his immediate Madison Ave neighbors none of whom were African American registered themselves as "New Jerseyans", their parents often came from Ireland, Germany and Norway. It is interesting too that in neighborhoods south of Catherine and William Sts closer to the Singer Sewing Machine Company, sizeable groups of individuals from
Eastern Europe Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary etc resided. Very few of this group many of whom held "unskilled" manual labor positions - lived in the William St Catherine St area. Residents of William St who worked for Singer in 1920 and in 1930 were more likely to be like African-American Robert Powell, a native of Virginia (1062 William St), who worked for Singer as a "Moulder," a very physical but skilled brand of work.
In 1930 African-American George Williams
[ Today 1019 William Street is an empty lot. One witness testified that the missing domicile differed from houses on either side]directly opposite where Mattie Smith lives today - with his wife Hessie and son Andrew (a New Jerseyan) rented to four boarders all African American, all Southerners, all in their 20s.
This strategy was not distinctive to African-Americans but was a strategy that often gave gainful employment to women. A boarder, unlike a lodger, required more than shelter. Laundry and meals usually went with boarding and required a presence on location. So very likely Hessie Wilson, age 48 from North Carolina, played the pivotal role enhancing her familys income.
On might note that this strategy was one used in 1920 by the owner of Bonnell House itself: Susan C Barber. Born Susan Chet field to a prominent Elizabeth Lawyer and niece of one of the citys 19th century mayors, she married William Barber, a descendant of Francis Barber who at the time of the Revolution was headmaster of the Elizabeth Academy.
In 1776 he joined
the NJ militia with his student Alexander Hamilton. Before his death during
the Revolutionary war Francis Barber had married (sequentially Mary 1752-1773
(d age 21) and Ann [1758-1825] died age 67
both buried in First Presbyterian Ch graveyard)
two daughters of Robert Ogden, a resident of the Belcher-Ogden house across
East Jersey from Bonnell. Barbers descendants later sold his 1045
East Jersey house but in the middle of the 19th century William and Susan
Barber bought it back. The couple raised their family here. By 1920 her
family is gone and her husband is deceased and Susan Barber
takes in two Lodgers, likely as much for companionship as for financial
stability. In 1920 Susan Barber is 75 and she lists no occupation. However
her lodgers Elizabeth Barrington, 22 , a NJ native, worked for the Red
Cross and Catherine Spraugue, age 45, also a NJ native, was self-employed
as a dressmaker. Just ten years earlier Susan lived in Bonnell House with
her son Henry, a 30 year old bookkeeper, and her 28 year-old daughter,
Mary, who had no occupation. The household was also served by an 18 year
old African American servant, Sadie Tucker, a NJ native but born of parents
year old Virginian with four daughters. Her
boarding house lodged not only her daughters but four boarders, all under
10 years of age. Her daughters clearly helped family income with one working
as a music teacher and the others working as domestics in local private
homes. But the boarders all have different surnames and are not listed
as Simmonss relatives. In 1920 Simmons still resides at 1085 with
her daughters but now she has one lodger David Scott, a 30 year old Georgian
and a chauffer and seven boarders all under the age of nine, all
African-American and all born in NJ. Louise lists her occupation as "caretaker
of children." What is the bigger story here?
for example, from roughly 3% in 1900 to 10% in 1940. The ferment that had resulted in the formation of the NAACP in 1910 impacted Elizabeth in the early 1940s with the formation of its local branch, headed by Bravel Nesbitt, proprietor of a local funeral home.
The articulation of distinct African-American priorities as a part of Elizabeths city-wide landscape had reached a new turning point, the shift from a local neighborhood culture to political organization and a public advocacy for the civil rights of all its citizens. Aspects of Jim Crow resistance in
theatres and other public places, as Nida Thomas
has testified, had become increasingly intolerable, "neighborhood"
traditions. However it is bracing to note the testimony of several neighborhood
residents that in public schooling witness here a 1940 image of
Winfield Scotts Summer class seems to have escaped the pall
of Jim Crow prejudice.
Before discussion begins the Society would like to extend its sincere thanks to our Community Treasure interviewees: