In days long gone by, people who were trying to make America far greater than it was had to do things that confused the body politic. Those who dared to challenge the prevailing system did not always get approval, sometimes receiving criticism that they were either unpatriotic or they weren’t going far enough.
Newark, New Jersey native Irvine Turner was the city’s first Black elected official in 1954. Back in the 1940s he was appointed to various governmental committees that were empowered to improve the makeup of Newark. Turner’s influence grew steadily in his position as a City Councilman, as he forged partnerships with the mayor’s office and the area’s Congressional delegation. Though the former journalist was liked by non-Whites, Turner was determined to make things better for Blacks in Newark. He fought with the local Democratic party to include more Blacks in county government and in Congress, chided local government for not having a Black city judge and the New Jersey governor for not having a Black person in his cabinet. Turner was relentless in his battles for significant Black inclusion in construction jobs, on college boards, on the Board of Education; he was vocal about financing public school construction, increasing teacher salaries, teaching Black history and in bringing more money to Newark through the lease of the seaport and airport.
Just a cursory view of Turner’s accomplishments would illustrate a public life well-lived beyond the aforementioned deeds. Yet one would be hard-pressed to find a citizen who could tell the story of the man who has a heavily utilized street in Newark that is named after him.
Maybe because during that time—much like today—a person’s walk is not as important as their talk.
MARC CURTIS LITTLE BLOG/Please comment at www.marclittlewrites.com