Sons See Roots of Newark Today in Its Troubled Past

WNYC | July 13, 2017 | Politics
Che and Junius Onome Williams believe some of the same issues that led to the 1967 rebellion in their home city of Newark are still relevant today

More than 100,000 people left Newark in the two decades following the 1967 riots — or rebellion — that so changed that city. One man who stayed was Junius Williams, the civil rights activist, lawyer, and author who lived through the mayhem and stayed on to help rebuild the city and raise a family there.

This week, WNYC has been reviewing that tumultuous period through the lens of the Williams family — Junius, his two daughters Junea and Camille, and his two sons, Junius Onome and Che.

For Junius Onome Williams, a student at Harvard University, the days of death and destruction provide a context for understanding the Newark of today. “It’s a question of framing it around continuity — the idea that a lot of the root causes of the issues we’re seeing now, be it police brutality, economic deprivation, disparities in sentencing, come back to the same sorts of issues that we saw in ’67,” he said.

“The biggest substantive difference,” he said, “is the emergence of what my dad would call the black political class — and that was, in essence, the objective of the early northern civil rights movement.”

Che Williams, who is a student at Hampshire College, said, “It’s hard to really envision myself running around out there for my rights in 1967 on the streets of South Ward Newark.”

“Especially with Black Lives Matters, having black women and fems of color and queer folk leading the new movement, I think it adds a whole different lens… to how we discuss race and class in an urban black city,” he said.

Listen to the interview on WNYC News, a content partner of NJ Spotlight.