Newark: Keeping Up with LeRoi Jones

Newark, N.J.

On June 16, the voters of Newark decided whether to have the first Negro mayor to be elected by the general populace of a major eastern city. The outcome was not known in time for publication here. In any case, the ultimate result is inevitable: the captains of the white garrison already suspect that there are more Negro voters functioning in Newark than white ones; if that is not true now, it will be soon enough; population projections indicate that, within five years, Newark will be close to 70 percent nonwhite.

This moment, whether of fulfillment of that trend or its mere postponement, carried more than usual of the gaudy ironies which have always attracted metropolitan journalists to the politics of Northern New Jersey as to an entertainment of circus animals: Mayor Hugh Addonizio sits before the federal jury trying him for extortion by day and campaigns only at night, forced, after years of dependence on the Negro vote, to arise now as champion of the white resistance. Kenneth Gibson, his opponent, has the support, in all three instances useful, of both Newark newspapers, of the ex-policeman who had been the candidate of the Irish only recently displaced by the Italians, and of the poet LeRoi Jones (“Poems that wrestle cops into alleys / and take their weapons leaving them dead / with tongues pulled out and sent back to Ireland.”).* Still, something has happened in Newark more consequential than the accustomed comedy of its elections.

The Negro ticket—“The Community’s Choice”—consists of Kenneth Gibson and four candidates for councilman-at-large, one a Puerto Rican. Mayor Addonizio—“The Peace and Progress Ticket”—runs with three Italo-Americans and a Negro, Calvin B. West, who took the normal course of Newark politics and might have been mayor if the transition had been an orderly succession from a Jewish to an Irish to an Italian and, some convenient day hence, to a Negro mayor—each rather like the rest—as was to be expected in Newark. As it is, Calvin West has ended under indictment with Addonizio but otherwise alone; he ran far behind the Puerto Rican (a man who was nominated, along with Gibson, by the “Black Convention”) in his own black Central Ward in the first election.

None of these persons is as familiar as LeRoi Jones, and only Addonizio has a chance to be as notorious. The Mayor has ended up campaigning only against LeRoi Jones; the most conspicuous piece of anti-Gibson literature is a reprint from the Elizabeth Journal of February 3, 1968, at the top of which the Mayor’s friends have emblazoned, “LeRoi Jones—Gibson’s Chief Aid—says ‘Kill Whites Right Now.’ “

This species of citation gets itself talked of as racist—it does at the very least attempt to give horrid form to fears otherwise formless. The Mayor, before he recognized that he had no other way to go, was sufficiently embarrassed to disown it and to promise instead a brochure worthy of his dignity detailing his prodigies for…

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