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Callie Silvey

Modern World History

Midterm Research Project Rough Draft

Since the beginning of time, there has been tension between people who are different
from one another. Whether it be gender, sexuality, or race, people always find a way to
discriminate against people who are not like them. The most well-known division amongst
people is race. Racial tension has been around in the United States since it’s creation when
wealthy white men kept black people as slaves. There have been huge steps made in the progress
of abolishing racism, but it is still a very big problem today. In 1955, Rosa Parks made a huge
impact in society when she refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man. 1 Even though
that movement helped jumpstart some of the movements that have led us to where we are today,
there are still many things that cause setbacks. One of them was the race riots that happened in
Newark, New Jersey in 1967. The race riots happened as a result of a conflict between a white
police officer and a black man. The racial divide in the United States has had a major impact on
the lives of its people and how the United States is making progression to end (or try to end)
racism and segregation.
The Newark race riots that happened on July 12th to the 17th of 1967 changed many
people’s lives forever. Before 1967, Newark’s population slowly started to decline, which led to
“a majority black city controlled by white politicians” 2 and when rumors started to spread about
an act of police brutality on a black man, the racial tension was higher than ever.
John Smith was a black cab driver in Newark. He got arrested and beaten by two white
police officers in front of the Hayes Homes public housing development. The rumors that he was
beaten to death started to spread and things started to get out of hand. People were furious --
throwing rocks through the windows of the precinct and looting stores. When the rumors were
falsified, the damage seemed to be minor, but that was just the beginning of what would be
known as the Newark race riots of 1967.
A protest march was scheduled and carried out on July 13th by residents of Newark.
During the march, a woman turned violent and smashed the windows of the precinct. Once that
act of violence happened, more and more people started smashing windows and looting stores.
The windows being smashed led to people throwing Molotov cocktails into shops, which led to
buildings burning down. Others stole “liquor, food, clothing, electronics, and other items sold in
the stores along Springfield Avenue and beyond” 3. The police were called to attempt to calm the

1
Rosa Parks," HISTORY, last modified November 9, 2009,
https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/rosa-parks.
2
NJ.com. 50 Years ago Newark Burned. Last modified July 12, 2017.
https://www.nj.com/essex/index.ssf/2017/07/
what_you_need_to_know_about_the_1967_newark_riots.html.
3
NJ.com, 50 Years ago Newark Burned.
riots that had started. When the police were unsuccessful in handling it on their own, the mayor
of Newark at the time called Governor Richard Hughes, who called in thousands of state police
and National Guard troops.
My grandfather, Steven Smera, was one of the thousands of members of the National
Guard who was called in to help quell the riots. I interviewed him twice over the phone and we
talked about his time in the National Guard and his experience with the Newark race riots. His
job as a part of the National Guard was to do “a perimeter on the area that the local police were
working in and let nobody in unless they had proof or the keys to their house” 4. He was only 22
years old when he was called to help with these race riots. Minds are very naive when people are
that young, so I asked him if the riots had changed his views on anything. He answered with:

“It was a black and white thing years ago like in earlier years, but I’m not afraid
of black people. In fact, we didn’t know how they would be treating us … and
most people didn’t like what the hell was going on, to begin with, … [but i]t made
me feel more in tune with other people overall. … People are people. There are
good ones and bad ones and, fortunately, the bad ones are not high in numbers” 5.

Even though the race riots were devastating for the city of Newark, they did not seem to be as
devastating for people’s views. Many people still supported the divide in the United States and
others didn’t. Before my grandfather helped out with the race riots, he still had the same
viewpoint that all people are equal. The majority of the black people who were discriminated
during the race riots felt like they were getting revenge by burning buildings and looting stores,
but when all was said and done, people were able to move on from what happened. It took some
time to recover because people had done over ten million dollars in damage (which totals to
about 75 million in 2018 dollars), 26 lives were lost, and hundreds of people were injured.
The race riots started as an act of police violence. Since then, rates of police violence
have only increased. Since 1967, many protests and marches have been held to peacefully (and
sometimes not so peacefully) protest the racial divide in the United States, but as of December
18th, 2018, there have been 956 people killed by police in 2018. Out of that 956, 12 of those
shootings were in New Jersey alone. That means that there were 1.34 shootings per 1 million
people. Now, compared to California, Texas, or Florida which have had 109, 84, and 60
shootings respectively, that may not seem like a lot, but those numbers begin to add up6. There
was the same number of people killed in New Jersey by police officers in 2017 and 2016.

4
Steven Smera, interview, Hamden, CT, December 2, 2018.
5
Steven Smera, interview, Hamden, CT, December 2, 2018.
6
The Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/national/police-
shootings-2018/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.f742281789ca.
In October of 2018, there was a 19-year-old by the name of Jacob Servais who was killed
in what the press calls a “police-involved shooting” 7. Servais was already facing charges for a
car crash back in June that killed his passenger, but it was unknown if he was armed or not when
he was shot in October. There have still been many incidents of police-related violence or
shootings. Police violence is still a big issue now and many people are still affected by it. Every
once in a while there will be an article in the news about police brutality and there are still many
rallies against it and how police violence seems to be white police officers being brutal or even
shooting a black or Hispanic victim.
There are many examples of how racism and even still police violence are prominent in
today’s society. There are still many anti-racism protests and marches happening in the United
States. An article by The Washington Post describes one that happened recently:
“The protesters gathered around the historical Rotunda, where a year ago white
supremacists had shouted anti-Semitic slogans and carried torches, and chanted
slogans of their own — against the police, against white supremacy, and against
the University of Virginia. ‘Last year they came with torches … This year they
come with badges.’” 8
Some of this controversy came along with the recent presidential election. When candidate
Donald Trump supported the white supremacists that had held a rally in Charlottesville (briefly
mentioned in the quote above), people were disgusted by someone who was running to be the
leader of our country and since he has been elected, that disgust has still not settled. LeBron
James, a famous basketball player, said in an interview that Trump was “using sports to kinda
divide us, and that's something that I can't relate to” 9 that sparked more controversy. While
Trump has continued to say more questionable things supporting or not supporting certain races,
ethnicities, others continue to stay united. My grandfather, to this day, continues to be one of the
people who stays united with others. When we were conversing about the race riots, he said “it
was like a small bunch of people doing bad things. It’s not right whether you’re black, white,
purple, or green” 10.
Some people’s views, however, have changed over the years. There was a lot of racial
tension back in 1967, and it can be argued that there is still as much today, but a lot of people’s
views have changed to be less biased and more faced on equality and how we can work more

7
"Officials Identify Victim of Fatal Police-Involved Shooting in Vineland, New Jersey," ABC
Action News.
8
The Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/anti-racist-protesters-and-
activists-march-through-the-streets-of-charlottesville/2018/08/11/977b949c-9da2-11e8-b60b-
1c897f17e185_story.html?utm_term=.75e365b092e7.
9
Hayes, Christal. "Here Are 10 Times President Trump's Comments Have Been Called Racist."
USA Today. Last modified August 14, 2018.
https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/onpolitics/2018/08/times-president-trump-
comments-called-racist/985438002/.
10
Steven Smera, interview, Hamden, CT, December 2, 2018.
towards that goal. “Most people in the United States now support the general principles of racial
desegregation and nondiscrimination … The United States, however, still remains highly
segregated and unequal” 11. Even though the majority of people in the United States are against
racism and discrimination, the United States is still a very divided place and that fact hasn’t
changed since the race riots happened in Newark.
In the United States, nearly 40 percent of the population is of color. However, only
around “7 percent of top Senate staff were people of color” 12. The representation of diverse
people, whether it be people of different gender, sexuality, and race, needs to be over that seven
percent that is currently represented. The people of the United States mainly feel discriminated
against when they don’t see people who look like them in places of power like the Senate or in
the White House. The race riots in Newark started a small change in New Jersey, but there are
still a lot of changes that need to be made if we want people to feel comfortable with themselves
and with others.

11
Monica Kirkpatrick Johnson and Margaret Mooney Marini, "Bridging the Racial Divide in the
United States: The Effect of Gender," Social Psychology Quarterly 61, no. 3 (1998): [Page #],
https://doi.org/10.2307/2787111.
12
Donald Sherman, "Congress Should Prioritize Diversity so Government Reflects Americans,"
The Hill, last modified July 9, 2018, https://thehill.com/opinion/civil-rights/396106-congress-
should-prioritize-diversity-so-government-reflects-americans.