The Occupation of Newark by Tom Hayden: An Outsider’s Outlook

New York Times Review

New York Times Review

Diaries give a perspective into the mind of the person who is writing the entry like I am doing with this blog. They always interested me because they are personal and give a perspective of  events which are happening in front of them. It is not surprising that Tom Hayden’s “The Occupation of Newark” is intriguing because it shows a perspective of a person in the riots who worked in the grass root efforts of the protest and also an outsider to the Newark population.

Tom Hayden, a former state senator, reflects on the times of the Newark riots. Throughout the 1960s, he was a known activist in the United States. Even though he was not a native to Newark, Hayden worked in the Clinton Hall neighborhood to gain better housing for the native Newark population. He developed grass root movements to fight for better housing while he was in Newark. The Newark police considered him dangerous as he was known for helping the native population in the riots.

The article reminded me of a diary. The chapters are clearly outlined, and I am understanding his perspective through reading the article. It starts with the ill-treatment of the cab driver who started the riots. The cab driver, John Smith, was from the Safety Cab Company who was driving Cab 4S. According to reports, he was charged with tailgating and driving on an one way street in the opposite direction. It was also discovered that his license had also expired. When he was taken by the police, he was not treated with equal rights as he was beaten up and kicked and had his head thrown into a toilet after being put into the cell.

Hayden’s passages in “The Occupation of Newark” look at the perspective of why the riots happened and saw the signs of it a few years before. Newark had the worst housing in any city. The unemployment rate was more than 15% even though there were anti-poverty and job training programs available.  The government was corrupt as the Italians dominated over African-Americans and had little representation in any government job. There were only 250 blacks out of 1400 total members in the police department. Hayden used a phase to describe the police as  “a tool of more direct intimidation, harassment, and violence”.

I admired that the article describes how groups in Newark had to team up during the Newark riots after the cab driver was taken and beaten. Generations had to team up against the tyranny of the police and government. Older parents might have viewed their children as radicals, but they saw the value of starting the riot. After Smith was brought into the police station, cab drivers were able to tell everyone in neighborhoods about the ill-treatment of Smith. Soon, activists gathered around the scene including Bob Curvin who was part of CORE. It became an in and out group in Newark between the police and the citizens. Hayden described how Curvin thought of the black community was under attack from the police.

Now was the time for answers in the 1960s. There was ill-treatment for African-Americans in a government that did not represent their own interests. Leadership was taking place to change the wrongs of the city. Now was the time to create disorder and create a so-called “conscious guerrilla” according to Hayden.

Even though this article was written by someone who was not a native of the city, I believe the article offers a different perspective on what happened during the riots themselves. Sometimes, one needs another perspective who could tell us the true story of the Newark riots. No one person will have the same perspective and nor should we as each of us are in different stages in life.  The article is a reflection of what happened. After the events, Hayden wrote this article as a diary and as a reflection on what truly happened during the Newark riots. In his view, for one week, a community of people stood up against the wrongs and revolution began to take place.


About digenion

Historical interests include Rutherford/Bergen County
This entry was posted in Archival Resources, Biographies, Book Reviews, DH Exhibits, Digital History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Occupation of Newark by Tom Hayden: An Outsider’s Outlook

  1. Steve Sandor says:

    This is an interesting view inside an event, the repercussions of which are still felt and being dealt with today. I also found Hayden’s chronicle of events interesting to read through to see the manner in which the events unfolded. You mention your appreciation of Hayden’s outside perspective and I would be curious as to what other accounts you were able to compare it to? For example, I wonder how much his established activist background and social class influenced his view of the riots compared to local activists?

    • digenion says:


      I have looked at other accounts where the people were actually in the riots, but sometimes it is good to look at events as someone who is not from the area. The person who is not from the area can give another perspective. Hayden saw the riots before they happened in Newark as the GI bill allowed individuals to leave the city for suburban areas, but housing was discriminated. There were groups who were not allowed into other areas and ended up staying in Newark. Besides this, the government was no longer representing their interests. I feel Hayden saw this happening.

      In other perspectives, I read about the struggle of political control after the riots between white versus black. “Who was going to be the next mayor?” was a major question after the riots.

      Hayden was considered a dangerous threat to the Newark police. I am not sure if it was a class issue. Hayden was not just in Newark. He was a known activist in all parts of the country. I feel like Hayden was more of a traveler who wanted to be part of the action in every possible way to promote his activism. One author even said in a book(my first book review from my previous post) that Hayden was minute when it came to the riots compared to Robert Curvin.

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