Newark's first black mayor Ken Gibson dies

Posted: Updated:
NEWARK -

Ken Gibson, the first black mayor of Newark who was elected in the years after the Brick City’s race riots, has died. He was 86.

Gibson was elected into office in 1970. He served as mayor for four terms until 1986.

“Power concedes nothing without a demand,” says Junius Williams, who once served as Gibson’s campaign manager. “We had to demand it, we stepped up, we took it. And the people who had it before did not go easily.”

He says that it was during the 1970 race that white incumbent Mayor Hugh Addonzio went after Gibson with racial attacks. But a coalition of African American, Puerto Rican civil rights and black power groups formed to support his candidacy.

Gibson was born in Alabama but moved to the central ward when he was 8 years old.

He rose to prominence during a crucial time in Newark, serving as a public official with the white flight then the race riots.

“Ken was definitely a moderate,” says Williams. “And as such, he was able to heal the racial tensions that had infected and affected this town's politics for a long, long time.”

Gibson is credited with improving city health services, driving down infant mortality rates and appointing black officials to all levels of city government during his service. 

New Jersey officials and leaders took to social media to pay tribute to the late former mayor.

Mayor Ras Baraka, whose father Amiri Baraka was an early supporter of Gibson's, said in a statement that Gibson "paved the way for every major African-American official in this state and many places around the country."

Plans for a 50th anniversary commemoration of Gibson's 1970 election win were already in place when he died. The program is still in the works and set for next year.

Funeral arrangements for Gibson have not yet been announced.

 

 

 

 

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