Celebrating Dr. King the fighter in Newark, N.J.

Dr. Willa Cofield speaks to the Newark MLK Day rally on Jan. 15.

By Johnnie Stevens and Steve Millies

Over 100 people demonstrated in Newark, N.J., on Jan. 15 to celebrate the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday. Organized by the People’s Organization for Progress, the rally and march was a defiant mobilization against super bigot Donald Trump.

A multinational crowd gathered in front of the Dr. King statue in Newark. Chaired by POP chairperson Lawrence Hamm, the rally heard young and old fighters.

Dr. Willa Johnson Cofield described how the Ku Klux Klan burned a 17-foot-tall cross near her North Carolina home because she fought for voting rights. Although she was fired by a racist school administration, Cofield won her job back. Her legal case may have saved the jobs of 40,000 Black teachers throughout the South who were targeted by Jim Crow authorities.

Former New Jersey assemblyperson William D. Payne spoke of his meetings with Dr. King. Proudly wearing a badge from the 1957 Prayer Pilgrimage, a civil rights march in Washington, D.C., Payne talked about his fight to bring Black history to all New Jersey students via the “Amistad Bill.”

Speakers also included a representative from New Jersey BAYAN, a Filipino organization.

Lawrence Hamm reminded people of the Garden State’s racist history. New Jersey was the last Northern state to outlaw slavery, but there were still people held as slaves in 1865. State legislators initially refused to pass the 13th Amendment against slavery.

Hamm recalled the local theaters, where African Americans could only sit in the balcony. He pointed to the old Bamberger Department Store, where Black customers weren’t allowed to try on clothes.

Pointing towards the old First Presbyterian Church, whose basement served as a “station” on the Underground Railroad, Hamm said that runaway slaves were advised that New Jersey wasn’t a safe haven.

People marched down Market Street to Broad Street and then marched back, carrying many signs attacking police brutality and demanding jobs and health care for all. Firefighters in a fire truck honked their horn in support, as did many other drivers.

Despite a few new buildings, Newark continues to be one of the poorest cities in the U.S. The racist ruling class has never forgotten the heroic Newark rebellion in 1967.

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