Newark’s LGBTQ Community Past and Present Remembered

As you (hopefully) have read from my previous posts, I am very much into learning about and discovering Newark’s past and present as well as behind-the-scenes of my city and neighbors–all 282,000 of them.

One such discovery includes the free downtown walking tours offered as part of this summer’s activities at Military Park on Thursdays at 6pm. I have been on three already. Each of them offered me insight on what the future may look like downtown during an architectural tour by a recent NJIT architecture graduate, the historical significance of buildings that were once home to something else before what they are today, and 19th century mansions that were once home to early influential Newarkers and are still maintained as private residences today. Fortunately, they are preserved and their history is remembered while other facets of Newark’s history is not as easily so.

Case in point: this week’s tour by The Queer Newark Oral History Project (QNOHP). I had no idea such a project existed and was very curious to learn more ahead of the tour. After doing some research, I contacted them via Facebook asking for an interview.  I received a quick reply from Kristyn Scorsone, a staff member of the project who agreed to meet up with me.

I learned QNOHP is a community-based and community driven project that aims to collect and preserve the voices and history of Newark’s LGBTQ community based out of Rutgers-Newark. It was founded six years ago this summer by activist, writer, and the first chair of the City of Newark’s advisory Commission on LGBTQ Concerns, Darnell Moore and Rutgers-Newark colleagues, History Professor Beryl Satter, and Christina Strasburger, Department Administrator for the History and African-American and African Studies Departments.

This was in response to how queer history often only includes the contributions of white gay men and to a lesser extent, white lesbians in cities like New York or San Francisco. “Newark gets overshadowed, especially people of color. This project is trying to rectify this history,” says Scorsone.

The public archive is available to anyone with Internet access. By no means is it complete and want to continue to “capture people’s voices.”  They are also collecting physical items to add to their collection and “recently received a generous donation from James Credle, a former dean at Rutgers-Newark and highly decorated Vietnam veteran and leader in Newark’s LGBTQ community. If interested in participating, I have included several ways for you to contact them at the end of this post.

You can also meet them on one of their tours. On July 6th at 6pm and on July 13th to kick off Newark Pride Week at 630pm both begin outside of Burg inside Military Park.

These absolutely free tours, the first of its kind are for anyone who wants to know more about Newark’s queer history and led by four facilitator “to reflective nature of our team.”

Scorsone shares, “I would like to point out that although many of the queer spaces in Newark that we point out no longer exist, that this is not a tour about loss, but about potential and growth. The queer community, like other communities, shifts and changes, but it’s still here and it’s visible. You just have to know where to look! So on this tour we are asking folks to think about how has this community been expressed over time?”

Tour highlights include: the former location of Murphy’s Tavern that was located on Edison Place; Broad and Market Streets, where in 2007,  Sakia Gunn, a 15 year old teen was killed for rebuking a straight male’s advances as well as a discussion about the documentary Out in the Nightstops along Halsey Street that is home to a number of LGBTQ businesses, and end at the Newark LGBTQ Community Center.

Narrowing down the topics and stops were not easy because there are (were) many throughout the city. Scorsone, says of the ones they chose “we feel they give a good overview of Newark’s queer history and the various contributions queer people have made in Newark. We also wanted to highlight the community’s resiliency and how they have built a queer cultural landscape in Newark that existed in the past and still continues to flourish.”

How can you help make this possible? Queer Newark is always looking for volunteers with interviewing and transcribing as well as anyone who can help with website design. They are always looking for more people who would like to be interviewed for the project! If you are interested in being interviewed for the project you send message on Facebook or Twitter (@QueerNewark) or email at queernk@rutgers.edu.

Website: http://queer.newark.rutgers.edu

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/QueerNewark/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/QueerNewark

 

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Sharing Is Caring: Do You Have a My Newark Story?

We all have stories to tell, but sometimes we do not have an audience and/or a forum to tell them. If you have a connection to Newark, My Newark Story is an opportunity to share your memories of this city that celebrated it’s 350th anniversary of it’s naming in 2016. You could have lived here for many years and moved away, or still live here. Or attended one of the many historic schools such as West Side High School or had friends and relatives who were students at the now-closed  State Street School. Or worked for companies like Bamberger’s that are no longer in business or maybe they are as Prudential, T.M. Ward Coffee Co. and Washington Florist.

After liking the My Newark Story Facebook page, I was eager to learn about this initiative, as I have always been intrigued about people’s lives and their histories and herstories told and seen from shared personal perspectives as they are often left out of books. Or their photographs contains unknown names and dates, but the scenes in the background vaguely look familiar or not at all.

I sent a message requesting an interview not only to satisfy my curiosity, but also because I believe sharing is caring and for those who like me who are interested in topics such as this will also learn along with me. I received an immediate and enthusiastic reply from Karl Schwartz. He is an Education/Outreach Librarian at the Newark Public Library.

Before sitting down for the formal interview, he gave me a behind the scenes tour of The Charles F. Cummings New Jersey Information Center also known New Jersey Room. It is here where the archives in the forms of books, photographs, postcards, newspapers, manuscripts, maps, vital records, letters from Civil War Soldiers and much more are kept that tells the history of New Jersey, Essex County, and of course Newark. The staff of this department is extremely knowledgeable, friendly and helpful. I asked them if they knew anything about the apartment building I lived in since my previous attempts to research this mystery turned up nothing. Within a few minutes, I learned it was once named Stadium Court Apartments and had to be built sometime after 1935 according to the maps staff researched. If there is any thing you are seeking, give them a call at (973) 733-7775 or email njreference@npl.org.and they will have it ready for you when you visit. The only cost for this service is for any printouts or photocopies you request.

The Interview

What is My Newark Story?

“My Newark Story is a grant funded family literacy initiative from the Newark Public Library and the Carnegie Corporation. The initiative is based around sharing the local history of Newark with people across the city with an emphasis on immigrant and migrant culture.” It will launch on Wednesday, April 19th at the Weequahic Library  The next two events are scheduled for May 10th at the North End Branch and on May 24th at the Springfield Branch from 4:00-7:00 p.m. Schwartz assures readers, that “every branch library will eventually have a Community History Day.

When did it begin?

“The program has been in the planning stages for a long time, but we first became “My Newark Story” in February (2017).”

Why?

Schwartz says, “I think the program began because there was a desire to make our historic images and documents more widely available to people in Newark.” He adds, “the library also has a role in contributing to public literacy programs and we found that local history was a great lens for doing so.”

Who Is Making This Happen?

It takes a team to make the dream work. Schwartz told me, “There are many of us at the Newark Public Library who are working on the many different parts of this initiative, as well as people in the community who are volunteering their time to help us.”  Schwartz noted,  “the project would not exist without library staff, Heidi Kramer who is overseeing the grant and Nadine Sergejeff is the project manager.” (They) are (all) passionate about the local history of Newark.”

However, they need help in creating a digital community archive that will be available to the public online. They are asking for your stories, especially photos that they can add to their growing historical digitized collection. At Community History Day events, one can bring their photos that will be scanned and returned to the owner instantly.

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What else is there to expect at the Community History Day events?

“We will be playing Newark Jeopardy, sharing some of our historic photos from our archive, making Newark themed crafts, and more. Each event will be slightly different and reflect the community groups, history, and culture of the different neighborhoods. For example, the Weequahic Alumni Association will have a table of artifacts from the neighborhood at our Weequahic event. There will be a salsa dancer and we are making cherry blossoms at our North End event (to reflect the large Latino population and popular cherry blossoms at Branch Brook Park which are both in The North Ward.)

Schwartz added, “There will certainly be other programs throughout the duration of our initiative. We will be conducting classroom visits, hosting events at our (other) seven branch libraries, and working with other community groups to help spread our programs…Lastly, we are creating traveling exhibitions about African American and Hispanic culture.”

Lastly, I asked Schwartz what he wants the followers of Newark CentricCity and beyond to know about this program and he had this to say: “Newark has an incredible history going back to its founding in 1666 and even further when you include Native American history. We have always been a city of immigrants from around the world and migrants from the southern United States. The media’s portrayal of Newark has not always been kind, but I think there are so many positive things that have happened in this city and that is what My Newark Story wants to share!”

Since we live in a time, where almost anything of interest can be accessed on the web, I recommend the curious to visit and bookmark the webpage http://npl.org/mynewarkstory/ and Facebook users follow www.facebook.com/mynewark for timely updates.

For more information about the Newark Public Library, visit their webpage, www.npl.org.

Newark CentricCity is about profiling the people and things behind-the-scenes that make Newark shine and the discoveries along the way to dispel the myths of what most people think of when they hear about Newark. I report and photograph what the news does not show you about this place. We can be found on Facebook, Instagram: @BrickCityEmigree, and Word Press. If you have an idea, you can also email, NewarkCentricCity@gmail.com