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History

Englewood’s Bloodless Revolution

A talk given by Norman Davis of the Englewood Historical Society March, 2012
Printed here with permission from the presenter
Public Domain images were added by The 4th Ward Gazette


Some years ago I was discussing with then Fourth Ward Councilwoman Shirley Lacy events in Englewood in the 1960's and 70's, and she said to me “You know, Norman, it was a revolution!” I had never thought of it that way. The word “revolution” brings to mind crowds in the street, fiery speeches, and violence. We in Englewood had our share of turmoil, but hardly “revolution.” Yet, after thinking about it, I could see what she meant, even though our revolution came mostly through the ballot box.

When I moved to Englewood in 1963, the political control of Englewood by the local Republican establishment was just beginning to be challenged. Englewood, since the early 1900's had been solidly Republican, not only locally, but providing leaders and meaningful voting pluralities at the county, state and federal levels Senator Dwight Morrow of Englewood, a good friend of President Calvin Coolidge, appeared on the front cover of Time magazine as a potential Republican candidate for President in 1932. State Senator David Van Alstyne Jr, the local party leader in 1963, was a power in New Jersey, and had run in a primary for governor. The last Democrat to be elected to City-wide office had been Mayor Dan Fellows Platt in 1903.
To understand what happened, you have to understand Englewood’s Wards. The railroad tracks going north and south, and Palisade Avenue going east and west, divide Englewood into four quadrants. These are our four Wards, each with its own elected member of the City Council. A Mayor and Councilperson-at- Large, elected City-wide, complete the governing body. Each Ward has unique characteristics. The First Ward, thought by many to represent the affluent “hill,” in fact includes, not only some of Englewood’s most luxurious residences, but a sizable area of modest homes west of the railroad tracks where hispanic immigration has been significant. The Second Ward, also part of the “hill,” is known as the center of the growing Orthodox Jewish population of Englewood. The Third Ward is the most racially integrated ward today, and, in the period we are considering, was the most politically active. The Fourth Ward is distinctive in that its population, largely African-American, is more stable and has more cohesion than in the other wards. There are families in the Fourth Ward who can trace their ancestry here back to the nineteenth century, which is rare in the rest of Englewood.

October 24, 1931
The impetus for change started with the opening of the George Washington Bridge in 1931, which opened up Bergen County to development and led, after the Depression of the 30's and the World War of the early 40's, to a sizable population influx to the County and to Englewood, and to Englewood’s Third Ward in particular. Post-war development brought in new voters here, largely from New York City, with Democratic leanings. Population growth in the Third Ward was reflected in the redistricting which followed the 1960 census, when the boundary line between the First and Third Ward was moved west from Dean Street to Tenafly Road. These new mostly white Democratic voters formed an uneasy alliance with the African-American residents of the Fourth Ward, who had become increasingly resentful of their perceived second-class status, reflected in sub-standard dwellings, inferior City services, school segregation, and alienation from the local leadership “across the tracks.” The newly enhanced local Democratic Party began improving its organization, articulating its differences with the Republican establishment, and recruiting effective candidates. An extraordinary group of diverse, often opinionated, but energetic, talented and dedicated, men and women came together to plan for electoral success and for the changes which would follow when power was gained. A massive campaign was undertaken to identify and register potential Democratic voters throughout the City, but especially in the Fourth Ward.

Civil Rights march in Alabama
The decades of the 1950's, 60's and 70's were a time of Civil Rights demonstrations in the South, and later anti-war protests on college campuses, and violent eruptions in ghetto areas across the country, so it is not surprising that some of this unrest should have been evident in Englewood. In the early 60's, public protest grew over the fact that, years after Brown vs Board of Education had outlawed school segregation in the South, Englewood still had racially segregated elementary schools. After a period of extensive protest, including legal action, the Englewood Board of Education finally accepted the inevitable and instituted busing to achieve integration.

And then came July, 1967. For a week during that hot summer, the name of Englewood, New Jersey, was probably mentioned more often by the world news media than at any time before or since. The events of that week bring little credit to any of the participants, and the memories are not pleasant to recall. Nonetheless the psychological fallout from that week was an important element in the profound changes which followed.

What happened in Englewood was, according to the report of the Governor’s Select Commission, “a racial disturbance,” not a race riot. But it happened at the same general time as far more serious events in Newark and, to a lesser degree, Plainfield, and thus was viewed similarly. To the media in Bergen County it was the story. Looking back, it is plain that the media coverage, more than the “disturbance” itself, had major long-term consequences.


Prior to July, 1967, Englewood had developed a comprehensive plan for riot control, involving assistance to its Police Department from the County Police as well as other departments in the County. As a result of events elsewhere and rumors locally, tension had been rising in Englewood and police presence was increased. On July 21, outside police were brought in and patrols started in the area surrounding a local bar on the corner of Jay and William Streets where young African-American men often congregated. According to the Commission’s report, “several Englewood citizens who (later) testified...believe that the police buildup was the immediate cause of the disturbance.”

At 8:30 PM that night an alarm went off in a food market on William Street, apparently because a stone had broken its window. About 30 persons gathered at the scene, and the police responded immediately. Within minutes, a 20-man line of police armed with four-foot riot sticks cordoned off Jay Street, dispersing the crowd. According to the report, from the time the police arrived, they were “heavily besieged by rocks and bottles.” In response, additional police arrived and confronted the crowd, which had grown at a new location near Mackay Park.

Austin Volk - Photo from Record Archives
Englewood Mayor Austin Volk arrived and spoke to the crowd, but the confrontation continued. Rocks were thrown at police cars, street lights and store windows. In the process of attempting to disperse the crowd, several people, including seven policemen, were injured. Looting took place at two markets in the area and several store windows were broken on Palisade Avenue. Four adults and one juvenile were arrested and charged with loitering. On the four subsequent nights, as the police continued to patrol the area, sporadic fire bombing, looting and vandalism took place, but there were no more major confrontations. It was eerie at this time to drive down West Palisade Avenue and see no people or cars, but national guardsmen with bayonets on the street corners.

As these events were taking place, a hotly fought political campaign was underway, with housing the main issue. For decades, seriously substandard housing had existed in areas of the Fourth Ward, the worst in Bergen County. Federal assistance had been sought and granted for its removal, and for the relocation of its residents to new public housing, but Federal funds were available only on the condition that a portion of the new housing be located outside the Fourth Ward. Englewood’s Republican leadership had rejected this condition, whereas their Democratic opponents, after extensive research, had focused support on a vacant site in the Second Ward south of Route 4 as an appropriate location. This site is now known as Rock Creek Terrace. In response, the Republican campaign organization published in the local media a map of Englewood with all the vacant land parcels blacked in, thereby implying that no neighborhood would be exempt from possible public housing if the Democrats were to prevail. This tactic, seen by many as inflammatory, led to public condemnation of its authors by the Clergy Council, which included Englewood clergymen of all faiths - the only overtly political position that group ever took. The map may also have spurred the editorial endorsement of the Democratic candidates by the Record, which concluded “time has run out for the Republican establishment in Englewood. It is time for a change.”

With the First and Second Ward Council seats firmly in Republican hands, and the Fourth Ward seat firmly Democratic, the crucial offices at stake on November 7, 1967 were the mayor, the Third Ward council seat, and the council at-large seat. When the votes were counted, the Democratic candidate for Mayor, Rev. Robert I. Miller, had won by less than 100 votes, Democrat Kenneth M. King had won in the Third Ward by 18 votes, and Democratic Councilman-at-Large candidate William K. Mettler had won by 16 votes. The latter result was challenged by the Republicans in court, which delayed Mettler’s swearing in for several weeks. All of the intensive effort devoted to voter registration and getting out the vote had paid off.

The new Democratic majority elected Fourth Ward Councilman Vincente Tibbs as City Council President, built a new integrated public swimming pool on Tryon Avenue, and pushed through the necessary zoning changes to carry out their urban renewal objectives. African-Americans were included in the City’s power structure for the first time.


Two years later, in 1969, the door which had opened for the Democrats temporarily swung shut again, as the Republicans regained control, winning back both the mayoralty and a majority on the Council. The new Republican Mayor was Ned Feldman, a forceful leader, who refused to accept orders from the local Party leadership in the person of David Van Alstyne Jr. He resisted pressure to make patronage personnel changes in City Hall, and, more annoyingly from Van Alstyne’s viewpoint, he continued to press forward on public housing, including the Second Ward site. Procedural difficulties in Washington had followed the advent of the Republican Nixon Administration in 1969, and Englewood’s application for federal urban renewal funding was in serious trouble until Feldman took a hand. He journeyed to Washington in 1970, met with Housing and Urban Development Secretary George Romney, and persuaded Romney to restore Englewood’s funding, a $4.18 million grant. Later an additional $5 million was allocated by HUD. Republican members were added to the Redevelopment Authority formed in 1968 by the Democrats, and the project moved forward.

When Feldman sought to run for reelection in 1971, he and his allies, Republican Councilmen Ed Johnson and Leonard Rubin, were denied renomination by the Englewood Republican organization, and, instead, filed for the election as independents. Despite a strong endorsement from The Record, and from influential persons in both parties, as well as a well-run, well-financed campaign, none of them were reelected in the three-way contest which followed. The Democratic candidates, Rev Walter Taylor for mayor and Walter Ganz for councilman-at-large, were elected with less than 40% of the votes. Democratic control of the City was regained, and has been maintained ever since.


Taylor, pastor of the Galilee Methodist Church, had previously served as Chair of the Greater Englewood Housing Corporation, the not-for-profit agency created to manage the Rock Creek Terrace and Park View Terrace public housing projects. He received ample media coverage as Englewood’s first African-American mayor. He was quoted in The New York Times as saying, “The people who have felt rejected see in the election of a black mayor the possibility of fair play, not only for them but for the entire community.” The symbolism was powerful. Before Taylor’s four-year term was over, the urban renewal plan in Englewood, including the demolition of substandard buildings and relocation of the inhabitants into new garden apartments, had been substantially completed. The Fourth Ward, formerly marginalized, achieved its fair share of influence on local government. The local Republican Party has never recovered from the split which occurred, with even the First Ward in 1977 and the Second Ward in 1979, finally electing Democratic council members for the first time.

No one would claim that racial unfairness, whether real or perceived, has disappeared from Englewood. Great economic disparities remain, memories are long, and the symbolism of the railroad tracks is still powerful. “Affirmative action”- type personnel issues in the City government and the schools persist. But to those who remember the old days, especially in the Fourth Ward, the difference between before and after was and remains indeed “revolutionary.”

I would like now to list, in alphabetical order, some of the main players in the little drama which took place all those years ago. I knew most of them personally, and a very few still live in Englewood:

Baer, Byron - civil rights activist, major architect of public housing solution, later State Assemblyman and Senator

Crawford, Rosella - major Fourth Ward political organizer

Boldt, O'Brien (Obie) - activist and Democratic Club President in the 60's

Farber, Frances (later Frances Farber Walter) - Registration chair who in 1971 registered hundreds of newly enfranchised 18, 19 and 20 year olds

Feldman, Ned - Republican Mayor who defied his party leadership to keep urban renewal on track

Gamrin, Susan (Soozie) - tireless organizer and gadfly

Ganz, Walter - Democratic leader, who as Municipal Chair focused diverse personalities on common goals, later Councilman-at Large and Council President

Greenberg, Robert (Bob) - Compiled in his basement in pre-computer age files on every household in Englewood with their political leanings indicated. This was an essential data base for the crucial elections

Greenberg, Sondra (Sandy) - Third Ward leader, later Mayor

Edward (Ed) - First Ward Republican Councilman who sacrificed his political career to support public housing

King, Kenneth, (Ken) - highly respected Third Ward Councilman

Lacy, Shirley - dynamic Fourth Ward leader, later Councilwoman

Major, Russell - Fourth Ward leader, especially concerned with public schools

Mettler, William (Bill)- Former Republican who won crucial Council-at-Large seat for the Democrats by an eyelash in 1967

Miller, Robert (Bob) - Presbyterian Minister and inspirational speaker who was elected Englewood’s first Democratic Mayor in 64 years in 1967

Patch, Issac (Ike) - Activist and intellectual, member of Democratic planning group

Rubin, Leonard (Len) - Second Ward Republican Councilman who sacrificed his political career to support public housing

Stone, Herbert (Herb) - Succeeded Ganz as Municipal Chair, ran unsuccessfully for Councilman-at-Large in 1969

Taylor, Walter - Methodist minister, respected community leader, Englewood’s first (and so far only) African-American Mayor

Tibbs, Vincent K. - Respected Fourth Ward leader, served as Councilman, and in 1968-9 as Council President

Van Alstyne, David - Republican State Senator and local party boss, who attempted unsuccessfully to thwart public housing plan

Volk, Austin - Republican Mayor who faced protesters during 1967 “racial disturbance”

Norman Davis, March, 2012

Some interesting public domain images 

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HISTORICAL TIMELINE OF EVENTS THAT SHAPE ENGLEWOOD

(a work in progress)

1776  WASHINGTON'S ARMY ESCAPES TRAP
1859  COMING OF RAILROAD, ENGLEWOOD FOUNDED
1890  ENGLEWOOD HOSPITAL OPENED
1899  ENGLEWOOD GRANTED CITY CHARTER
1901  ENGLEWOOD CARNEGIE LIBRARY OPENED
1906  DONALD MACKAY GIVES PARK AS GIFT TO CITY
1914 
1920
1931  GEORGE WASHINGTON BRIDGE OPENS
1950  JAN 31 - US PRESIDENT HARRY TRUMAN ANNOUNCES DEVELOPMENT OF HYDROGEN BOMB
1950   FEB. 7TH JOE MCCARTHY FINDS "COMMUNISTS" IN US DEPT.OF STATE
1950   ALBERT EINSTEIN WARNS THE COUNTRY ABOUT THE HYDROGEN BOMB
1950   MARCH 24TH RICHARD BUTTON WINS MEN'S US FIGURE SKATING CHAMPIONSHIP
1950   APRIL 24 - PRES. HARRY TRUMAN DENIES THERE ARE COMMUNISTS IN US GOVERNMENT
1950   APRIL 27TH - SOUTH AFRICA PASSES GROUP AREAS ACT SEGREGATING RACES
1950   MAY 1ST - GWENDOLYN BROOKS 1ST AFRICAN AMERICAN AWARDED PULITZER FOR POETRY
1954   WILLAM WALKER FILES SUIT AGAINST ENGLEWOOD BOARD OF EDUCATION
1960 JAN 2 - SENATOR JOHN F. KENNEDY ANNOUNCES CANDIDACY FOR PRESIDENT
1960  FEB. 1ST - 4 STUDENTS STAGE 1ST CIVIL RIGHTS SIT-IN AT GREENBORO, NC WOOLWORTH
1960 MAY 10TH - JOHN F. KENNEDY WINS PRIMARY IN W. VIRGINIA
1962  FEB 5TH, SUIT TO BAR ENGLEWOOD, NJ "RACIAL SEGREGATED" SCHOOLS, FILED
1967  RACIAL UNREST, POLITICAL CHANGE
1968  ENGLEWOOD PUBLIC LIBRARY MOVED TO ENGLE STREET
1975  DMHS MATH TEACHER, ELLEN BINDMAN MURDERED IN HER HOME
1979  VOTERS APPROVE CHARTER CHANGE
1990  PALISADES COURT SHOPPING CENTER BUILT
2000  CHANGE TO ELECTED BOARD OF EDUCATION
2001  ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS DEAL STRUCK RE TUITION AT DMHS
2002  EQUITY AND EXCELLENCE MILLIONS ACCEPTED
2004  VOTERS OKAY SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION BOND
2006  SCHOOLS REORGANIZED
2009  EQUITY & EXCELLENCE MILLIONS RUN OUT
2010  DMHS ACADEMY PROGRAM BECOMES A LIABILITY
2011  SCHOOL BOARD HIRES SUPT. CONTRARY TO STATE LAW
2011 SUCCESSFUL HS PRINCIPAL REPLACED W/FAILING MS PRINCIPAL
2012  SECRETARIES AND PARAPROFESSIONALS OUTSOURCED





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