We Came and Stayed: Coyt Jones/Ras Baraka

Visuals: Ashley Gilberston, Ed Kashi, Julie Winokur

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In the 1990’s, the Krueger-Scott Cultural Center undertook an ambitious oral history project that conducted over 120 interviews with African American Newarkers who had migrated to the city from 1910-1970. The project—led by Catherine Lennix-Hooker with the assistance of historians Giles R. Wright II and Clement Alexander Price and the collective wisdom of volunteers from Bethany Baptist Church—generated a collection of oral narratives and conversations that offer a different, more nuanced understanding of Newark’s history than the one that circulates in the national media.

One of the interviews in the collection is with Coyt Jones, who arrived in Newark from South Carolina in 1927. The many things Mr. Jones talks about in his interview include his son, the poet and activist Leroi Jones/Amiri Baraka, who is also the father of the current mayor of Newark, Ras Baraka. Theirs is the first in a series of stories we will be telling about families who migrated to Newark; the people who came and stayed.

In his interview, Coyt Jones reflects on his arrival in Newark and the city in which he raised his family. For the first issue of Newest Americans, Ras Baraka sat down with Marcia Brown to share his own memories of growing up in Newark, and to answer some of the same questions posed to his grandfather twenty years ago. Together these interviews describe how the Great Migration transformed a family and a city.

In addition to the interview, Ras Baraka allowed VII Photographer Ashley Gilbertson to shadow him as he conducted the business of the city. The photographs below offer an intimate portrait of a mayor who has largely avoided the media spotlight while quietly positioning the city of Newark to undertake an ambitious agenda of urban renewal and development.

  • Mayor Ras Baraka enters the chamber before giving his annual State of the City address at the Newark City Offices in Newark, New Jersey on March 18, 2015.

  • Mayor Baraka talks to the media after attending the dedication and opening of Engine 16, in the Ironbound section of Newark, New Jersey, on March 11, 2015.

  • Mayor Baraka at work in Newark City Hall on February 24, 2015.

  • Mayor Baraka attends the Newark St. Patricks Day Parade in downtown Newark, New Jersey, on March 13, 2015.

  • Mayor Baraka attends the Newark St. Patricks Day Parade in downtown Newark, New Jersey, on March 13, 2015.

  • Richard Grossklaus (left), co founder of Integrity House and Lawrence Tamburri (right), Executive Director of Newark School of the Arts, meet with Mayor Baraka on February 24, 2015, at Newark City Hall.

  • Ras Baraka hugs a resident of the Ironbound after speaking at an event in which the Environmental Protection Agency presented the community with pollution monitoring devices in Newark on March 13, 2015.

  • Mayor Baraka answers questions in an interview with Marcia Brown at City Hall, in Newark, New Jersey, on March 13, 2015.

Special thanks to the Krueger-Scott African American Oral History Collection, created by Catherine Lennix-Hooker with Giles R. Wright II, Clement Alexander Price, and the collective wisdom of volunteers from Bethany Baptist Church.

Check out Ashley Gilbertson’s photo essay on President Obama in The New York Times.

To explore the Krueger-Scott African American Oral History collection visit the archive website.

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What is

We are a multimedia collaboratory of journalists, media-makers, artists, faculty and students telling the stories that radiate from the most diverse university in the nation. Based in Newark, NJ, a city shaped by migration, our project affords a glimpse into the world of the newest Americans and a vision of our demographic future.

Newest Americans is produced by the Center for Migration and the Global City, and faculty in the Department of Arts, Culture and Media at Rutgers University Newark in partnership with VII Photo and Talking Eyes Media. We have a large body of contributors and co-conspirators who are credited in the masthead and at the end of each story.

To contact us, please email info@newestamericans.com.

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