How Newark's Board of Ed Sparked a Rebellion

Jul 10, 2017

Newark Evening News Wednesday May 24, 1967
Credit Newark Evening News

The fight over the city of Newark’s secretary to the Board of Education appointee in 1967, stemmed from the Mayor promising somebody the job, while the majority African American community called for somebody else.  Don Melafronte was Mayor Hugh Addonizio’s chief of staff.

“The job at the board of ed, the secretary to the board of education was essentially a political job.  He was essentially the administrator of the budget and some other stuff at the board of ed.  It had zero to do with curriculum.”

Mayor Addonizio promised the job to James Callaghan, a two-time city councilman and friend of the Mayor.  The people wanted Wilbur Parker, the first black certified public accountant in New Jersey.

“Wilbur was a fine guy, and one of our cabinet.  He was the Mayor’s appointee as budget director.  I think the mayor and his people were confused by their need to be agreeable to a larger audience because they were thinking of a gubernatorial run.  I think the mayor and a lot of his guys, I exempt myself, who thought he was too associated with the black community, that he was a black community lover to put it nicely, which was a cry often heard in those days in Newark.  And that this did not sell in south Jersey, central jersey, and elsewhere he’d have to run to get the nomination.”

Bill Doolittle was the education writer for the Newark Evening News in 1967, regularly attending and publishing articles about the board of education meetings. 

“The meetings were packed; they were very cross with each other.  The black community was not only pushing for that job, but also the superintendent’s job, and the assistant superintendents job. 

Doolittle says Mayor Addonizio’s office wasn’t pleased with the press coverage the board of education dispute was getting.

“The Parker-Callaghan dispute was the match that set off the explosion.  That’s not only my looking at it.  After the riots were over, the mayor’s office called, called me specifically and said how does it feel to have the blood of people on your hands.”

Former Newark Mayor Sharpe James remembers how much the Parker-Callaghan fight disconnected city leadership with its community.

“The irrefutable fact is that Callaghan’s credential’s versus Parker being CPA did not measure up.  But yet he was the overwhelming favorite choice of the powers that be.  Over a more qualified African American which was certainly wrong and offensive to Newark’s majority people, the African American community.” 

Wilbur Parker would become the first African American secretary to the Newark Board of Education in 1970.   That same year, James Callaghan would plead guilty in federal court to tax evasion charges and spend 9 months in prison.