Another Four Who Stood for Something

Groups and Communities
Published March 6, 1997

Another Four Who Stood for Something

| Published March 6, 1997

William M. Ashby. The Star-Ledger

This is the second of a two-part series: 'Gone but not Forgotten Eight Newarkers Who made a difference.'

William Ashby (1889-1991) was born in York County, Va., near Williamsburg, the son of free blacks. He came to Newark by coastal steamer from Norfolk in 1904. The following year, he left Newark to attend Lincoln (Pa.) University, graduating in 1911. In 1913, he matriculated at Yale University's Divinity School, earning a degree, which made him New Jersey's first black social worker. During the next decade, he learned a great deal about Newark and its people as the first director of the Negro Welfare League of Essex County. That experience was the beginning of a lifelong campaign to bring equality to all. In the process, he experienced many successes as well as an occasional failure. His book, 'Tales Without Hate, ' published by the Newark Preservation and Landmarks Committee, details many civil rights experiences. It is an important resource and insight into the times and the pulse of the community. Copies are available for sale from the Newark Landmarks and Preservation Commission and to read in the New Jersey Information Center at the Newark Public Library.

Regardless of the difficulties of Ashby's everyday endeavors, he always seemed to find more good than bad in people. Just as often he was able to get a good laugh in the process. In 1921, 'Uncle Billy,' as he was affectionately known, and his wife, Mary, moved to Springfield, Ill., where he established a new branch of the Urban League. By 1944, the Ashbys, who were married for more than a half-century before her death several years ago, returned to New Jersey, where he started the Urban League's Union County Branch. Many years later, after his retirement, this grand old man of the civil rights movement continued to follow a busy daily schedule as a member of the United Way of Essex and West Hudson, the Newark Human Rights Commission and the Newark Senior Citizens' Commission. As a charter member of the Newark Preservation and Landmarks Committee, he was still taking notes for the organization as he neared his 100th birthday. His friendly face, shaded by a broad-brimmed summer straw hat, and figure, steadied by his polished walking cane, are greatly missed. Most of all, his accomplishments and the memories he left live on!

Robert C. Queen (1912-1996) was born in Newark and served most of his life as a reporter and newspaper editor. Queen's career started in 1938 when he was a reporter for the New Jersey Guardian. Later he was a writer and city editor for the New Jersey Herald. In the 1950s, he was managing editor of the Philadelphia Independent. Subsequently, he worked for the Philadelphia offices of the Pittsburgh Courier. In 1963, he returned to Philadelphia to become managing editor of the Philadelphia edition of Afro-American. His final stop required him to return to Newark as editor of the New Jersey Afro-American. For the better part of a half century, Bob Queen covered Newark's political and entertainment scenes, telling stories of interest to African-Americans that tended to be overlooked, misunderstood or forgotten by mainstream journalists. Former city councilman Calvin West recently recalled how, when he and Irvine Turner, Newark's first black councilman, were in office, Queen made it a point to report the African-American viewpoint. The son of a lawyer, Bob Queen had little formal training in journalism, yet he was one of his era's best reporters. A contemporary reporter described him as a mover and shaker in the Newark community and beyond. During his lengthy career, Queen interviewed Roy White, one of the famous Scottsboro Boys. He also wrote of nightlife in Trenton, where he played piano in his youth at local watering holes. Like other leaders, Queen gave of his time and talents to many organizations, including the Philadelphia Citizens' Committee, Sigma Delta Chi Journalistic Society, and the Philadelphia Child Development Program. His honors included an award for journalism from Temple University, the W.E.B. Dubois Award from the Newark Branch of the NAACP and the New Jersey Association of Black Journalists' award. Queen also received an honorary doctorate from Essex County College, was inducted into the Black Press Hall of Fame and was cited by the Garden State Association of Black Journalists. He was well thought of by contemporaries such as Sally Carroll of the Newark NAACP. As his wife, Edna, commented, 'Once you knew him, you had a friend for life.' Old-schooled and gentlemanly, Queen was indeed a friend to his many colleagues and associates.

Constance (Connie) Oneida Woodruff (1921-1996) grew up on Waverly Avenue in Newark's old Third Ward. For 42 years, she was married to William Woodruff, who died last year, six months before her. Woodruff was a graduate of Cornell University's Empire State College and Rutgers University in New Brunswick, where she received a master's degree in labor studies in 1975. While Woodruff taught courses at Essex County College and Rutgers-Newark and wrote for years on a variety of topics for area newspapers, she was as well known and highly regarded for her astute evaluations of local and state politics. Although she never ran for office, she was a two-term national Democratic committeewoman and a keen political analyst. In many ways, she was the keeper of the political pulse of Newark, Essex County and northern New Jersey. The powerful and influential sought Woodruff's advice and comments. She claimed two hometowns, Newark and West Orange, and was equally at home and respected in both. As a young girl, Woodruff was a piano prodigy, bent on a musical career at a time when opportunities for African-Americans, never mind a female, were scant at best. So she took another direction—as a newspaperwoman—and became city editor of the Herald News, Newark's other black weekly. In later years, she wrote for City News, a black newspaper based in Plainfield. Whether it was in the press or on Cablevision, Connie was prone, as her obituary stated, to 'unleash her razor-sharp wit on unsuspecting politicians.' As a result, she was both respected and feared. For more than 20 years, she fought for the rights of women through the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. Later, she became a well-known professor of labor studies at Essex College and Rutgers University. At Essex County College, a colleague noted, 'A department like our Women's Center would not exist if it weren't for all the work Connie did all these years in the service of women.' Fame and reputation resulted in requests for Woodruff to serve as mistress of ceremonies and as a favorite dinner speaker throughout the metropolitan area. Her commitment to her community included service on the board of the NAACP, the Urban League of Essex County, the National Council of Negro Women, The Leaguers, the Newark YM-YWCA, WBGO-FM Jazz Radio and the North Jersey Unit of Negro Business and Professional Women. She also was a founder and perennial emcee of Newark's Crispus Attucks Day Parade, served as chairwoman of UMDNJ's Board of Concerned Citizens, chaired the West Orange Human Rights Committee, and was active in the American Jewish Committee's Stamp Out Hate Campaign of Essex County. Over the years, Woodruff was showered with awards, including honors for 25 years of service to The Leaguers and the prestigious A. Philip Randolph Award for labor relations. She also received the Thelma McFall Foundation Award for service to children and a citation from Newark Senior Citizens for promoting their welfare. A lasting testament to Woodruff's memory is the nursing scholarship she established in her father's name at Essex County College. Few Newarkers have contributed as much to their city.

Geraldine (GiGi) George Foushee (1947-1997) died Jan. 27 of lung cancer at Overlook Hospital, Summit. Her all-too-short life was crammed full of activities as well as a famous first. After graduating magna cum laude from Essex County College, Foushee graduated from Rutgers University, where she also earned a master's degree in social work. Like Woodruff, Foushee excelled on many fronts. After working in the Essex County College Allied Health Library, she became a claims investigator and adjuster for an insurance company, then embarked on a career in law enforcement. At first a Newark police officer, she became a county detective before being named to head Newark's Alcoholic Beverage Control department by Mayor Sharpe James. James subsequently tapped her for a stint as deputy mayor of the city of her birth. After returning to law enforcement, Foushee was named the first African-American woman warden of the Essex County Jail. Her honors were plentiful, too. She received the Outstanding Police Award from the Newark Bronze Shields, the Distinguished Alumni Award from Essex County College, an Outstanding Service Award from the National Council of Negro Women, and a Merit Award from the New Jersey Police Commission. In a few months short of 50 years, she accomplished more than most men and women do in their lifetimes.