The List of Firsts: African-Americans Who Pioneered the Way

Groups and Communities
Published February 12, 1998

The List of Firsts: African-Americans Who Pioneered the Way

| Published February 12, 1998

Conductor Henry Lewis and former Newark Mayor Kenneth Gibson are two blacks to make their marks as 'firsts.' Star-Ledger file photo

Last week we began a listing of special African-American reference materials available for historical purposes. This week we continue with the rest of the Calahan List compiled by Gertrude Calahan. It includes firsts in trade unions, women's accomplishments, the clergy, the postal service, the fire and police departments, education, municipal service and some miscellaneous accomplishments.

Again it should be pointed out that this list is not intended nor claims to be complete. It was the work of one person scanning the daily press for 20 years and is only as accurate as the reporting of events. Despite limitations, it is an important first step in measuring a community growth during the difficult days of the 1960s and '70s, a challenging time of American history when the country was straining to maintain its equilibrium in a period of student unrest, political uncertainty, an unpopular war, and a breakdown of postwar complacency. It should also be noted that only written entries have been included, and that oral representations were not added in this study.

Trade union firsts

William Alexander of Montclair, first black member of Local 1209 United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America; he died in 1964. Rufus Johnson, apprentice for Newark Local 3 of the Bricklayers Union, 1923. Mae Massie, elected to high executive position in a statewide New Jersey labor organization (also first woman) as administrative vice president of the New Jersey Industrial Union Council, 1996.

Black female firsts

Martha C. Belle, later Mrs. Joseph Williams of Montclair and Marie B. Johnson, later M. Bernardine Marshall of Newark, passed the New Jersey Bar Examination, 1969. Mrs. Marshall also served on Newark Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, 1961. Doris Dorsey, supervisor, Newark Postal District, 1965. Johnnie Johnson, chairwoman of Newark South Ward Democratic Committee (also first woman), 1968. Sarah Tinker, employed by Essex County Engineering Department; first recruit from Manpower Skills, 1968. Mary C. Woody, funeral director in New Jersey; died 1966.

Clergy firsts

The Rev. C. Lincoln McGhee of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Montclair; moderator of Presbytery of Newark, 1958. The Rev. Donald G. Potts, first Roman Catholic Priest ordained in Newark at St. Peter's Church, 1960. Canon Dillard Robinson, first Episcopal priest in the United States to be in charge of a Cathedral; dean, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Newark, 1969. The Rev. Levin B. West, Newark Police Department chaplain, 1969. The Rev. John W. Wright of Jersey City, appointed chief chaplain of the Jersey City Medical Center, 1964; also first black clergyman from New Jersey to conduct opening prayer in U.S. House of Representatives, 1964. Dr. Nathan Wright Jr., full-time executive director of Episcopal Diocese of Newark's urban initiative, 1964.

Newark post office

Carlton A. Cooper of Newark, first black mail postal inspector in Newark Postal District, 1966. Theodore Pettigrew of Newark, first New Jersey director of operations in a post office, 1969. James Polk, superintendent of West Station Newark Post Office, 1966 Granville Saunders, superintendent of North Branch Newark Post Office, 1966.

Fire and Police

Junius E. Bass Jr., first to apply for membership and to become a member of Long Branch Fire Department, 1968. Carroll Henderson Jr., first captain in the Newark Fire Department, 1964. Alex M. Miles Jr., fireman in Orange, 1964. Police firsts: William T. Andres, first to be elected president of a Policeman's Benevolent Association, City of Orange, 1966. W. Donald Ballat of Westfield, named superior officer in a county detective unit; promoted to lieutenant in Union County Detective Bureau, 1968. Absalom Brent, first superior office in Newark Police Department, 1968. Lt. Norman J. Green, head of an operational command position in Newark Police Department, Fourth Precinct Detective Squad, 1967. Sgt. A.B. Gregory of Morristown, first president of a local Police Benevolent Board in the United State, died 1959. Sgt. Paul Jones, first officer (second vice president) of a New Jersey Fraternal Order of Police, 1968. Herbert T. Kinch, Rahway, only African-American in New Jersey to head a large police department, 1967. Lt. Auburn E. Peterson, first Montclair Police Department captain, 1969. Paul Williams, Roselle, deputy warden of Union County Jail, 1965. Edward T. Williams, commander of Fourth Precinct, first Newark black police captain, 1968.

Educational firsts

Dr. John Alexander named president of the Orange Board of Education, 1964. Rebecca Andrade, president of Newark Preschool Council; a founder and executive director of Head Start Program, 1968. Mildred E. Barry appointed to East Orange Board of Education, 1961. Arthur 'Dick' Clark, Hopewell Valley Regional Board of Education, 1968. George C. Cureton, New Jersey teacher of the year, 1968. One of five finalists on the National Teacher of the Year Honor Roll Dr. Roland Daniel selected to head Trenton High School, 1968. Grace Baxter Fenderson, president of Monmouth School P.T.A., Newark; one of the first regular black teachers in Newark; died 1962. Dr. E. Alma Flagg, in line for a principalship in Newark school; appointed to Garfield School, 1964. Harriet Friday, hired by Essex County School Board Administration, 1968. Dr. Francis Monroe Hammond, member of Seton Hall University faculty, 1946. William S. Hart Sr., guidance counselor at Elizabeth Junior High School, also first black councilman in Orange, 1960s. Verner V. Henry, Newark Board of School Estimate member; president and vice president, Newark Board of Education. (Also first black appointed a district parole supervisor, 1960s. Garfield Jackson, first principal of an East Orange elementary school, 1962. Russell A. Jackson Jr., superintendent of East Orange Public Schools, 1968. Ralph E. Jefferson, architect, appointed to Westfield Board of Education, 1963. Bessie Givens March, member of Montclair Board of Education, 1959. Simeon F. Moss, community relations coordinator, Newark Board of Education, 1964; superintendent of Essex County Schools, 1969. Dr. Richard F. Neblett appointed to Plainfield Board of Education, 1963. Lillie T. Morrow Parker, Teaneck, reported to be the first black teacher in Bergen County, 1959. Carrie E. Powell, vice principal appointed by Newark Board of Education, 1962. DeForest B. Soaries of Montclair; first African-American employed by Ramapo Regional High School District Board of Education in any capacity; assistant principal, Ramapo Regional High School, 1968. Mildred V. Taylor, P.T.A. president in Roselle. Dr. Ercell Watson, superintendent of schools in Trenton, 1968. Herbert Wood of Pequannock and Woodrow J. Huit of Victory Gardens; believed to be first elected school board presidents in Morris County, 1968. T. Colson Woody, appointed to Orange Board of Education, 1961.

Municipal officeholders

Thomas H. Cooke Jr., chairman, East Orange City Council, 1967; chairman, East Orange Democratic Party, 1969. Clarence E. Ferguson, member of East Orange Housing Authority, 1958. Dr. Howard W. Kenney, head of Veterans Administration Hospital, East Orange, 1963. Appointed to Police Commission, East Orange, 1963. Isaac McNatt, appointed to fill a vacancy on the Teaneck City Council, 1966. Lewis B. Perkins, deputy mayor, Newark. J. Hayward Wheaton, appointed to Montclair Board of Examiners in Public Safety Department, 1965.

Miscellaneous firsts

Joseph W. Bowers, first black director of camping for black boys in the Newark area; retired as executive director of Oakwood Branch of YM-YWCA of the Oranges, 1946. Archie Callahan Jr., first Newark African-American killed in service of his country in World War II at Pearl Harbor, 1941. William J. Clark of Newark, first New Jersey African-American to run as a candidate of the governor as Labor Van Guard Democrat, 1965. Carol DePasalegne of Newark, first black stewardess to join United Airlines from Newark area, 1964. William H. Epps, first full-time professionally certified physical therapist at Ivy Haven, Newark, 1963. Harry R. Epps, first black to run for Westfield Town Council, 1968. Eugene Howell of Hacksensack, first black commander of Bergen County American Legion, 1968. Robert E. Hunter, first black on Board of Trustees of Newark Doctors' Hospital, 1963. Henry Lewis, first and only black to conduct a permanent home-based American symphony orchestra, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, on a long-term basis, 1968. Rev. Canon Kenneth E. McDonald of Atlantic City; first black on board of the Miss America Pageant, 1968. Jessie E. McKinnon of Newark; first black elected to Board of Governors of the Real Estate Board of Newark, Irvington and Hillside, 1968, Edward Frederick Morrow of Engleood; first black member of White House Executive Staff (under President Eisenhower), 1959. John Howard Morrow of Teaneck; first black Ambassador to the Republic of Guinea, 1959. Thomas Peterson, also known as Thomas Munday, of Perth Amboy, first black voter in the United States under the 15th Constitutional Amendment, 1870. Samuel R. Pierce of New York, first black elected to the Prudential Insurance Co. of Newark Board of Directors, 1964. Oliver Randolph of Orange; first black admitted to the New Jersey Bar, 1914; also second black elected to the State Assembly, 1922; only black delegate to the State Constitutional Convention of 1947. Frank W. Scott of Newark. One of the first two blacks to receive a master of science degree in hospital administration at Columbia University; appointed associate administrator at Martland Hospital Unit, 1968. Don M. Thomas of Newark, first black automobile dealer selected by Chrysler Corp. to have an agency in the Eastern part of the United States, 1968. Also, first African-American in New Jersey honored as 'Small Business Man of the Year, ' 1969. Robert D. Trott; first African-American elected a life member of the Essex Troop; died 1966. Homer J. Tucker, first African-American appointed to the Newark Public Library Board of Trustees, 1961. James (Jimmy) Walker Jr. of Paterson, first African-American to be accepted by the New Jersey State Professional Golf Association, 1964. Matthew Waters, first black president of Essex County Pharmaceutical Society, 1968. James M. West of East Orange; first black president of the Garden State Chapter of the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society, 1966.

Over the next two weeks our examination of African-American history will center upon biographies of Newarkers whose unique contributions helped make a better way of life for many: Irvine Turner, master politician and councilman, and Dr. E. Mae McCarroll, physician and pacesetter of local and national significance.