A Newark man and his street of 56 years

By Barry Carter | The Star-Ledger
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on March 17, 2017

Eddie Porter is a dedicated resident of South 13th Street in Newark. He was recently presented with a resolution by Councilman John James.

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Eddie Porter thought he was going to a regular meeting of the South 13th Street Block Association in Newark.

But upon arriving, Porter soon learned that the December meeting was less formal than usual and had nothing to do with block association business.

The social gathering - surprise! - was in honor of Porter to recognize his 56 years as a dedicated association member and homeowner on the same block.

"You never know who is keeping an eye on you and observing you,'' said Porter, who dresses impeccably in a suit and tie, topped by a felt fedora. "It's good to know that people appreciate what you've been doing all of these years.''

The resolution Porter received from South Ward Councilman John James described him as a valued community leader and activist.

Porter, 84, said he just tried to be a good neighbor and do the simple things to maintain a neighborhood. 

He keeps his property neat, and still cleans the block, sweeping from Madison Avenue past several houses on his side of the street.  When he knew the young people that lived on the block, Porter said, he would buy sports equipment - tennis balls, bats, footballs - and take them to park on 18th Avenue.

It's a distant memory now, but that's how the community used to be when he purchased his three-family home in 1961. South 13th Street, between Madison and Avon avenues, was filled with families who cared. Everybody was together. They closed the neighbor's gate, swept their stoop and front walk. Litter never had a home.

"Man, you could walk out here, leave your door open and your clothes on the line,'' Porter said. "You didn't have to worry about a thing.''

Then the Newark riots erupted in 1967 and the family-orientated character of the neighborhood changed during the ensuing years. Landlords, who don't live in the neighborhood, bought the houses and began renting.

"Everyone is a stranger now,'' Porter said. "They move in and they move on.''

There are only a few longtime residents left, such as Helen McKnight and Sister Euniece Bey, a former president of the block who said Porter has been an active, staunch supporter of the association.

"He always participated,'' Bey said. "He was just trying to make the neighborhood safe.''

As the demographics of the block changed, Porter, in his own quiet way became a neighborhood anchor.

"He was trying at least to do his part,'' said McKnight, even though she believes newer residents don't appreciate him. "It's like he's fighting a losing battle.''

Porter, however, isn't budging.

He came to Newark in 1953 from Cottondale, Fla, a small town near the Alabama border, where he grew up on a farm with hogs, cows, and a vegetable garden.

But he hasn't abandoned his roots.  A few times a year he returns to vacation in a home he has in Marianna, near Cottondale. He still has an accent, and a down-home, hospitable style of conversation. Many of his sentences are punctuated with the folksy-like phrase - "Ya see'' -  to accentuate a thought.

When he talks about staying healthy as a kid, he says, "We had them roots and herbs in the woods, 'ya see.' '' His grandmother, Henrietta Porter, "knew all about them, 'ya see.' ''

And every spring and fall, Porter said, she made tea from fever grass, which had a yellow root, "ya see,'' that she would boil in hot water.

"She gave us (the family) a couple of doses, and it would clean our system, jack,'' he said, laughing. "It was medicine, 'ya see.''

Porter made his way to Newark by bus when he couldn't afford the $65 tuition to continue his studies in bookkeeping and accounting at Edward Waters College in Jacksonville, Fla.

He found a job in Belleville at Lightolier, a maker of light fixtures for two months, but had to leave the light fixture manufacturing company when the military drafted him in November 1953. After a two-year army stint, Porter, a private first class, returned to Lightolier and stayed with the company 42 years, retiring as a supervisor in the shipping department.

Longevity agrees with this man. The parents of four college educated daughters, Porter and his wife, Ollie, a Newark school teacher for 42 years, have been married 60 years. He's been a member of St. James AME Church in Newark for the same amount of time.

"I'm a church man. I believe in the almighty,'' said Porter, who recalled his religious upbringing.

He was the church superintendent at age 12, and taught Sunday school after ringing the church bell at Henshaw Chapel AME Church in Cottondale

"I used to love ringing that bell,'' he said. "It would bring the people out to church.''

His loyalty to God extends to his loyalty for this country. An American flag flies daily from his home, and he still has his army uniform well-preserved under plastic.

"I'm a good citizen,'' he said.  "Everybody should be flying the flag.''

Everybody should be a good neighbor like you, Eddie Porter.

He can't stand walking over debris, so he'll get out there as needed and clean. It keeps him active, gives him a purpose.

"I get out there and get that fresh air and keep my body moving,'' Porter said.

He was out there Tuesday with his snow blower doing a little bit at a time, being that example.

"I love the neighborhood,'' he said. "It's my home.

He didn't say, "ya see,'' that time.

But, yes, I do.

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