Statue of N.J. city’s 1st Black mayor was crumbling. This new bronze one replaces it.

Published: Sep. 14, 2021

Federal, state and local leaders on Tuesday unveiled a statue of the late Newark Mayor Kenneth Gibson in front of city hall about two years after another sculpture of him began to crumble shortly after it was erected.

Gibson was Newark’s first Black mayor, who served from 1970 to 1986 and governed over the city shortly after the 1967 riots, which some call a rebellion. City officials unveiled a statue of Gibson in Lincoln Park in 2019, but visible cracks began to be seen on the sculpture’s face about a month later.

The statue that was unveiled Tuesday is made out of bronze, city officials said. It sits just a few feet away from the George Floyd statue that was donated to the city in June.

“This is where he belongs,” said Camille Gibson as she stood under the eight-foot statue of her late husband, at times tears welling in her eyes.

The statue in Lincoln Park was created by multi-media artist Valmir Francisco de Sousa Rocha, but weather began to wear it down about a month later, said Central Ward Councilwoman LaMonica McIver. A cover was placed over it and the statue was removed last week, she said.

The new sculpture in front of city hall was created by Mississippi native Thomas Jay Warren. The project cost $100,000 and was funded by the county, Prudential and the Newark Community Impact Fund, state and local officials said.

“I grew up knowing him as an icon, as a conversation in my household, seeing him from time to time,” said Newark Mayor Ras Baraka. “Understanding his role in history, why he was important for African Americans, not just in Newark, but all over the country. And how many mayors came behind him, and how his legacy was big and strong and the difficulties he had as mayor.”

Gibson was remembered Tuesday by Congressman Donald Payne, Jr. and others as a trailblazer, who hoped to unite the city after racial tensions erupted in 1967 and white residents began to move out. He appeared on the cover of Time Magazine and was the first African American elected president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in 1976.

Although Gibson was never convicted of a crime related to his time in office, he pleaded guilty in 2002 to tax evasion charges. He died in 2019 at the age of 86.

“When people were running out,” Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo said, “he was saying there’s no reason to run — just be part of what’s happening here in Newark and we need everybody together. And what Ken, what he has done, he brought everybody together in this city.”

Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver said she campaigned for Gibson when she was a 17-year-old student at Weequahic High School. She recalled dancing in the street in front of Symphony Hall when he won the mayoral election.

“Those of you that were not born yet, you do not understand the significance of a Black mayor emerging in the City of Newark,” said Oliver and she stood in front of city hall. “You take it for granted, but let me tell you: to come into this building and see Black and Puerto Rican and white and Portuguese people running these offices and working on behalf of the people that lived here, you have no idea.”

Community activists had called for the Gibson statue in Lincoln Park to be replaced once it began to crumble.

“The city should be reimbursed for that raggedy statue,” said Munirah Bomani, an activist who commonly speaks out against city officials during council meetings.

City officials also paid homage to Gibson in 2019 by renaming Broad Street, a main thoroughfare in Newark, Kenneth A. Gibson Boulevard. The name change was not ceremonial, but it’s taken some time for the official moniker to catch on. Google Maps still identifies the road as Broad Street and signs still indicate both names.

“It’s just going to take some time,” said McIver, the Central Ward councilwoman whose jurisdiction includes Broad Street.

Do you like this post?

Showing 1 reaction

published this page in News and Politics 2021-09-15 03:32:35 -0700