Protesters unite in Newark on anniversary of King’s death

Photo by Chris Sykes
Newark resident Earl Best observed the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. by staging a
right-to-work protest outside the old Newark Public Schools building on Cedar Street in downtown Newark on Wednesday,
April 4. Best and others were protesting their observation that the owners of the private company that purchased
the building from its former owners have not hired eligible workers from the city to do any of the menial labor being
done by construction contractors hired to renovate it.

IRVINGTON, NJ — Newark resident Earl Best spent Wednesday, April 4, marking the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination by hosting a right-to-work protest outside the former Newark School District building downtown, as he believed King would have appreciated.

The district offices recently relocated to another building at 765 Broad St., after having rented the offices at 2 Cedar St. since 1990. District officials said the new lease deal would save the district $42.5 million. The Irvington Herald was not able to identify the new owner of the Cedar Street building by press time this week.

“We’re here today for two reasons: The first reason is to shut down these construction sites that’s not hiring Newark workers. The other reason is, today is a historical day. It’s 50 years ago our beloved brother, Dr. Martin Luther King, was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn., at the Lorraine Hotel and he was down there to get people jobs as the sanitation workers,” said Best on Wednesday, April 4. “As we know … one of the sanitation workers died, so Dr. King was down there for that reason and they killed him.

“So today we’re in Newark, 50 years later, and these people have bought the building at 2 Cedar St. in Newark and that’s why we are here today to find out why they’re not hiring Newark workers. They’re saying that’s because they’re probably coming.”

But Best said he didn’t believe the answer he received from some of the construction workers and managers he encountered at the work site. He said he spoke with a worker at the site who said he was from Paterson, and who became angry when Best asked him questions.

Best, who used to work in the Newark Compliance Office, said, “Affirmative Action was my job before I retired from the city of Newark. The law says that, because the building was purchased by a private company, it’s private property now, so you can’t force them to hire workers from the area like you could if they were under local, county, state or federal contracts.”

Best said he was just trying to build awareness about Newark residents who need work, and are willing to do menial tasks on local construction sites. He said it’s unfair for developers to hire workers from outside the city when workers from the local talent pool could easily do, given the chance.

“There was a law that said that we couldn’t ride on the front of the bus, so that was on paper that you couldn’t do it, but Rosa Parks and the sister before her said, ‘We ain’t going by that. That’s wrong. We paid our money, so we should be able to sit where we want to sit.’ So that’s why I’m out here on the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s death,” Best said.

People’s Organization for Progress Chairman Larry Hamm said that was a pretty good reason for Best to protest. Hamm and the members of P.O.P. hosted the “Still Fighting for His Dream” rally and protest against President Donald Trump at the new Martin Luther King Memorial Monument on Martin Luther King Boulevard by the Essex County Courthouse on Wednesday, April 4, to observe the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination.

According to P.O.P. spokesperson Zayid Muhammad, King was “the most beloved ‘Drum Major for Justice,’ when he was slain.

“He was only 39,” said Muhammad on Wednesday, April 4. “At the time of his death, Dr. King was anchoring what was to become ‘The Poor People’s Campaign,’ a mass occupation protest on Washington, D.C., dramatizing poverty and economic injustice. And he was becoming a leading voice against the Vietnam War.”

Hamm agreed with Zayid that before his death King had been evolving into a more outspoken advocate against the deeper American structural socio-economic inequities affecting all U.S. citizens. Hamm said King is mainly remembered as a civil rights champion, rather than a human rights champion.

“I cannot think of a leader from our previous generations who provides a better model of conduct, principle and analysis to help steward us through the polarization of these times better than what Dr. King gave us,” said Hamm on Wednesday, April 4. On the anniversary of his death, social justice forces all over the country are protesting policies of President Trump that reduces aid to the less fortunate and polarizes the country racially.”