Hamm and P.O.P. celebrate ‘true’ Memorial Day

Photo by Chris Sykes
From left, East Orange 3rd Ward Councilman Bergson Leneus and 5th Ward Councilwoman Alicia Holman watch the city’s annual Memory Day Parade from the reviewing stand in front of City Hall in City Hall Plaza on Monday, May 28, alongside the veteran grand marshal.

EAST ORANGE, NJ — East Orange celebrated Memorial Day on Monday, May 28, with the annual parade down Main Street and the first one with Mayor Ted Green presiding.

“I hope everybody’s enjoying their Memorial Day,” said Chris Coke, the East Orange Department of Public Works director, Monday, May 28. “This year definitely is special with Mayor Green. We’ve got a lot more involvement from the city employees and I think just the energy has been positive, so I’ve had fun. This is one of the great events that we do in the city of East Orange and I love being a part of it.”

Coke and the DPW held up the rear in this year’s parade, as in the past, and he said this was for practical reasons since the DPW is always responsible for setting up the reviewing stand and bleachers in front of City Hall, where the parade typically ends.

“That’s why we’re bringing up the rear, cleaning up as we come in,” Coke said.

Members of the social and economic justice group People’s Organization for Progress and Chairman Larry Hamm marched in the East Orange Memorial Day Parade instead of downtown Newark. The organization typically holds weekly protests at the Peter W. Rodino Federal Building on Broad Street in Newark every Monday from 5 to 7 p.m.

“I marched yesterday in the Newark African American Heritage Parade in downtown Newark and we’re going to do Justice Monday this evening,” said Hamm on Monday, May 28. “This will be our 122nd consecutive Justice Monday. We’ve been doing Justice Mondays for over two years now to protest against police brutality and the cases here in New Jersey.”

Hamm said there was a very good reason why the People’s Organization for Progress marched in the East Orange annual Memorial Day Parade and it wasn’t because the group’s vice chairman, Ingrid Hill, resides in East Orange. Last year, the group marked the holiday by placing wreaths on the statues, shrines and landmarks for fallen soldiers on Main Street in Orange.

“We’re here this morning and we’ll be at Justice Monday this evening, so it’s possible to do both,” said Hamm. “We always march in the East Orange parade and we’re glad to be here. It’s a great parade. There’s a lot of young people in it. So we’re glad to be here to participate.”

Hamm said events like the annual East Orange Memorial Day Parade are a great opportunity to educate children and adults of all ages about American history and black history. He also said the East Orange event is very near and dear to his group’s members because it allows them to remember Mary Weaver, an Army veteran and city employee who served as a P.O.P vice chairwoman and secretary general before her death.

“Last year, we went to the Civil War Soldiers Memorial up on Main Street and we placed a wreath there to celebrate the soldiers that died in the Civil War in the struggle to abolish slavery, especially the black soldiers who are rarely recognized but whose participation was critical to the victory of the Union forces. Black history is American history. Unfortunately, black people were left out of American history, so that’s why we have black studies now, but if we had a curriculum that truly reflected the true history of this country, there would be no need for all these different studies. But unfortunately, blacks were left out, women were left out, Native Americans were left out, even labor history was left out,” Hamm said.

“So today, we remember all the black soldiers that have fought in all the wars for the United States. African people were involved in the American Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the wars in Iraq. So today, we remember and the banner that we’re carrying today is ‘veterans deserve better care,’ because we think it’s a shame that veterans go abroad to fight and then, when they get home, they can’t get adequate medical care, they can’t get adequate housing.”