Main | Thursday, December 28, 2006

1018 Clinton Avenue

A couple of weeks ago, I collared Aaron, the Farmboyz , and Non-Blogger Ken to accompany me to the scary wilds of inner-Newark, to see if my mother's childhood home still stood. I'd been warned that the neighborhood was very rough these days, but figured that five bearded men might look intimidating enough to ward off any trouble.

Non-Blogger Ken picked up the four of us at Newark's PATH station and we Google-mapped our way down Clinton Avenue with trepidation. After a couple of miles of burned out brownstones and debris-strewn vacant lots, I spotted my grandparent's home, still standing, and actually in pretty good shape. In fact, it has recently been renovated quite nicely. That's me above, in the red coat, standing in front of my grandparent's house, where I spent all my Christmases and summers until I was about ten years old. That tiny little attic window under the peak was my room.

In 1967, Newark was torn apart by civil unrest. The Newark race riots were horrifying. Dozens of deaths, hundreds arrested, thousands of buildings torched. I remember my mother standing in front of the television in North Carolina, with a trembling hand over her mouth as she watched the evening news. Over the next 24 months, Newark emptied of its white residents. My mother's parents, their house miraculously spared during the riots, sold their home and moved in next door to us in North Carolina, much to the anguish of my father, who immediately began plotting our own escape.

Until the five of us rolled up up on 1018 Clinton Avenue, I hadn't seen the house in 37 years. The buildings on both sides are heavily fortified with iron bars. Across the street, the green grocery where my grandmother used to send me with 35 cents to buy my grandfather a pack of cigarettes, is now Princess Jane's Authentic African Braiding. I was hard-pressed to find any identifiable landmarks from my childhood, except for Irvington Park at the end of the street, where I used to go sledding.

1018 is now a two-family home, and the upper windows were crowded with young girls who called down to us, demanding to know our identity and why we were taking pictures. A girl walking up to the house said to her friends, "Did y'all call the po-po?" Father Tony begged them to let me in to take pictures, but they politely declined. My mother would have loved to have seen some inside pictures, but still she was over the moon to see the ones that we got.

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