Doug answers Walt's Questions
Excerpts from Doug's letter in red.
Walt's question or comment in blue.
Doug's response in black.
The entire city block across from Teppers at the corner of Park and
Front was acquired and demolished. It sat vacant for close to 40
Was the city block demolished before or after the riots? If after, how
did Urban Renewal play a role in inciting the uprising?
To the best of my recollection the buildings were in place and in
business at the time of the riots. The planning for Urban
Renewal had been ongoing for a period of time prior to the riots.
Although I am not familiar with exactly what the procedure
was, it involved applications to and approval by the federal
government which was the source of funding. The reference to
Urban Renewal was included to indicate that the City was
attempting to move forward prior to the riots and the town
fathers undoubtedly had confidence in its future. It was not then
a lost cause or certainly not perceived to be such. However, there
was no concrete development plan and throughout the years one
developer after another, after having been so designated by the
City, bowed out. Urban Renewal did not to my knowledge play
any role in inciting the riots. It was an example of what turned
out to be very poor judgment.
Local government officials and other leaders of the community in
1967 were all white and remained so for several years thereafter.
Did the city fare better or worse under black leadership?
That's a difficult question to answer. The obvious answer is "worse."
But, that is a simplistic response. Certainly the City reached its
nadir at some point under black leadership but it was becoming
increasingly worse under white leadership and its deterioration
probably would have continued. Would it have reached the same
level? Maybe, but probably not---depending upon the people
involved. When the whites left Plainfield they created a vacuum
in terms of institutional knowledge and leadership. From my
perspective there was certainly a progressive decline in the
competence of elected officials and civil servants in general. One
wonders if the civic leaders in 1967 should have foreseen the
potential for rioting and done something, if there were anything
which could have been done, to prevent the riot.
Blacks did not force whites out, the latter, rightly or wrongly,
effectively abandoned the city.
What do you mean 'by rightly or wrongly'? How could a free decision
to move away from a riot torn city of unrest be considered a
'wrong' decision ?
I was intentionally not being judgmental, recognizing the absolute
right of any family to conclude that its best interests were served
by leaving. However, from the standpoint of the City's collective,
continued well being, economic, social, etc., it was, at least in
my opinion, a disaster. The vacuum to which I previously
referred was created. Not only did those people who were leaders
of the community at large and their successors in esse disappear
from the scene, thousands of newcomers having no real ties to
the City or its institutions or traditions, moved in, replacing the
former residents. I am not aware that the population declined
and homes certainly were sold, albeit for comparatively low
prices, and re-occupied by newcomers. There has been some
gentrification over the last several years in areas of the City,
particularly by the gay community.
It should be realized that while there was looting and some property
destruction, there was nothing like Watts or Detroit.
Apparently Plainfield is a much smaller town than Watts and Detroit
but the fury and intensity was there.
The photos, newsreels, etc., which I have seen of Watts and Detroit
looked as if city blocks had been bombed. Plainfield was not like
that. Within a matter of a couple of weeks those businesses which
were affected had largely reopened. Most of the property loss was
stolen inventory and plate glass. I represented a number of
business owners suing the City under an arcane statue which
made a municipality liable for property loss sustained in a riot
after the municipality had gained knowledge that a riot was
taking place. There was a lot of speculation at the time that
racial agitators had been sent to the City to foment trouble and
the actual riot. I am unaware that that was ever established. I
hesitate to express a "gut feeling" so soon after our Secretary of
Homeland Security, but I suspect that if there had not been
rioting in Newark there would have been none in Plainfield. As
there tends to be copycat crime, I suspect that Plainfield was to a
large extent a copycat riot
As far as the post riot governance of the city is concerned that is
an entirely different matter which is not particularly
encouraging. It is undoubtedly one of the reasons for its decline.
Good point!! Was that governance predominantly white or black?
Several of your questions and the responses thereto overlap to at least
some extent. According to the newpaper article, Everitt Lattimore
became the first black mayor in 1981, a date which I assume is
correct. All mayors from that time forward have been black and
the councils have been predominantly if not entirely black. At
the time of the riot George "Chubby" Hetfield was mayor and
was not perceived as being particularly effective or as imbuing a
sense of confidence in the future. He was succeeded by Paul
O'Keefe and Frank "Pete" Blatz who were generally regarded
as doing a good job for Plainfield under the trying
circumstances which existed. Pete, whom I'm sure you know at
least from college, and who was my partner for a number of
years before he semi-retired coincident with our combining our
two offices into the current one in Bound Brook, was
particularly respected for holding things together. After Pete there
was a deterioration in governmental leadership which I
personally experienced. A couple of examples follow. In one
situation I was retained to take action on behalf of a charitable
organization against a mayor of the City who was employed by
the charity as its executive director and who was accused by the
Trustees of substantial improprieties including the submission of
vouchers for reimbursement of the same expenses to both the City
and the charity. On another occasion I was retained to represent
a Plainfield mayor in a suit against the council. The facts are
illustrative of some of the poor stewardship to which the City was
subjected, undoubtedly attributable to a lack of competent
people. The council and mayor were at loggerheads over a few
matters including the office of the Director of Public Safety, the
second highest paying position (I believe) in the City
administration. The council disliked the incumbent who had
been the mayor's choice and favored a police officer (not the
chief) who was the husband of a councilwoman. Additionally,
the council wanted to increase the salaries of its members which
the mayor opposed. Under the City's charter the mayor proposes a
budget to the council which the council may approve by a simple
majority vote, reduce in any line item by a simple majority vote,
but increase any line item only by a super majority vote. The
charter also provided that no elected official could receive an
increase in salary without adoption of an ordinance fixing the
salary which could not take effect until after one or more (I don't
recall precisely) elections---thus affording the voters, if they so
chose, to throw the rascals out. The council, over the mayor's
objections, increased the line item for council salaries, for the
mayor's salary (dare I use the word "bribe"), and provided the
increases effective before the required elections had intervened.
To compound the problem the matters were passed by only a
simple majority. In New Jersey all municipal budgets must be
submitted to the state's Division of Local Governmental Services
for approval. The council then directed the municipal clerk to
certify the budget to the Division as having been properly
adopted. This was about as blatant a disregard of the required
procedure as could be imagined. I think my judgment with
regard to the City's post 1981 administration is apparent.
Excerpts from the newspaper article in red.
Walt's question or
comment in blue.
Doug's response in black.
THERE is no monument to the riots that roiled this city 40 years ago.
“They have something in Newark, but nothing here,” said
Steven Hatcher, 45, chairman of the Plainfield branch of the
People’s Organization for Progress
What do they have in Newark that Plainfield has nothing?
Let me preface any remarks I have by indicating that your utilization
of the adjective "preposterous" with respect to your next question
is aptly descriptive of my opinion of the entire meeting or
commemoration or whatever it was which is the subject of the
article. To praise or memorialize the riot is outrageous. I would
have no problem with a forum to analyze the causes of the riot in
a dispassionate, unbiased manner. However, it appears that the
Quaker Meeting House played host to speakers who were intent
upon justifying past events and resorted to hyperbole in doing so.
I think the newspaper article attempted to report what occurred
and I would not be inclined to kill the messenger but would
certainly disapprove the message.
Before you circulated Fred's letter which started this discussion, I
believe I read an article or saw a newscast on TV that there was
some ceremony in Newark at a plaque commemorating the riot
in that City. We should be thankful there is no such monument
Last Saturday, Mr. Cathcart, 69, stood before the audience here and
described the city before the uprising as an “indentured servant
That is preposterous ...who and in what capacity were the blacks
serving? The lack of jobs at Mack is not indentured service.
Harry Glatt's e-mail about the circumstances around the Mack
Truck scenario is enlightening.
As stated I agree with your comment. With respect to Harry Glatt I
really do not know whether he is a tongue-in-cheek provocateur,
a genuine contrariant, or simply naïve. My reference to Mack
Motors was to demonstrate that even the corporate exemplar of
civic responsibility engaged in exclusionary employment
practices, complicit undoubtedly, with the UAW. I did not state
that it was operational in 1967 or that the lack of jobs for blacks
at Mack Motors was a cause of the riot. The long standing
practice, however, was indicative that Plainfield was not the
idyllic Shangri La it may have appeared to many of us as
teenagers in the 1950's (Harry's traumatic experience in front of
the Liberty Theatre being evidential thereof). I would not be
inclined to advocate that owning a bakery on 3rd Street was full
and equal admission to the community at large. Who were the
members of the Jewish community who were allowed to play
golf at the Plainfield Country Club (one of my partners who was
an outstanding golfer was denied that opportunity despite a
member attempting to invite him as a guest)? Why did none of
the many Jewish real estate brokers have listings in Sleepy
Hollow? Who were the Jewish women invited to join the
Monday Afternoon Club? Why were there so many properties
with restrictive covenants precluding sales to other than
Caucasian Christians until such clauses were declared
unenforceable by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1948? What could
a black lady aspire to be, the elevator operator in Tepper's? How
many merchants employed black sales personnel? The point is
that there was an understandable feeling of second degree
citizenship by minorities. The “indentured servant community”
seems to be an impassioned phrase which was part of the
exaggeration at the meeting. If, as Harry asserted and with
which I do not necessarily disagree, the "downhill" slide of
Plainfield began with Mack's leaving the City, was the 1967 riot
then no more than a notch on the timeline of Plainfield's
inexorable decline which, while being an accelerant, was not a
first, nor even a necessary cause? I don't know and I doubt that
any of us ever will know.
We had no political clout,” he said. “There was no one we could sit
down with and say, ‘We’ve been denied our rights.’ ”
Were the whites in the majority and actually got out to vote? What
rights were being denied?
I am not aware that any civil rights were being denied. The whites
were certainly in the majority of registered voters and I am fairly
sure that they were in the majority of the population in 1967. I
find it interesting that in recent elections there is a great deal of
hands on activity. For example, in the vicinity of the polling
places on election day supporters of all the competing candidates
stake out positions from which they hand out campaign
literature to the voters entering the polls. I never recall such
activity in the past. That would appear to indicate a widespread
involvement in the political (democratic) process in which it is
usually difficult even to find paid election board workers.
Most important, Mr. Cathcart said, they helped bring black people to
power in Plainfield. Everett C. Lattimore, Plainfield’s first
black mayor, was elected in 1981. “And what do you think got
him there?” Mr. Cathcart boomed into the microphone. “The
What did Lattimore do with this new found power???
I have no particular recollection of Lattimore's term as mayor as
distinguished from those that followed. Fred indicated that he
knew Cathcart from playing ball with him. Was that before or
after the riots? I had always been of the impression that Cathcart
was a stranger to Plainfield who somehow showed up on the
scene. It would be interesting to know what involvement, if any,
he had in the community before the riots.
Zayid Muhammad, 45, of Newark, the national minister of culture
for the New Black Panther Party, was raised in Plainfield but
was sent to East Orange during the riots. He called the
Plainfield rioting “a unique rebellion because the community
was armed and it put a check on the police and military.”
Sounds relatively worse than Watts or Detroit.
I previously commented on Watts and Detroit. I am sure there must
have been some assaults upon people during the riots but other
than Officer Gleason, I don't remember anything along those
lines making headlines. As I recall the primary topics were
Gleason and property damage. It seems as if the individual
quoted was a 5 year old whose parents sent him away for the
"danger zone" for his safety.
Holding out a hand to the leaders of the Quaker congregation in the
wooden pews, he asked them to “reach out to our community.”
“We are in trouble,” he said. “We need help.”
Who is in charge of Plainfield now...African Americans or
Caucasians? What exactly do they want? Everyone to vote for
African-Americans are currently "in charge" in Plainfield. I doubt
that there is any partisan politics involved in terms of reaching
out to the Caucasian community. As I indicated in my initial
comments Plainfield "seems to be much better than it was
previously (not pre-1967) but subsequent to 1973 or so." It has a
long way to go including the school system which seems to have
considerable problems which have received some considerable