A Day in The History of Metuchen Edison Piscataway NAACP Branch

Driving While Black

The NAACP Branch celebrates the attorneys who helped expose racial profiling by the State Police in the 1990s and bring the issue to the nation’s attention. Beginning in 1988, this Branch referred several cases to the Middlesex County Public Defender’s Office under the leadership of Brad Ferencz.

Due to the efforts of Jeffrey Wintner, Fred Last, Wayne Natale, the late Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr., and Innocence Project Organizers Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck the late Public Defenders William Buckman and Walter Marvin over 600 cases were dismissed.

Eventually the state Attorney General’s Office acknowledged that troopers were engaging in racial profiling. The state signed a consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department to allow for federal oversight of traffic stops and other reform. An additional agreement was signed with the New Jersey State Conference NAACP Branches. Federal oversight ended in 2009. NAACP continues to monitor the State Police diversity hiring efforts.  The NAACP Branch started one of the State’s first expungement programs. 

School Bullying | State of New Jersey vs. Ferguson

A homicide charge against James Ferguson arose from a fight between the defendant, age 14, and the victim, age 16, on October 7, 1988 after a school dance at Edison High School. Defendant was armed with a knife. The record suggests that the older and stronger victim who participated in the fight may have been the initial aggressor. There may well have been racial overtones to the sad incident. As obvious from the verdict, the jury rejected defendant’s claims in defense, i.e., accidental homicide or self-defense, or in mitigation of the degree of the homicide through imperfect self-defense or passion-provocation. 

Ferguson was convicted of knowing and purposeful murder and sentenced to a 30-year term with no parole eligibility. He was 14 years plus 8 months of age, in tenth grade, at the time of the homicide on October 7, 1988. His principal claim for reversal relates to his transfer hearing where the Family Court judge waived jurisdiction on February 14, 1989 and transferred the matter to the Law Division for prosecution as an adult. His grandmother contacted the Metuchen Edison Area Branch of the NAACP in 1992.  With the assistance of Attorneys Barry T. Albin and Jeffrey L. Menkin, Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer, and Middlesex County Public Defender Brad Ferencz, Ferguson, the case was argued in March 25, 1992 and Ferguson was released in April 1992. 

Racial Discrimination & Harassment/ Hester v. NJ Transit

The Branch represented 10 minority police officers and retained attorney Nancy Erika Smith and co-counsels Kevin Barber and Neil Mullin resulting in a settlement including $5.8 Million, training for all superior officers, reinstatement of the only plaintiff not still employed, and the appointment of an Ombudsman to hear discrimination complaints for NJ Transit minority employees subjected to race discrimination and harassment in the NJ Transit Police Department.

Metuchen Edison Piscataway NAACP vs. Edison Board of Education

During the end of a school semester, it was the decision of the Edison Superintendent of Schools not to give tenure to 4 African American and 1 Caucasian teacher. A meeting with the Superintendent from the NAACP President resulted in all four African American receiving tenure and receiving a new teaching contract.  

Rutgers Black Students Protest Against President Lawrence

More than 150 students took over the basketball court of Rutgers University on February 8, 1995 cutting short a sold-out game to demand the resignation of the university president, Francis L. Lawrence. Student protesters took to the floor because they were angered by Mr. Lawrence’s controversial remarks to faculty members in November 1994 that referred to disadvantaged students who lacked “the genetic, hereditary background” to score well on college admission tests.

When eight students decided to block NJ State Highway 18, they were arrested and criminally charged. At the request of a college administrator, the Metuchen Edison Piscataway Branch of the NAACP represented the students. All charges were dropped, and with the assistance of New Jersey Speak Out! Organization, we were able to pay the student’s fines. 

Anti-Bully Campaign

The Metuchen Edison Piscataway Branch of the NAACP, the National Conference for Christian and Jews, and the NJ State Attorney General’s Office organized an Anti-Bullying Campaign held at Rutgers in 2003. Miss America Erika Harold was the keynote speaker and the Edison Job Corps Academy supplied the choir. 

AT&T and General Motors

In 1977, the Branch introduced AT&T and General Motors to the Edison Job Corps Academy resulting in the creation of a training center to develop the skills of economically disadvantage youth. 

Pilgrimage of The Middle Passage

In 1999 the Branch contributed funds and participated in the Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage. Eighty participates walked from Leverett, Massachusetts to Florida to Cape Town, South Africa to retrace the steps of the slave trade from Africa to Europe and America. 

Remembering Amadu Diallo

In 2000 the Branch, organized a rally of over 300 protestors to the steps of the New Brunswick Library to express anger over the acquittal of four New York City police officers in the

killing of Amadu Diallo. Procession continued along Livingston Avenue with an empty casket. February 4, 2019 marks the 20th anniversary of the killing of Amadu Diallo. 

“Someone to Cheer For”

In 2000, the Branch cosponsored an exhibit with Middlesex County entitled “Someone to Cheer For” about the Negro Baseball League and the Black Community life in New Jersey from 1860 to 1950. The event was held at the Cornelius Low House in Piscataway. 

Travis Francis selected as First African American Superior Court Judge

In 1991 Sean Potts, a 25-year old unarmed African American was fatally shot by a New Brunswick sparking civil unrest. The Metuchen Edison Piscataway Branch of the NAACP was asked to gather a group of community leaders to recommend ways of improving community relations. The first recommendation was to appoint an African American attorney to the Middlesex County Superior Court Bench. After a review of candidates, Travis Francis was selected. Later Lorraine Pullen, Esq. joined Judge Francis on the bench. As the first African American woman. 

25 African Americans Attorneys Added to the Superior Court Bench

In January 2006 Branch President Reginald Johnson was asked by NAACP State Conference President James Harris to organize a committee to increase the number African American attorneys on the bench. Over the span of 4 years, and with the assistance of the Garden State Bar Association and the Association of Black Women Attorney, resumes were collected and presented in person to then Governor Jon Corzine. After three meetings with the Governor, 25 African American Attorneys were selected and added to the bench. 

Middlesex County Human Relations Commission Formed

The Metuchen Edison Piscataway Area Branch of the NAACP, National Conference of Christians and Jews, and the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County formed the Commission in October 1990 to address the growth of bias related incidents in Middlesex County, to promote good will and understanding among various racial, religious and ethnic groups. A sub-committee was formed to then Mayor James McGreevy to discuss how to protect the Asian Indian Community in Woodbridge from bias incidents. 

TKR CABLE COMPANY

Metuchen Edison Piscataway Branch of the NAACP and BET

The NAACP reached out to TKR Cable (later Cablevision) to request adding Black Entertainment Television to their lineup. After several attempts failed, the NAACP decide to organize a march. With so few customers willing to march, President Johnson reached out to Indo-American Cultural Society President Peter Kothari. TKR had recently cancelled the TV Asia channel. A coalition was formed and over 300 people marched. BET and TV Asia was added to the station lineup that day.

Metuchen Edison Piscataway Branch of the NAACP and Rutgers’s NAACP Chapter 

On October 26, 1988 this Branch helped reactivate the New Brunswick Chapter of the NAACP. Elected officers include Adrienne Boxley, President; Erick Hill and Danon Mincey, Vice-Presidents; Vanessa Hanley, Secretary; and Rachel Graves, Treasurer. Additional members included Sherry Little and Yolanda Smith. 

Bust of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Members of the Metuchen Civil Rights Commission and NAACP headed a committee responsible for the construction of a bust in the image of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the renaming of a public park in front of the Metuchen Library in his honor. The project was completed on February 18, 1990. For the first four years residents would march approximately two miles from New Hope Baptist Church to the park after every Annual MLK Commemorative Service. 

Denny’s vs. The NAACP

In 1992 Denny’s settled a case with NAACP and the Princeton Association of Black Seminarians for selling racially offensive promotional mugs depicting negative black caricatures. Both organizations received an apology and Denny donated a sum of $5,000 in the name of both groups to the United Negro College Fund. Dr. Vera King Farris, then President of Stockton College of New Jersey was appointed to Denny’s parent company board of directors.  

New Jersey State Genetic Privacy Act 1996

The NAACP Branch lobbied the Senate to support the late Senator Jack Sinagra’s Privacy Act of 1996. The Act was one the most comprehensive laws protecting genetic information. The Genetic Privacy Act declares that a person’s genetic information is private property and cannot be collected, retained, or disclosed without written consent. Employers cannot refuse to hire anyone who declines to take a genetic test. The new law also prohibits health insurance companies from denying access or setting higher rates for people who are genetically predisposed to certain diseases like sickle cell and lupus. 

Depiction of Africans as Monkeys 

The NAACP Branch and the NJ State Conference met with AT&T regarding a drawing in the September 1993 Employee Magazine that used a monkey to depict Africans. The drawing in an ad showed characters on several continents conversing by telephone. All the characters were human except the one in Africa, which was a monkey. We met with AT&T Chairman Robert E. Allen. Because of the meeting Branch Member Sharon Davis was offered and accepted an advertising management opportunity with AT&T in Atlanta, Georgia.  

Juvenile Justice System

Worked with local and county law officials to examine the criminal justice reforms to examine the criminal justice reforms needed to positively transform the relationship between police and the residents of New Jersey. Successfully lobbied to overhaul NJ’s broken bail system. Received the Lillian & Lillian Foundation Award for our work in the prevention of domestic violence through education and awareness.   

Attorney General Grubir Grewal

In 2018 the Branch, Asian Indian Business Association and Delta Sorority organized a public forum on police shootings at Middlesex County College attended by Attorney General Grubir Grewal. Organized additional forums on immigration, bias crimes and drug abuse. The Branch  received a “Community Award” from the National Organization of Black Law Executives (NOBLE). 

STEM and Civics Classes

In 2019 the Branch received a grant to teach STEM and Civics to 425 students at the Edison Job Corps Academy.