A Dialogue About History: Civil Rights Movement

Student Question

Did the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King’s motivations affect how Lambertville viewed each other? Was there a change in your eyes on how you viewed others?

Residents’ Answers

  • I was born and raised in Lambertville and, at least with respect to me personally, civil rights was never an issue in town. Everyone lived and worked together without any problems regarding civil rights.
  • As for myself, I had many friends, schoolmates, families as friends of color. Great people who enriched my life.
  • Not our family. We were raised in a nonprejudiced environment, went to school with and played with everyone regardless of race. Some people were brought up otherwise but for the most part Lambertville/New Hope not caught up in that situation like the Southern States.
  • I wasn’t here in the bad old days. I’ve never had anything but respect for the African-Americans of Lambertville.
  • Not that I remember. We all got along and there rarely was any prejudice. We were all in the same boat. We watched it go through Trenton and Newark. But that didn’t happen here.

Student Question

How did the civil rights movement in the 1950’s affect Lambertville and its tourism? How did the civil rights movement affect Lambertville?

Residents’ Answers

  • Again, civil rights were never a problem in Lambertville. Tourism did not become big until much later.
  • See the 1967 and 1968 Trenton riots, which are considered to have “killed Trenton.” I was born in Trenton, NJ, and attended Blessed Sacrament for elementary school, Trenton Catholic and then Trenton High for high school and ultimately graduated from the now College of New Jersey in 1968 in a new Liberal Arts degree program in history. Growing up in Trenton was, in retrospect, an immersion learning experience—one of getting along with others regardless of race, ethnic background, and/religious beliefs. This bubble was burst, shattered, when the unrest among the races was personally experienced by me one warm Saturday afternoon when I was playing catch with a neighbor kid in the street where we lived. Out of the blue an African-American male shot out into the street towards us dressed in a green dress suit carrying other dress clothes in his arms and a whiskey bottle clutched among them. A Trenton police van, with lights flashing, screeched to a halt and officer exited, racking his shotgun, while yelling for us to get clear of the street. From instinct I threw the football hitting the running male square in the face. This action caused him to lose his balance and fall over backward. To this day I ponder if I really hit him or he just ran square into that sailing ball. The police officer was all parts of on him, cuffing him and marching him into the van while the suits were quickly gathered up. My friend and I stood riveted as the officer turned and said, “You saved him from being shot.” I just had a sinking sense my days were numbered if I stayed in Trenton. I had to get out and away and I had always loved the river, the canal, and Lambertville’s battered but beautiful historic buildings. Lambertville’s locals were sweet, quite a bit nosy, and were never uncomfortable asking something personal, invasive like, “Where do you work, where do you go to church, and how much money do you make as a teacher?” As a young man drinking was part of my leisure schedule. I first met Vic Walker in his liquor store on the corner of Bridge Street and the McCready’s Alley; he was the source of my beer and wine supply. I bought a bottle of French table wine and was a “marked” man. His curiosity went into overload. Nobody in Lambertville drank French wine he declared offering me bottles from a case he could not sell as the original purchaser had reneged on the deal —Pouilly Fuisse for $2.99 a bottle, I was in heaven. I duly returned for my weekly order and when I walked in, I noticed a black man and Vic conversing at the counter. At that point the conversation increased in volume and ethnic slurs started to fly thick and fast. I literally dove behind a display expecting the worst. Well, Vic and the gentleman burst into loud and raucous laughter delighting in me on the floor. I had been “red a..ed” in classic Lambertville vernacular. This defined what would become a level of closeness with and among the people of Lambertville. This hazing experience, what these two pulled, further bonded me with everyone I seemed to meet as you can bet my reaction was much shared. It gave me a sense of belonging, of being one of the guys. I remain really glad I passed the initiation test. In summation, the Civil Rights Movement sought to correct the social injustices in America; people were aware of the course of events in the country but the friction, in the main, if it existed here was resolved through the strong social structure. It is significant that New Jersey was the first state to institute Head Start and Lambertville’s program was visited by Lady Bird Johnson, Sargent Shriver, and Governor Hughes in 1965. The teacher in charge was a local Lambertville resident, Angelo Pittore, who had taught in the public elementary school and high school for many years. The 8 week long summer program was further staffed by local volunteers and members who traveled from the Franconia Mennonite Church in Montgomery County, PA. Frank Kramer, a former Lambertville Councilman shared how he and many other Lambertville children and their families attended that tent church for services in the hot summer. It seems so Lambertville. Poverty and people of differing socio-economic classes seem to know how to accommodate differences and just plain get along. It has always been a place to call home.
  • Tourism in the 1950? Nonexistent.
  • Not much so far as I know.
  • Not aware of Lambertville tourism in the 1950s. Gay friends tell me they parked here and walked over the bridge to New Hope, which was an actual tourist destination, but they weren’t comfortable until they got out of Lambertville. As for the African-Americans, I know they have an old community here, but I don’t know how they fared in the civil rights days.
  • There were no “color bars” in town. So it really didn’t affect us.