February is Black History Month. This is a great time to recognize the important role that the Black community has played in Bayonne since the beginning. Black history is part of American history and Bayonne history.
Our municipality became the Township of Bayonne in 1861 and the City of Bayonne in 1869. In the 1860’s, Bayonne was a rural community with a very small population. Most local people made a living from farming, fishing, and boating. Many Black residents worked in the shellfish trade at a time when oysters and clams thrived around Bayonne. After Standard Oil arrived in the 1870s, Bayonne’s economy changed dramatically.
By the twentieth century, Bayonne had become an industrial city. Bayonne was attracting immigrants who came from overseas and Blacks who moved up from the South. Everyone who came here was looking to work hard and to find a better life than what they had left behind. Several Black churches and community organizations were established. Those community organizations have included the Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World, the Omega Lodge of the Prince Hall Masons, the Flournoy-Gethers Post 7470 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Bayonne Branch of the NAACP, and the Bayonne Youth Center, among others. All of these groups have played important roles in Bayonne. They have helped shape the community by supporting charitable activities, providing services, holding social events, and bringing people together.
In the twenty-first century, Bayonne has a largely post-industrial economy. Black residents of Bayonne hold positions in City Hall, the public school system, business and the professions, and a variety of trades and occupations around the community. Black clergy members have been active in interfaith events. Black business and professional people have played important roles in trade and professional associations, community service groups, and local festivals. In the last few years, Blacks have risen to important positions in Bayonne. In 2019, Madelene Medina became the first woman and person of color to serve as City Clerk. In 2020, David Watson became the first Black elected as a Trustee of the Board of Education. (He is not the first Black Trustee, but is the first one elected to that position. For many years, Trustees were appointed, not elected.)
We have all been involved in this community together for centuries. This positive involvement needs to continue, so that all racial, ethnic, and religious groups can make progress together in Bayonne.