Bayonne and Secaucus became majority-minority municipalities after 2020 Census

Politicians, civic leaders, and residents alike react to the changes in their communities

Montage composed of photos by Swaminarayan Gadi Temple Secaucus, Black in Bayonne.

By Daniel Israel and Mark Koosau

In a significant change that marks the growing diversity and population in New Jersey and the United States as a whole, Bayonne and Secaucus have become majority-minority municipalities in Hudson County after the 2020 Census.

The two municipalities, which were known to be more white than the rest of Hudson County’s peers, have reached the threshold where minority groups now encompass more than 50 percent of the overall population.

Both of their general populations grew over the past decade, with Bayonne reaching a population of 71,686, and Secaucus growing to a population of 22,181.

2020 Census data breakdown

Census data indicates that under race, the percentage of people in Bayonne that identify as white alone, not Hispanic or Latino, decreased from 35,821 in 2010 to 32,697 in 2020. Factoring in the different populations at the time of each census, this means this group, non-Hispanic whites, dropped from about 56.8 percent to 45.6 percent.

State Assemblyman William Sampson and Mayor James Davis. Photo courtesy of Sampson.

The percentage of African Americans grew from 7.5 percent to 9.9 percent, the percentage of Asians grew from 7.6 percent to 9.8 percent, and the percentage of Hispanics grew from 25.8 to 30.8 percent.

“The population of the entire country is becoming more diverse,” said Bayonne Mayor James Davis. “Bayonne is part of the United States and is reflecting the national trend.”

In Secaucus, non-Hispanic whites make up only 39.5 percent of the population, compared to about 55.9 percent in 2010.

The Asian population grew the most from 20.1 percent to 32.3 percent. Hispanics make up the second largest minority group, growing from 18.6 percent to 21.2 percent, and are followed by African Americans as the third largest minority group, growing from 3.5 percent to 4.2 percent.

“You go to school now and you sit with kids of different nationalities, [and] it makes a big difference,” said Secaucus Mayor Michael Gonnelli. “I think it’s wonderful that we have a population like we do.”

Assemblyman Sampson and members of the Skee’s Way Foundation in Bayonne. Photo courtesy of Sampson.

Demographics change with population growth

Bayonne’s population growth is the result of two factors, according to Davis. The first is immigration from around the world, and the second is movement of commuters to Bayonne from other places in the metropolitan area.

“During the publicity for Census 2020, we said, ‘If you’re here, you’re one of us. Get counted,'” Davis said. “We are happy that people responded so well to the census. We showed our biggest population growth in a census since 1930.”

As such, the city and its representation at the local and state level is adapting with the times, Davis said. This is evident in the election of state Assemblyman William Sampson in the 31st Legislative District and City Councilman At-Large Loyad Booker, both the first African Americans to hold the posts from Bayonne.

This also extends to existing lawmakers such as: state Senator Sandra Cunningham and state Assemblywoman Angela McKnight, both from Jersey City but represent the 31st Legislative District which includes that municipality and Bayonne; and City Councilman At-Large Juan Perez at the local level.

“Our administration has reached out to welcome new people,” Davis said of the changing representation in Bayonne. “As the population becomes more diverse, the political system must make sure that all ethnic and racial groups are included.”

Members of the Shree Swaminarayan Temple engage in prayer. Photo courtesy of Swaminarayan Gadi Temple Secaucus.

More data on ethnic groups to come 

Davis added that the Census Bureau will release more detailed information from Census 2020 on ancestries and ethnic groups in 2023. He concluded: “There will be more to learn when that information comes out next year.”

Over in Secaucus, Gonnelli credited the town’s overall population growth to a number of new developments such as the Xchange at Secaucus Junction, the Ospreys near Meadowlands Parkway, and the Harper near the local Walmart.

Hirsh Patel, a spokesperson for the Shree Swaminarayan Temple in Secaucus, was enthusiastic about the growing diversity in the town.

“It’s really amazing,” he said. “The first generational wave here came to the North Bergen-Jersey City area. So the fact that the same exact thing is happening today, 50 years later, no less than like two, three miles away, just means that it’s good. The people that are immigrating here that are coming here are still gravitating to this area.”

When asked about what led to Secaucus reaching majority-minority status, Gonnelli and Patel also said that it’s from those that work in Manhattan.

“When you’re working in the city, and Secaucus being one stop out of New York, it’s not much of a decision after that,” said Patel. “The transit is really what I believe is the draw and also it’s a great town.”

City Councilmen At-Large Loyad Booker and Juan Perez. Photo courtesy of Perez.

Changing representation impacts politics

In Bayonne, Perez, who serves as a representative of the entire city on the Bayonne City Council and especially the Hispanic community, acknowledged the changes the city has undergone.

“I’m very proud to represent the growing Latino community,” Perez said. “We’re going to have a change. Some people like it the way it used to be, but you need change. It doesn’t matter. It happens all over the United States. This is why we call America a melting pot.”

Perez added that other groups are also growing, such as Asians and African Americans. “The Latino community is growing,” Perez said. “You also have a lot of Egyptians who are moving in. And we have a lot of Filipinos moving in also. So it’s a mixed bag.”

The demographics of the city have changed in part due to new residents moving in amid the wave of residential redevelopment under the Davis administration that he is part of, according to Perez.

“You can see the difference between the Bayonne of 2014 and the Bayonne of today,” Perez said of both the people and the buildings. “When I was first elected, we had 65,000 people. Now we have close to 72,000 people. People are moving in.”

In Secaucus however, the mayor and all of the town council are all white. Gonnelli did say though that he would “absolutely” look towards people from minority groups to run for the town council in the future.

Bayonne NAACP President Donald Byrd III addressed the crowd at the Juneteenth Celebration in 2022. Photo by Kim Caliman Byrd.

New cities arise from former sundown towns

Donald Byrd III, the President of the Bayonne branch of the The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), reflected on how the city has grown. Byrd has breathed new life into the local chapter since he took charge in 2021, and nonprofit Black in Bayonne has been simultaneously supporting the burgeoning African American community in Bayonne since its formation in 2020 by Camille High, Clarice High, Shaniqua Borders, and Rashad Callaway.

“Being a long term resident of Bayonne, then leaving for two years, and then coming back, what I have noticed, and what a lot of people in the NAACP have also said to me is, there are a lot of Black people who are now living in different areas of Bayonne,” Byrd said, who lives in the Alexan at the former Military Ocean Terminal at Bayonne (MOTBY).

Not only are there new African American residents, they are spread across the city instead of just living in one area as it had been in the past.

“When I was younger, a lot of Black people were confined to either mostly public housing or one street,” Byrd said. “Now what’s happening is that I’ve noticed you’ll find that the African American population is spread throughout the city, in a lot of areas that it seems like we used to have a hard time being able to live in.”

Byrd said this includes all throughout Avenue C and uptown Bayonne: “Those are areas that you basically did not see a Black family there. And when I talked to a lot of the elder folk in the NAACP on my executive team, they have said the same thing that we’ve seen.”

Black in Bayonne co-founder Camille High helps lead a march to City Hall as part of the “Power in the City” event held for Juneteenth in 2021. Photo by Daniel Israel.

Adapting to the times

Now, the NAACP is actively taking the growing population into consideration as they conduct outreach to the new African American people living in Bayonne. He said many live in new apartments and are not really active in the community yet.

“What I have been finding is that a lot of the African American population that’s coming in, they’re still treating it like a bedroom community,” Byrd said. “I’m going to assume that a lot of African Americans are probably not working in the city. A lot of folks are coming into the city, especially where I live over by the naval base. Those are basically bedroom communities. The folks are really not involved.”

However, the success of events like the inaugural Juneteenth Celebration are bringing these new residents together with the existing community.

“A lot of us were sitting back and saying ‘We’ve never seen these folks before,’” Byrd said. “Back in the day, since the population was concentrated, we pretty much knew who was here. If you were part of the Williams family or part of the Glover family, you knew. But now we can’t assess that anymore.”

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com. Mark Koosau can be reached at mkoosau@hudsonreporter.com or his Twitter @snivyTsutarja.