Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on June 27, 1976 · Page 82
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June 27, 1976

Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 82

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Charleston, West Virginia
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Sunday, June 27, 1976
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Page 82
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On Aug. 27,1909, cven'onelried to gc.l into the picture of Morri.it own \s first trolley car. Klux Klan. During the 70s. Klansmen from the area picnicked at Lake Hopatcong, f u n - l o v i n g l y tarred and feathered a Morristown Catholic who chanced to recognize one of their members, burned crosses in the neighboring towns of Chester, Mendham. and Dover. At Stirling, a Klan delegation turned out in full regalia at a school dedication to present a Bible. The New Jersey contingent to a 1925 national KKK parade in Washington. D.C.. required five chartered trains. Still the black pilgrims trekked to Morristown, each year in greater numbers. They had no old-country loyalties to strengthen them, only rejection in their own land to discourage them, and their names had long since been "Americanized." Their only common bond was a color and a prayer, dear Lord, maybe tomorrow will be less bad than yesterday and the next easier than the last. When they arrived at Morristown and other northern cities no segregation laws told them where they had to live.'but. like young Robert Taylor at the movie theater, they got the message. They moved into the Hollow, of course, replacing the Italians. The same was true in city after city; if not Italians, then whoever h a p p e n e d t o b e t h e r e : P o l e s . Greeks. A r m e n i a n s , Germans, Czechs, Lithuanians, wretched refuse from every shore. But immigration was soon to slow, by law. to a desultory trickle. And so America's blacks, whose earliest ancestors preceded the M a y f l o w e r , would lack for a long, long time still another ingredient historically essential to the upward Iclimb: a new arrival pushing from below. By 1928. the black p o p u l a t i o n passed 1.000. about 9 per cent of the whole and more than either the Irish or Italians had numbered dur- ''. -Juni'27. I97H ing their most crowded years in the Hollow. But never m i n d housing. Even with all those estates chopped up for retail stores, commercial land was in ever-lessening supply and people were going around saying things like if a town doesn't grow it will die. Only one thing to do. In 1928. Morristown passed its first zoning ordinance. It classified the Hollow as commercial. That confirmed its status as a slum. Why improving a residence in a neighborhood designated for beer joints and body shops? Morristown was afire with commercial zeal, all right, and the fat was in it. That same year Morris Township, the suburbs, also passed its first zoning ordinance. It classified 80 per cent of its corporate area class-A residential. The twin decisions dramatically certified the course chosen in metropolitan areas everywhere, unspoken often, but inexorable: cities were for shopping, if you could endure it: suburbs were for living, if you could a f f o r d it. And were white. The pattern that resulted in Morristown was repeated in city after city. As the housing shortage grew acute, apartment buildings went up. That didn't matter much during (he depressed '30"s or the don't-you- know-there's-a-war-on years of the ' 4 0 ' s . B u t w h e n J o h n n y c a m e m a r c h i n g home a g a i n , u p went more apartments in the cities and the gradual trickle to the suburbs became a torrent. While Morristown's population jumped 12 per cent in the postwar b a b y boom, that of Morris Township grew 21 per cent under an avalanche of GI loans. By the 1950's, the Hollow was more than twice as densely populated as any other zoning area in Morristown, including the high rise neighborhoods. Sooner than many cities with similar black ghettoes though, Morristown moved to alleviate the problem. It had formed a municipal housing authority in 1949 and by the early '50's had completed a low-rent, f e d e r a l l y funded housing project in the Hollow. Today the Hollow remains all black and a shanty can be found here and there, but generally the two-family and three-family brick dwellings are sound and well kept. Thus Morristown was spared the agony of racial- turbulence during the '60's; a few marches to keep pace with the times, but nothing serious. About the only relic of that era is a new street sign. The main street through the Hollow, given the name Evergreen Avenue back when ttye Irish lived along it, now is named Martin Luther King Boulevard. The slain civil rights leader would be more pleased, however, to know that the president of the city council is black. He is a lawyer _He once lived in the Hollow. Morristown's problems were more economical than racial. The flight to the suburbs was injury enough, draining the city of much of its talent. The added insult came with the proliferation of suburban shopping centers. Why shop in the congested city? And as if that w e r e n ' t bad enough, along came the latest trend of big corporations moving their headquarters out of big cities to suburban campuses. Morristown's suburbs had plenty of p r i m e sites. A l l i e d C h e m i c a l Corp. moved onto the old Otto Kahn estate. Warner-Lambert produces drugs where Homer Davenport once rode Arabian horses. Firms like that lessen the private citizen's tax burden considerably. In Morristown, homeowners pay 55.23 per ?100 valuation; in Morris Township $2.91. Yet median family income in Morristown is $12,000; in Morris Township S18.600. "It isn't really fair," said David Manahan, Morristown's mayor. Oh, yes, as in other cities the ethnics h a v e long since d o m i n a t e d Morristown's government. Manahan licked a candidate named Gervasio. "We're the social conscience of the area. We provide the hospitals, the home for the elderly, all the social services the surrounding area needs but doesn't have. Our taxpayers have to pay for them." The irony is classic. The very reason Morristown drew that narrow boundary back in 1865 was to duck the cost of suburban services. The situation can become ludicrous. Manahan, for instance, lives on a dead-end street bisected by the city limits. The three houses at the end of the street are in Morris Township. They have to be serviced by separate snowplows, garbage trucks, fire engines. "The answer is regionalization," Manahan said, a concept popular in m a n y h e a v i l y populated areas where town lines a b u t . "We already share a water system and school system. We ought to share police equipment, fire equipment, all equipment. It makes sense to us, of course, but it's hard to persuade people in the township. They figure they have it made." Meanwhile. Morristown has had to do what other cities have done as a result of those years when human needs were sacrificed on the altar of commercialization: buckle down and try to restore the wreckage with federal aid through a massive urban renewal project. "It's easy to second guess, but quite obviously they were shortsighted a couple of generations ago," M a n a h a n said. "I believe they'd have paved the green if they could have got their hands on it. _ Fortunately we still have that." Just so. Preserving the green was not the decision of the town's political or business leaders. The land belonged to the Presbyterian Church, whose elders had the good sense to give it over to city use but retain control through a succession of trustees. Today the green gives historic Morristown a charming Early American flavor. It is the focal point of the town's activities, and its history. It is all so close at hand. Within a mile in every direction are mementoes of two centuries of striving toward the goal George Washington's men suffered for in this very place, a people free to make their own choices, not necessarily wisely but freely, by their own lights. Jacob Ford's old powder mill, a relic of their resolve; a ditch along the highway that used to be a canal, an artifact of their ambition; the housing project in the h o l l o w , a m o n u m e n t to their concern; the Columbian Club on a hill, a reminder of their origins. This town has produced counterfeiters and murderers and robber barons and bootleggers. This town has also produced a senator and a Supreme Court justice, a general and an admiral, poets and artisans, teachers, p h y s i c i a n s , lawyers, priests', a n d o r d i n a r y c i t i z e n s whose instincts have brought about a free public library and several m u s e u m s and an arboretum and schools that exclude no one. Kids in the Hollow play today in parks, not alleys. The Whippany River is getting cleaner, .not dirtier. And now the old oaks on the Morristown green begin to leaf again, as they have in each of the 200 years since Washington's men wintered here. It is spring in the town and the country, hope, even pride, will not be denied. CHARI.KHrON. W.VA. 5m

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