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New Jersey Historical Society Opens 1967 Commemoration in Newark

I was in Newark, New Jersey September 26 for the opening of the New Jersey Historical Society's 40th anniversary commemoration of the 1967 race riot (uprising, urban rebellion, civil disturbance) in my hometown. The exhibit, "What's Going On? Newark and the Legacy of the Sixties" will run through August 2008. The events of that summer have profound meanings to me because I was there and I lived it.

I was between the second and third grades when it happened. It was summer vacation, it was hot, we were at home in the Hayes Homes projects on Springfield Avenue. There was trouble, there was gunfire, Mom was worried, I was terrified. Mom said to stay down on the floor so we wouldn't get hit, so we crawled along the floor from room to room. We were on the second floor, close to the street, we could hear what was going on outside. I would forget and stand up and Mom would scream at me to get back down. I couldn't believe this was happening. This went on all day and all that night.

The next day, a calm was punctured by explosive, lightning-loud rifle shots, bullets blasting the side of our building, lasting several seconds, then silence, then yelling, then screams. Lois Spellman lived directly above us, on the ninth floor, and the bullets were meant for her. She was leaning out her window to close it after seeing her young child stray too close to the open window. They thought she was a sniper. Her arteries were cut and she was doomed from the moment the bullet struck her. She died before the ambulance could come. Nobody knows who fired the bullets, but they came from across the street, probably the roof of the fire station. I remember the voices in the hall rising hysterically, "They shot Lois! O my God they shot Lois!" Lois, our friend, was dead, and I was thinking they were going to kill Mother too. They were going to kill us all.

The last event that I remember clearly is walking down Springfield Avenue with my mother and brother, suitcases and bags in hand, past men with guns in uniforms, west toward Irvington, relatives and safety. We walked 16 blocks to get there, and Mother said, "Whatever you do, don't let go of my hand. If they shoot me, don't let go of my hand."

EVENT: Opening, "What's Going On? Newark and the Legacy of the Sixties", September 26, 2007, New Jersey Historical Society, 52 Park Place, Newark, New Jersey. The impact of the events of July, 1967 and its impact on the people, landscape, institutions and economy of New Jersey. Through August 2008. More information

More information on Eloise (Lois) Spellman, from the Newark Star-Ledger