Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. hosted the county’s 16th annual African-American History Month Celebration last Friday, Feb. 15.

This year’s honorees were the NAACP chapters in Essex County in Oranges-Maplewood, Newark, Montclair and Irvington and the Urban League of Essex County. The organizations are locally known as the “Essex Five” for their contributions to civil rights and activism in Northern New Jersey for over 100 years.

“African-American History Month is a special time of the year when we highlight the many contributions and achievements African Americans have made to our culture, economy and daily lives throughout our history,” DiVincenzo said in one report. “The four NAACP branches in Essex County and the Urban League have been representing the people of Essex County for a century. They have protested discrimination, advocated for better educational opportunities and fought for fairness in the workforce.”

The event highlighted the work of the organizations through the years, including the Oranges-Maplewood Branch of the NAACP’s involvement in the closing of the East Orange High School Swimming Pool in the 1930s due to it not being integrated. The Montclair Branch of the NAACP led a three-day boycott of the public schools in the 1960s in an effort to desegregate.

ULEC was instrumental in helping Blacks who moved from the Jim Crow South to the North in search of jobs and opportunity. The affiliate’s founder, Williams Ashby, was New Jersey’s first trained social worker. ULEC placed the first Blacks and the first women in many local enterprises such asww Western Union, Westinghouse, RCA and others.