Several officials including Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka, U.S. Rep. Donald M. Payne Jr., and N.J. Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver unveiled a statue at Newark City Hall honoring former Mayor Kenneth A. Gibson, the city’s first Black mayor.
The 8-foot bronze statue honors the life and legacy of Gibson, who served for 16 years from 1970 to 1986. He led Newark’s efforts to overcome the physical and spiritual damage inflicted upon the city by the 1967 Rebellion. Gibson is well known for his famous quote, “Wherever America’s cities are going, Newark will get there first.” He passed away in 2019 at age 86.
“Mayor Gibson was so special. Growing up, I knew of him as an icon and a topic of conversation in my household. I knew why he was important for the city and throughout the country,” Baraka said. “When I became mayor, he graced me with opportunities to have conversations with him, not always about politics but also about well-being. He’s helped me make my way through my mayorship in the City of Newark and more than anything he deserves a statue right here in front of City Hall.”
The sculpture was created by Mississippi native Thomas Jay Warren and will stand in front of Newark City Hall. The city commissioned the statue with support from Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr., who also installed the artwork. It was funded by Essex County, Prudential, and the Newark Community Impact Fund.
“My admiration and respect for Mayor Kenneth Gibson began in 1970 when, as the new mayor of Newark, his leadership inspired me to pursue a career in public service. After college, he opened new doors for me with a position in his administration during a tumultuous time in Newark history,” said Oliver, who serves as commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs. “He inspired and encouraged me and gave me a platform to fight for the many injustices I recognized and felt passionate about as a youth—social and economic inequalities such as fair housing, equal employment opportunity, and public health.”
Gibson’s family attended the unveiling including his widow Camillie and daughter Cheryl, who is proud of the statue because of what Newark meant to her father.
“We know that he loved this city, and we believe that this is exactly where he should be remembered,” Cheryl said. “This is befitting of him and we will never forget what Mayor Baraka, County Executive DiVincenzo, and the entire City Council has done to memorialize my father. We’re humbled by this experience.”
Born in Enterprise, Ala., Gibson grew up in Newark and graduated from Central High School and studied civil engineering at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Prior to being elected mayor, Gibson worked as an engineer for the New Jersey Highway Department and the Newark Housing Authority.