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NJ Flags Fly At Half-Staff To Honor Pioneering Newark Mayor Kenneth Gibson

Mayor Kenneth Gibson with Ras Baraka, the current mayor of Newark. Gibson died Friday at the age of 86.
Mayor Kenneth Gibson with Ras Baraka, the current mayor of Newark. Gibson died Friday at the age of 86. Video Credit: fbcsomerset

The state and U.S. flags were lowered over the Statehouse in Trenton Monday to honor Kenneth Gibson, who became the first black mayor of a major Northeastern city when he was elected in Newark in 1970.

Gibson died Friday. He was 86.

Gibson came to power at a time when New Jersey's largest city was still recovering from a devastating riot three years earlier, part of a wave of racial violence sweeping the nation touched off partly by assassinations of prominent civll rights leaders, including Martin Luther King.

Born in Alabama, Gibson attended Central High School and graduated from what is now the New Jersey Institute of Technology. He worked as an engineer for the state highway department and later Newark's housing department before being elected to the first of his four terms in his office.

Gibson would lose the 1986 mayoral election to fellow Democrat Sharpe James. In 2001, he pleaded guilty to tax evasion after being charged with using his engineering firm to defraud the school district in Irvington. He received probation in the case.

During his tenure, Gibson became a role model for the leaders of other poor  American communities. Gibson grappled with problems ranging from soaring crime to substandard housing to rates of illness far higher than the national average.

Newark continued to struggle during his time in office, as did many other U.S. cities hammered by the loss of industry, but he was credited with using federal funds to create more housing.  He also expressed pride in dramatically improving the health of city residents, especially Newark's expectant mothers and newborns, who had suffered some of the highest mortality rates in the country.

Gibson is survived by his wife, three daughters, a stepdaughter, seven grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

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