Hundreds piled into the City Hall chamber to witness the Englewood Board of Education budget meeting on Feb. 1, 1962, anxious to hear a committee report on school segregation in Englewood, New Jersey.
Nine Black students were attempting to transfer to the new predominantly white Donald A. Quarles School from two mostly Black elementary schools, Lincoln School and Liberty School. The transfer requests were shot down.
Segregation was technically illegal statewide for more than a decade.
During that evening’s budget meeting, the council doubled down on the decision to deny the transfers, according to the New York Times, citing district lines. Some accused the city of continuously redrawing district lines to continue segregation and keep Black students in the poorer school districts. Sound familiar?
To protest, Black and white demonstrators part of the Congress of Racial Equality (C.O.R.E., which you can read more about here) spent the night occupying the chamber.
“Stamping their feet and chanting ‘freedom’ and ‘discrimination,’ the demonstrators pledged that they would remain in the building all night and challenged the police to remove them,” one article read.
Mayor Austin Volk allowed the demonstration to take place and stayed the night in his office, police surrounded the building just waiting for the word.
On Feb. 2, the Times reports that 15 people were arrested the morning after the all-night sit in. 11 of them for refusing to leave the council chamber and the other four “sympathizers” who showed support for them in their court arraignment that afternoon.
The charges were later dismissed, but protests against the decision continued for weeks on end. Paul Zuber, a well known civil rights attorney, filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the nine students and their families that summer.
The fight for desegregation in New Jersey schools would continue for years, arguably decades, and it still hasn’t ended with lawsuits filed as recently as 2018.
Check out the slideshow.