Trenton is a city that has been at the center of many of history’s most momentous periods. From the dawn of our country to the civil rights movement, the tides of history have turned in the streets of our community. One such moment were the 1968 riots, which were a defining time for the City of Trenton. Although this event was a source of violence and turmoil, it has ultimately served as a catalyst for immense social progress and development. To commemorate this complex time in our city’s history, as well as acknowledge those brave individuals who fought for peace, representatives from the City of Trenton have gathered to honor those present for that moment in time.
On Thursday, April 6th, community members and representatives gathered to commemorate the life of Harlan B. Joseph, a 19 year-old African American seminary student who was killed by police during the 1968 riots. Joseph was a part of a crowd attempting to quell the crowd, and in his valiant attempt to plead for peace, his life was tragically lost. In addition to Harlan Joseph, this memorial also honors Revered S. Howard Woodson and Albert Bo Robinson, who also valiantly attempted to bring about peace during this tumultuous time. In their memory, members of Joseph’s family, alongside Mayor Reed Gusciora, Councilwoman Jennifer Williams, and more, came together to unveil a placard honoring their lives.
In his remarks, Mayor Reed Gusciora noted “I remember Katherine Stoney Graham stating that sometimes protests are appropriate, and look at the change that occurred afterwards. So it was a catalyst for change. Nonetheless, it is a part of Trenton’s history, it’s part of our history, and I’m excited that we all have a commemorative plaque. We’re preparing for American’s 250th and this will be one of the stops of historic tourism that we want people to go past, to see all of America’s history, and I think this is an important part of it.”
Councilwoman Jennifer Williams stated, “Placing a historical marker and telling part of the story of what happened on April 9th, 1968 is very important, as it is a major part of Trenton’s history. In a city of history, the Trenton riot is a historical event that some say set the course for the next 55 years, of which the anniversary will occur this coming Sunday. A few people have asked, why is this necessary? I can answer that we’re telling you about how other cities have placed historical markers regarding events such as what happened here, and who are still working through their own history and what those events meant.”
Continuing, she noted “As someone who was not yet born when the riots occurred, I know that my generation and subsequent generations have grow up with stories that were passed down by older family members, by neighbors, my fellow Trentonians, and many newspaper articles and research that has been done on the events that have occurred. And as much as it is helpful to us all, we need to make sure that this place of history, and the events that happened, are not lost to the ages.”
After a soul-stirring performance from vocalist Donna Richardson, attendees had the opportunity to hear from the sister of Harlan Joseph, Rhonda Killingsworth. In her remarks, Ms. Killingsworth stated “I stand before you today as the sister of Harlan Joseph. Although I was just a baby when he was tragically taken from us during the riots of ’68, I’ve come to know and love my brother through stories and memories shared by many family and friends. It is in this spirit that I honor his memory and share his message of hope that embodied him throughout his life.”
Continuing, she noted “Trenton riots were a devastating time, exposing deep divisions and challenges that face our society. But through it all, heart and spirit shine like a beacon, reminding us that even in the darkest times, hope endures. It is in the spirit of hope that we remember him today, celebrating his life and his impact to be and those all around him. We need to work together towards a society that values empathy, understanding, and love for one another, no matter our differences. We need to learn from the tragedies of the past such as the riots and strive for a more peaceful future. Finally, I would like to say that I’m the proud sister of Harlan Bruce Joseph. Though I never had the opportunity to truly know him, his spirit and the hope he embodied will always be a part of me.”
This commemoration calls attention to the moments that defined our city’s history, and gives a voice to those who fought for peace and unity during times of strife and uncertainty. The plaque presented on this day is a temporary historical marker which will later be replaced by permanent signage at a later date. With the anniversary falling on April 9th, now is the perfect time to reflect on our past and use these moments as a catalyst for our community’s progress. Today and every day, many we continue to strive for a more just, unified, and equitable home in the Capital City.