Luke had come to give back to the city where he had grown up. He announced a series of public events (see sidebar) to be held near his old neighborhood in Greenville in late August and early September.
And while waiting for his turn to speak, he watched the council celebrate the lives of two prominent African Americans: newspaper columnist Earl Morgan, and Elnora Watson, long-time head of the Hudson County Urban League.
More than a hundred people filled City Hall chambers for a rare daytime council meeting, during which the council voted to name the Greenville Branch of the Jersey City Free Public Library after Morgan, and to dedicate a portion of Martin Luther King Drive to Watson.
Morgan died in last June, and Watson died in June 2017. Both are considered iconic figures in Jersey City’s history and in its African American community. Their loss has left two pairs of very big shoes to fill by those who work for equality in the city.
Morgan will be remembered
Morgan, a columnist for The Jersey Journal and Hudson Dispatch, was an outspoken supporter of civil rights and equal opportunity for marginalized people in Jersey City and beyond. He became a leading spokesperson on a variety of social issues, both in print as well as in appearances during his career as a journalist and citizen activist.
A persistent critic of government policy when it failed to provide equal opportunities to minorities in the community, Morgan was vehement about the rise in crime and poverty, issues for which he held public officials accountable.
Among those who came out for the dedication was Morgan’s wife, Barbara, as well as his son, Kyle, who said Jersey City was Morgan’s home, and noted that he died only a few blocks from where he was born and died.
Morgan’s one-time editor Judy Locorriere called Morgan her mentor, even though for a time she wound up as his boss. She said dedicating the library was appropriate since Morgan was all about educating young people.
Adour-David Williams, a long-time friend of Morgan’s, grew emotional talking about his friend, calling Morgan “one of a kind.”
Councilwoman Denise Ridley said the renaming of the branch was fitting because it also contained the Afro-American Historical Society Museum.
Community activist Joan Terrell asked that the name of the branch be the Earl Morgan Free Public Library.
“We can remember a time when the library wasn’t free for African-American people,” she said.
Watson was the Urban League for many
Watson served as executive director of the Urban League of Hudson County for so long, many people could not think of one without the other. Councilman Michael Yun said he remembered her annual turkey giveaways around Thanksgiving.
“She was a great person,” he said.
Councilman Jermaine Robinson said Watson’s influence was countywide. Councilmember Joyce Watterman said Watson, who headed the Urban League for 30 years, lobbied state officials on behalf of the community as well.
Watson grew up on Bramhall Avenue in Jersey City. She served as director of the Urban League since 1989, although she was involved with the community organization more almost 40 years. The block on MLK Drive near her home was renamed in her honor.
“We can remember a time when the library wasn’t free for African-American people.” – Joan Terrell
Derek Luke was the son of Marjorie Dixon, a classic pianist, and his father was Maurice Luke, an actor. He wound up living in Jersey City after his father abandoned his mother and two brothers when Luke was in the third grade.
Luke attended six different high schools because he had to constantly move in and out of places with his family. Eventually, the family settled in Jersey City, where he graduated from Henry Snyder High School in 1992, and attended New Jersey City University to study acting.
His wife Sophia, also a successful actor, attended schools in New York City, but said that her family had previously moved out of a bad situation.
“We were homeless and lived in cars and even camp grounds, after which we moved up when we collected welfare,” Sophia said.
Luke has appeared in “Antwone Fisher” (2002), “Glory Road” (2006), and “Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011). Sophia has acted in the films “Spartan” (2004), “Knockout” (2000), and “Lying in Wait” (2001). She married Luke in 1998.
“We have a foundation and we are honored to be here,” Sophia told the council, adding that she and Luke wanted to give back to Jersey City, and are sponsoring a series of events to be held in Jersey City on Aug. 29, then Aug. 31 through Sept. 2, with a long-term commitment to provide other services that will bring skills to those who need them.
“This is our way to give back to the community,” Derek said.
Derek Luke Day events
Derek and Sophia Luke will hold a series of events for residents in Jersey City on Aug. 29, and then Aug. 31 through Sept. 2, at various locations.
On Aug. 29, Luke’s barber David Rios will offer back to school free haircuts, backpacks, and school supplies for kids 12 years old and under at 2160 JFK Blvd.
On Aug. 31, Kings Night for Jersey City will be held at the Nation Guard Armory, 678 Montgomery St. at 6:30 p.m. This is a men-only event.
A series of events will be held at the armory on Sept. 1, starting at 10 a.m. with a youth leadership program, followed by a meet and greet with Hattie Hollingsworth. In the afternoon, Chris Edmid, author of “White Folks Who Teach in the Hood and the Hood and the Rest of Ya’ll, Too,” will talk, followed by a meet and greet, and then a “science genius rap battle, and finally a VIP party.
On Sept. 3, from noon to 7 p.m. at Audubon Park, Marjori Luck, director of New Beginnings Training and Occupation Center, will be featured. The event will also feature music performances, plus an art display from Snyder High School, and food, face painting and other activities.
For more information call (201) 814-7603.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.