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Greetings from Freehold, Part 6 - Demographics

Greetings from Freehold, Part 6 - Demographics

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Published by David Wilson
Part of "Greetings from Freehold: How Bruce Springsteen's Hometown Shaped His Life and Work," a paper that was presented at the 2009 Glory Days conference.
Part of "Greetings from Freehold: How Bruce Springsteen's Hometown Shaped His Life and Work," a paper that was presented at the 2009 Glory Days conference.

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Published by: David Wilson on Oct 10, 2011
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DemographicsFreehold is a small town, made smaller -- if only in relative terms -- by a boom in thesurrounding area after World War II. Its racial and ethnic makeup has been a source of conflictthroughout its history. Bruce put it this way in the lyrics to "In Freehold," from 1996: “Well if you were different, black or brown/It was a pretty redneck town/Back in Freehold.
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There were 7,550 people living there in 1950, the year after Bruce was born, and the population increased 40 percent in the next two decades.
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The growth spurt was the second of the20th century. During the 1920s and 1930s, the number of residents more than doubled as peoplemoved into town to take jobs, especially at the Karagheusian rug mill.
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Even so, the town's growth failed to keep pace with the likes of Freehold Township,where farmland gave way to housing developments. The number of township residents soaredalmost fourfold in the 1950s and 1960s, and by 1970 its population surpassed Freehold's.
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Lastyear, the township had three times as many people, according to a Census Bureau estimate.
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Bruce was different by Freehold’s standards because of his long hair. Drivers tried to push him into ditches as he hitchhiked along Route 9.
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Yet his ethnic makeup was perfectly inkeeping with the town’s Western European heritage. The Dutch were among the town’s earlysettlers. Irish immigrants followed in the mid-1800s, when their home country was struck byfamine.
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The Irish became Freehold’s largest white ethnic group, followed by the Italians.Together, they were 28% of the population in the 2000 census.
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African-Americans arrived as slaves during the 1700s, and historically were Freehold’slargest minority group. In 1790, they accounted for one out of every six residents. The BethelAfrican Methodist Episcopal Church, the town’s oldest black congregation, started in 1848.
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Slavery didn’t end in town until the Emancipation Proclamation was ratified in 1865,though New Jersey adopted an emancipation law six decades earlier.
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Segregation remained anobstacle for the African-American population after that.Freehold introduced all-black schools in the 1840s. The Court Street School, opened in1915, was built for specifically for black children. Even though the school moved to another  building four years later and expanded in 1926, there were never more than four classroomsavailable to teach kindergarten through eighth grade.
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Court Street was desegregated in 1947, when New Jersey adopted a constitution that banned segregation in schools.
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Freehold’s high school, which was integrated, added its firstAfrican-American football players four years later. The team featured an all-black offensive backfield in 1953, when it went undefeated and won state and conference championships.
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Despite these milestones, race relations worsened in the 1960s as the local economyslumped. The town’s government sought to address the issue through an Inter-Racial HumanRelations Committee. The panel was composed of 10 members and two representatives of theBorough Council, the governing body, in 1968.
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Simmering tensions triggered a riot on the evening of Monday, May 19, 1969. Theoutbreak followed three days of name calling between black and white youths and began withinhours after the cancellation of a black protest parade, set for Memorial Day. Thirty-four windowswere smashed at 25 businesses on Mechanic, South and West Main streets.
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During the unrest, a car full of white youths stopped next to a car of black youths. One of the whites fired a shotgun into the back seat of the other car. Two of the blacks were wounded,and one of them was permanently blinded in one eye.
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This incident inspired Bruce’s referenceto a shooting in “My Hometown,” though he changed the timing to a Saturday night in 1965.
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Bruce avoided being caught in the racial undertow with the help of music, which gavehim a common ground with his African-American peers. Rhythm-and-blues performers such asSam and Dave and Eddie Floyd were among his favorites.
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“Raise Your Hand,” a hit single for Floyd, later became a staple of his concerts.One of those peers, Richard Blackwell, appeared on his second album, “The Wild, theInnocent and the E Street Shuffle.”
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He played congas and percussion alongside the E StreetBand’s two black members at the time, pianist David Sancious and saxophonist ClarenceClemons. Sancious went solo after that album, while Clemons is still in the band.Bruce talked about racism at a 2002 show in Cincinnati, where the deaths of two black men in police custody sparked a boycott of the downtown area. “As a young man, I saw it upclose in my hometown,” he said. “While there have been many improvements since then, thecore fact of racism continues to this day at all levels of society.”
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Two years earlier, he wrote“American Skin (41 Shots)” after New York City police killed an unarmed African immigrant.There were relatively few Hispanics in Freehold when Bruce lived there. Even so, one of them was the first girl he ever kissed, Maria Espinosa. “In Freehold” referred to that milestone,which happened at a YMCA dance when she was 15. Blackwell, who was in Espinosa’s class,once described her as its only Puerto Rican.
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Hispanics later become the town’s largest demographic group, accounting for 28.1% of the population in 2000. African-Americans were 15.8%, in line with their proportion in 1790.
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The influx of Latinos, coupled with efforts to combat illegal immigration, led to complaints of discrimination. In 2003, five immigrant-related groups filed a lawsuit alleging that day laborerswere denied the right to look for work in public places and singled out by police and housingcode officials. The case was settled three years later.
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