Experience arising from World War I helped New Jersey make a rapid transition from peacetime to wartime production during World War II (1939-1945). Again, New Jersey supplied chemicals, textiles, munitions, and other vital military materials. New Jersey shipyards turned out aircraft carriers, battleships, and heavy cruisers, and about one-fourth of the destroyers built for the U.S. Navy during the war. The Curtiss-Wright Company in Paterson built 139,000 aircraft engines from 1940 to 1945. The war was a stimulus to research and technology that were important in the postwar years. The Westinghouse Lamp Division in Bloomfield refined some of the earliest samples of enriched uranium for the Manhattan Project, the massive United States effort to produce the atomic bomb.
New Jersey’s transition to a peacetime economy was smooth, despite a population increase of 675,000 during the 1940s. Returning soldiers enrolled in colleges under the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, popularly known as the GI Bill of Rights. In 1945 Rutgers officially became the State University of New Jersey. Increasing numbers of applicants led many colleges to expand, and during the 1950s and 1960s voters approved several bond issues to finance better facilities for higher education.
One of the most important achievements of the postwar decade was the adoption on November 4, 1947 of the state’s third constitution, which modernized state government.
The constitution enhanced the governor’s authority to appoint officials and veto legislation, making the office one of the most powerful among the states; replaced revenues dedicated to particular spending with a state general fund, and lengthened legislators’ terms, providing greater stability and continuity in government. The constitution pledged the state to maintain “a thorough and efficient system” of free public schools.
Racial segregation was banned in the militia and schools, and discrimination was outlawed in civil and military activities. The legislature was prohibited from granting exclusive privileges to any corporation, and the right of collective bargaining was specifically guaranteed.
While urban areas continued to grow, many residents moved from the central cities to the rapidly expanding suburbs, particularly those outside Philadelphia and New York City. Highway construction boomed in the 1940s and early 1950s, creating toll roads such as the Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike, which became the most heavily used highways in the Northeast. The Interstate Highway Act of 1956 financed a new generation of four- and six-lane freeways to replace narrow highways and open up land on the outskirts of Morris, Sussex, and Somerset counties. Mortgages financed through the Federal Housing Administration and the GI Bill of Rights pumped millions of dollars into tract housing, making possible such mass developments as the community of Willingboro, formerly known as Levittown, outside of Camden. Manufacturers seeking efficient, single-story plant layouts were drawn to industrial parks developed in towns like Teterboro and Rockleigh.
Offices for white-collar workers were built in campus-like centers such as those developed by Prudential Insurance in Livingston and Prentice-Hall Publishing in Englewood Cliffs. Suburban shopping centers and enclosed malls followed, and the suburbs became virtual cities on their own.
New Jersey’s large cities, increasingly populated by blacks and Puerto Ricans, experienced all the symptoms of urban decay seen in other parts of the nation. As urban conditions worsened in the early 1950s, the state and federal governments intervened with programs of wholesale demolition and urban renewal to attract private businesses and jobs. In Newark efforts focused on Gateway Center, an office and hotel complex adjacent to the Pennsylvania Railroad Station. Provisions of the Federal Housing Act of 1949 cleared more acreage for public housing projects like Newark’s Columbus and Stella Wright Homes, which became high-rise ghettoes for minorities. Other projects included Jersey City’s Transportation Center, Newark’s campus complex for Rutgers University, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and the New Jersey College of Medicine and Dentistry. However, these steel and glass showplaces mainly employed suburban residents who drove to work and rarely walked around the city.
The redevelopments had little impact on black unemployment, which climbed above 10 percent in the early 1960s as factory jobs moved to the suburbs. In Camden, Trenton, and central Newark, black underemployment was probably more than 30 percent. Many youth turned to crime, and family life was disrupted. Inspired by the civil rights movement, black leaders rallied to the antipoverty programs of the 1960s to revive neighborhoods. They failed to halt decay, but new political leaders rose in the black community, notably state Senator Howard Woodson of Trenton and Kenneth Gibson of Newark, who became the city’s first black mayor in 1971.
Frustration over decayed inner cities touched off riots by blacks in Newark, Jersey City, Plainfield, Englewood, and New Brunswick in 1967 and 1968, during which youths looted stores and set fires. Legislative reapportionment became an important issue during the 1960s, after the 1964 decision by the Supreme Court of the United States mandating “one-person, one-vote” electoral systems. A state constitutional convention in 1966 provided for new senate and assembly districts and for an enlarged legislature. The Democratic-controlled legislature later redrew the districts for congressional elections, but Republicans objected. The state supreme court then approved a plan that ignored county borders, and the controversy continued for years.
Attempts to bring suburban resources to the aid of central cities caused bitter disputes. In 1975 in the Mount Laurel Township decision, the New Jersey Supreme Court rejected suburban zoning restrictions against low-rent multiple dwellings. The court ruled that suburban towns were obligated to house their “fair share” of the poor in metropolitan areas. The decision touched off two decades of legal challenges and evasions. The only suburbs that saw a substantial influx of blacks were the historically black sections of Englewood and the East Orange-Plainfield extensions of the poor black areas of Newark. Racial inequities were also the object of the court’s decision, in Robinson v. Cahill (1973), which declared that local property taxes were an inadequate base to support the constitution’s guarantee of a “thorough and efficient” public school system. Under pressure, the legislature in 1976 enacted a state income tax and school-aid formulas to close the gap in school spending between wealthy suburbs and poor inner cities. The state was a social innovator but failed at tackling problems related to metropolitan areas. It established the Hackensack Meadowlands Development Commission in 1968, which built the stadium, arena and racetrack of the Meadowlands Sports Complex; small cities developed around the complex, which further threatened the commercial vitality of nearby large cities. The legislature adopted a state lottery in 1969, and in 1976 a voter referendum approved casino gambling for Atlantic City. The measure was portrayed as economic stimulus for the predominantly black resort town, but its impact on minority employment was questionable. However, it proved a model for other states interested in casino gambling as a way to provide jobs. "New Jersey" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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