Remembering the Life and Times of Glenn Cunningham
“...Let me allow discomfort to Mrs. Daughtry to get things moving.” The doctor informed me that the condition could have come from genetics since my family has a history of cardiovascular problems, aging, stress, or other unknown factors. He did say my health program probably saved my life. I have been a vegetarian for twenty years, and I vigorously engage in physical exercise, including full-court basketball. Health is a major part of my ministry, and after this experience, I increased my emphasis. I've said to all, "Take care of yourself. If you lose your health all else matters little. Get your periodic physical examination and be consistent."
The pilot’s voice interrupted my thoughts: "Fasten your seat belt. We are encountering turbulence."
About a week before Glenn died, I visited Jersey City just for a walk down memory lane. One of the places I visited is my old barbershop on Edge Avenue, now a landmark. “Larry” was still cutting hair in the place where I’d gotten my first cut six decades earlier by Mr. Johnson, the owner. As was our custom, we discussed events and personalities from long ago. Then Larry said to me, "Mayor Cunningham was here a few days ago. He is doing a book on Jersey City. He will be back next week to interview me." We expressed our admiration for him.
Glenn loved Jersey City. He was always talking, writing, and taking pictures of Jersey City.
In a conversation about a week after his passing, Glenn’s wife explained to me all that had happened. I felt deep sorrow for Sandra. She was a perfect complement to their public service, perfectly handling public ceremonies including Jersey City’s part in the historic station of the African Burial Ground procession to lower Manhattan where the actual coffins would be reentered. The procession started at Howard University where some of the remains had been housed. We journeyed from Howard to Manhattan with four coffins, two adults representing male and female and two smaller ones representing a boy and girl. It was as I have stated a historic event. And one of the stops was in Jersey City at a site at the Hudson River before crossing the water. Equally, she was masterful in the Kwanzaa Celebration at the Jersey City City Hall. I prayed with her and wished her well.
Glenn died at 10:45 p.m., May 24 in the Greenville Hospital in Jersey City, an hour after he arrived. It is the same hospital where my brother Bob died twenty years before of problems with his heart.
Harvey L. Smith, president of Jersey City’s City Council succeeded Glenn as mayor. In 1953 his father, Stan Smith, and I both committed our lives to the Lord and vowed to become ministers.
So long, Glenn, we will miss you. But I know your brother Lowell and all our generation who have gone before are happy to greet you, and so is the entire heavenly host. Hopefully, we who remain will be inspired by your life and make our contributions too.
Glenn Cunningham, Mayor of Jersey City, dead at age 60. Long live the spirit of Glenn Cunningham and all our people who struggle to move us toward the Promised Land.
The Funeral Procession
From the armory, we traveled south on Jordan Avenue to South on Monticello Avenue. The twenty or so blocks brought us to Communipaw Avenue. We passed Saul’s bar, one of the famous hangouts. A block before Communipaw was Lou's Pool Hall where I would sneak in at age fourteen and learn to shoot pool. Around the corner was the bowling alley where I did the backbreaking work of setting up bowling pins. The long working hours earned me a few dollars and a distaste for backbreaking work.
We crossed Communipaw, where half a block east was the police precinct where Glenn Cunningham worked. We entered Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Drive, which used to be Jackson Avenue.
MLK Jr. Drive once was a well-kept street with comfortable attractive homes and apartments and thriving businesses. It was the street we "walked" and assembled. If you wanted to meet someone, chances were if you walked up and down the street long enough, you would meet that someone.
The Club where Everybody Met
Soon we were passing "the club.”
The Club had an interesting history. It started further up MLK Jr. Drive between Kearney and Ege Avenues as the Viking Club. Most people thought it was named after the Jersey City Vikings, a highly regarded semi-pro football team. But once the club became a gambling place, some people didn't want the Viking's name associated with it. I sharpen my gaming skills at The Viking Club and at 16 became the "houseman" responsible for collecting the owner's share, a cut after each game. It even had a couple of pool tables there.
The name issue was resolved when the owners moved the club—first down MLK Jr. Drive between Union and Atlantic Avenues and later beyond Bramhall Avenue— and renamed it the Colored Independent Civic Association (C.I.C.A.)
It was an all-purpose hangout. Everybody who was anybody came by The Club, as it was called. There were games i.e., gambling, horses, numbers, sports, and all kinds of deals being made. There was a large room with card tables and different kinds of games—rummy, poker, Georgia skin, coon can, and even dominos. The games changed from time to time. There was a smaller room in the back for more private games and such.
The Club was also an information center, a barbershop, street corner, bar room, and classroom rolled into one. It was a political center too, offering voter education and registration opportunities.
One of the major political victories demonstrating The Club’s influence was the defeat of Frank “I Am the Law” Haque. He had been mayor for more than 30 years, and people thought he was invincible. Then leaders of The Club supported Haque’s opponent John V. Kenny in a mayoral election and achieved the impossible: Kenny won. It was unbelievable the way The Club leaders were able to involve reefer smokers, gamblers, number writers, pimps, prostitutes, and liquor drinkers in the electoral process. Vivid in my mind was this reefer smoking, reefer seller standing on the corner, eyes half-closed, swaying to and fro, urging everybody to get out and vote.
It was at The Club that I stumbled upon a plot to beat the number of bankers. “The numbers,” in New Jersey, was a gambling enterprise based on guessing the number of trades at the stock market in New York. There was an elaborate scheme being formulated to have relay teams, starting with a person at the stock market, who would relay the number as soon as it appeared, before it became public. Another person would relay it to the next person and so on until it got to the number writer, who was also a part of the scheme.
It was a dangerous business. If caught, death or physical mayhem was inevitable. An old hustler said to me, "Son, this is dangerous stuff. You know what will happen if we are caught." I nodded yes. "You shouldn't be in this. You are too young. I'm an old man, if I'm caught it won't matter all that much to me. But you're young."
I insisted on being a part of the scheme. The old hustler said, "Okay son, it's your funeral.” We proceeded to rehearse the plan. For various reasons, the whole thing collapsed. Thank God!