Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Friday, April 3, 2015

Remembering Emily Washington

Emily Washington was honored by Faith Bricks and Mortar in 2013.

With the passing of Emily Washington, Plainfield has lost one of its longtime community activists. Emily's obituary (see here) details a lifetime of community involvement and civil rights activism that dates back to the 1940s.

I first met Emily in 1991 at a meeting called after the Rodney King riots to discuss the relationship of the police to the Black community in Plainfield.

The organizers of the meeting were Rev. La Verne Lattimore-Ball of Rose of Sharon Church, and Rev. Margot Campbell-Gross of the First Unitarian Society of Plainfield.

Among the attendees were Mrs. Washington, who represented Mt. Olive Baptist Church; Joyce Phipps of the United Church of Christ-Congregational; George 'Pete' Jones and Sally Beckwith of FUSP; and myself. I had been asked to represent Grace Episcopal Church by our priest. We were later joined by Donna Morris of the City of Plainfield.

After several meetings of broad conversation concerning issues in Plainfield, the group decided to formalize itself and focus on one issue about which it felt something could be done.

That issue turned out to be housing. Mrs. Washington vociferously pointed out that there was a need for more affordable housing in Plainfield, and also that we had a lot of vacant and abandoned properties that might be reclaimed.

While the Plainfield chapter of Habitat for Humanity was actively building homes for low-income residents, that organization as a policy matter would not involve itself in taking government funding and prided itself on volunteer support by individuals and businesses.

Our little group agreed to call itself Faith Bricks and Mortar and began the process of incorporation, which was finally achieved by being registered as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 1993. Mrs. Washington was one of the founding trustees.

Faith Bricks and Mortar became one of Union County's first CHODO's (Community Housing Development Organizations), which were a predecessor of today's CDC's (Community Development Organizations).

Mrs. Washington had a sharp eye for potential properties and steered Faith Bricks and Mortar toward its first two rehabs -- one on Arlington Avenue a few doors from the Post Office, and another on West 3rd Street at the Piscataway township line.

Later, I came to know Mrs. Washington in other situations, especially the Plainfield Senior Center in which she played a strong role in the 1990s and early 2000s.

When the late Mayor Al McWilliams suggested that the renovated Tepper's basement might be a possible location for a new Senior Cener, Mrs. Washington led a drive that torpedoed the idea very quickly.

In recent years, I did not see her as much on account of her declining health and mobility, but she was an honored guest at Faith Bricks and Mortar's 2013 Sally Beckwith Memorial Brunch.

My condolences to her family. Emily was a Plainfield original and we shall miss her.

Funeral services are scheduled for Rose of Sharon Church next Monday, April 6. Viewing at 5 PM and the service at 7 PM.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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