Book: Defying the Odds

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Do the names Connie Woodruff or Gladys St. John ring a bell? How about Dr. E. Alma Flagg or Dr. E. Mae McCarroll? Or Viola Wells, Wynona M. Lipman, Mary Beasley Burch or Marion A. Bolden? Likely not, though each of these black trailblazers from Newark, New Jersey made significant contributions in their chosen fields of endeavor. And luckily, their legacy has now been fittingly preserved by Barbara J. Kukla in Defying the Odds.

Kukla, who served as editor of “Newark This Week� during most of her 36-year tenure at the Newark Star-Ledger, was intimately involved with many of the folks found here. For besides her professional ties to the community, she is a longtime member of the city’s Bethany Baptist Church.

The author is a gifted writer who has crafted each entry in a straightforward, journalistic style tempered by an ability to serve up a bio in a way which makes each subjects come alive and practically leap off the pages. For example, we get treated to an excellent sense of the personality of Connie Williams Woodruff (1921-1996), to whom the book is dedicated. We learn that Connie was an only child who could play classical music by the age of six.

She was a stellar student and was invited to Washington, DC one summer to participate in a six-week institute sponsored by the Republican Party. Besides learning about government, she would suffer severe humiliation as the only black participant in the program.
Particularly poignant is how her chapter recounts the discrimination she encountered in the Capitol area. One incident occurred at a Chinese restaurant where she was refused service as soon as she entered by an Asian-American waitress who screamed “No niggy! No niggy! No niggy!� in pidgin-English.

On top of that insult, Connie was informed that she couldn’t stay at the hotel with the rest of the delegates, but had to find boarding on the black side of town. Despite, or perhaps because of these impediments, she managed to maintain her dignity and forge a determination which would lead to many years of dedicated service to the people as a labor leader, educator, and the editor of a black newspaper.

The other seven biographies contained in this informative opus are just as gripping, as are the mini-histories of the additional two hundred doctors, lawyers, businesswomen, athletes, politicians, entertainers and other African-American women from all walks of life who made enough of a mark to earn the right to be remembered as a favorite daughter of the City of Newark.

To learn more about Defying the Odds, call (973) 325-3760
or send an e-mail to

Defying the Odds:
Triumphant Black Women of Newark
by Barbara J. Kukla
Swing City Press
Hardcover, $28.00
280  pages, illus.
ISBN: 0-9768130-0-9

Excerpt from introduction: “Whether the threat is a burning cross in a sleepy Southern town, or a female doctor bucking the whites-only hiring policies of a city hospital, Defying the Odds: Triumphant Black Women of Newark speaks to the remarkable fortitude of women everywhere who struggle against the everyday realities of racial bigotry and sexual discrimination. My purpose in writing this book is tied to my belief that too little attention has been paid to contributions made to our society by the men and women brought here in shackles to fuel our nation’s early economy. [It] focuses on the contributions of eight African-American women… [and] includes profiles of more than two hundred additional black women of Newark who reached the top of their fields. Considered a a whole, the accomplishments of these trailblazers paint a powerful picture of what African-American women can achieve, against the odds, in their quest for excellence. Their stories can help new generations of young black women gain strength and inspiration from a broader perspective on the challenges of being black and female.

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