Hutchins Inge (1900-2002) was the first African American to serve in the New Jersey State Senate. A Newark physician, Inge was elected to the Senate in 1965, unseated Republican Senate Minority Leader C. Robert Sarcone by 7,144 votes.
The opportunity for Inge, a first-time candidate, to run for the Senate came after the U.S. Supreme Court’s one-man, one-vote decision increased the size of the Essex County Senate delegation from one seat to four.
Essex Republicans believed they had scored a candidate recruitment coup when they got William Tompkins to run for Senate. Tompkins had been elected to the Assembly in 1948 and was President Dwight Eisenhower’s pick for U.S. Attorney in 1953. He had founded one of New Jersey’s top law firms, Tompkins, McGuire, Wachenfeld & Barry. Both parties thought Tompkins would coast into the Senate.
Sarcone and Tompkins were joined on the Senate ticket by Assemblyman Irwin Kimmelman – who would later serve as state Attorney General under Gov. Tom Kean – and Newark funeral director James Churchman, who became the first African American to run as a Republican for State Senate.
Running on Inge’s ticket were former Newark municipal court judge Nicholas Fernicola, former West Orange municipal court judge Maclyn Goldman, and former freeholder John Giblin, a labor leader and the father of Assemblyman Thomas Giblin.
Inge was a last minute addition to the Democratic ticket. Essex County Democratic Chairman Dennis Carey wanted an African American to balance a ticket that included Irish, Italian and Jewish candidates. His first choice was Eulis “Honey” Ward, the Central Ward Democratic Chairman. Ward appeared in a photograph of the ticket sent to several newspapers — but some last minute vetting by Democrats made them decide to pick another candidate after the filing deadline.
1965 turned out to be a Democratic year and with Gov. Richard Hughes carrying Essex County by nearly 70,000 votes, Democrats won all four Senate seats. Tompkins finished last, almost 24,000 votes behind Inge.
Inge sought re-election to a second term in 1967 but lost when Republicans swept all six Essex Senate seats.
He moved to Massachusetts a couple of years after leaving the Senate and practiced medicine into his 90s. He died in 2002 at age 101.
In 2009, legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Reed Gusciora to commission a permanent memorial to Inge in the New Jersey statehouse was signed into law.
This story was first published on January 21, 2019.