Centenarian reflects on life in Newark as she plans a new beginning at 102

New Jersey

NEWARK, N.J. — The city that she’s called home for decades is celebrating a centenarian that’s heading south and back to her roots.

Mattie Margaret Rice was born on December 5, 1918 — making her 102 years young.

She’s the family matriarch of 4 children, 14 grandchildren, 30 great grandchildren, and 14 great-great grandchildren.

“They all come to visit, I know the grandchildren…I know them all,” Rice said.

Rice moved to Newark from South Carolina with her husband John back in 1944, in search for a better life up north.

“The segregation was all over. Sometimes you’re afraid of the KKK walking up and down the street,” she said.

They first moved into the James M. Baxter Terrace Housing Projects — one of the very first public housing complexes in the nation.

Rice lived through the 1967 Newark rebellion, when riots broke out after a Black cab driver was beaten by two white police officer; 26 people died after five nights of gunfire, arson and looting.

Racial tensions were high as the city transformed from a mostly white population to majority Black.

Eventually, the family settled on South Ninth Street in 1980; Rice has lived in that house ever since.

Now at 102 — and in the middle of a pandemic — she’s decided it’s time to head back to South Carolina. She said the stairs at her home in Newark have gotten to be too much for her.

As for advice on how to get to live over one hundred years? “Everybody ask me how to do it: I say trust in god and eat aplenty.”

There will be a drive-by parade to celebrate her legacy in Newark Thursday at 12:30 p.m. along Ninth Street.

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