NJ Hispanic Research & Information Center Newark Public Library


Sister Deborah Humphreys

Sister Deborah Humphreys was born in Wilmington, Delaware and moved to Newark, New Jersey in 1972 when she joined the Sisters of Charity and was missioned at the St. Columba Parish. She has a bachelor's degree in sociology from the College of Saint Elizabeth and a master of social work from Rutgers University. While attending Saint James High School, Sister Deborah Humphreys became involved with the school's summer program in which the students taught English to Puerto Rican migrant workers in South Jersey. This segued into her work as a public health representative for the Migrant Health Department, where she recruited workers to explain to the nurses the health services they needed but were not receiving. When Sister Deborah Humphreys moved to Newark, she became involved with housing rights and co–founded El Club del Barrio to prevent eviction and force landlords to repair dilapidated housing, as well as providing other social services to Newark residents. As a social worker, she has fought for social justice for tenants, AIDS patients, and migrant farm workers among others.
Prepared by Elizabeth Parker, Associate Archivist.


Hear Sister Deborah Humphreys discuss the lack of health services offered to migrant farm workers in New Jersey:

Text of Audio Quote:
[Text edited for clarity. For a full verbatim transcript of the quote, please see p. 5–6 of the complete interview transcript.]

"When I started studying sociology, that's when this grant became available... I wanted to look at the use of the health services because that was my area. And so I interviewed men in three different counties. And actually, there was a young high school student—I mean I was young myself, I was just in college, but she was a junior [in high school]—Gloria Bonilla Santiago, who now is a doctor [Ph.D.] and runs [LEAP Academy University] Charter School in Camden. [She] has done wonderful things, and she was the person I took to help me with the translating [in] the camps and she helped me with my interviews when I asked them about their use of health services. And I found [out] a lot about the culture, I asked... the man about social security and [he] said, "I don't need social security. I have children." They would have beliefs that if they had an illness, they needed something they could see to put on the wound, not pills, you know? So, also what I found [out] was that many of the men suffered from pesticide poisoning. But they weren't getting treatment and so the farmers would say—and, even the health service, which was really kind of a functionary [auxiliary] of the farmers, [would say], "Well, you know, the men don't have pesticide poisoning. We don't see pesticide poisoning." But they wouldn't present for it because the symptoms of it would be upper respiratory infections and they would just try and treat it on their own. So when I found that information out, I would see so many of the camps had the spring going right next to the camps and Camden Regional Legal Services was doing a—I think it was a class action suit about the pesticide poisoning, so they were able to use my study as part of the [lawsuit], like a friend of the court, or an amicus brief, and that was the year I was a senior. And the head of the Health Department... was furious. Why hadn't I come to him? He would've given me whatever information I wanted. "

For an extensive and specific list of peoples, places, organizations and topics discussed in this oral history, please see the Interview Transcript Index

Access to full verbatim interview transcripts and audio recordings are available by appointment only. Contact an NJHRIC archivist at njhric@npl.org, (973) 733–4791, or via mail, NJHRIC at The Newark Public Library, 5 Washington Street, Newark, NJ 07102 with your request.

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This project was made possible by a grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, a division of the Department of State and the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, a state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this project do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or the New Jersey Council for the Humanities.

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