Carmen L. Martínez
Former Social Worker, Camden, New Jersey
Carmen Luz Martínez was born in Arecibo, Puerto Rico in 1936 and moved to New York City with her mother when she was about six years old. She was a retired supervisor social worker who devoted much of her professional life working with women and children. She worked at Planned Parenthood for 13 years and at Youth Services, in the Department of Health and Human Services in Camden, New Jersey, for 27 years. Her work for Youth Services focused on counseling youths referred to the program by the legal system. Mrs. Martínez lived in Camden, New Jersey since her marriage in 1953, during which time she was witness to the Camden Riots. Mrs. Martínez’s community involvement includes participation in programs provided by Our Lady of Fatima Church in Camden, a social and political stronghold for the Latino Community in the city. She helped plan the San Juan Bautista Parade since 1957 to showcase Puerto Rican culture and traditions. As a breast cancer survivor, Mrs. Martínez started a support group for Latinas with the disease. As a community activist, she volunteered, fundraised, and raised awareness of issues affecting the Latino community in Camden. In April 2014, she passed away in Camden at the age of 77.
Prepared by Elizabeth Parker, Associate Archivist.
Hear Carmen Martínez discuss how protests against police brutality evolved into the Puerto Rican Riot in Camden:
“I think people blame the Puerto Rican community for that [the riots]. I was there the day the riots started. We were… across the street. We were right in [front of] City Hall. I’ll tell you what happened. I don’t know if you know that what happened [to spark the riots] was that this man was stopped for a ticket violation and the cops, two cops beat him up and he died as a result. And the Puerto Rican community wanted… the mayor to do some[thing], or [for] the police to do something about those two cops; because people who are decent people, like law–abiding people, saw… that [the police officers] were beating on this man. So… we all formed a group and… met with the mayor, and the mayor [Joseph M. Nardi, Jr.]… didn’t want to do anything. And then… I remember that day there was a whole group of people in front of City Hall. I was there with one of the girls whose father was a Freeholder. And we just went there. I mean, if it was going to be a riot people wouldn’t have [brought] babies and carriages and all. It was a group, it was peaceful. But… we saw these cops [wearing] helmets and [gas] masks going in through the back. And then… it seemed like one guy went into this restaurant and he came back and he said something, and I remember the [bull] horns [saying], “Don’t, don’t pay attention! ¡No le hagan atención [don’t pay any attention]! Stay where you are, stay where you are!” All of a sudden cops came out throwing tear gas. And… I was there that day and that was…not [meant] to be, este, un riot. How was it [that] it came [from a group] that… felt [something] should have been done [about] these policemen [and their brutality].”
Text edited for clarity. For a full verbatim transcript of the quote, please see p. 23–24 of the complete interview transcript.
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