Homeboy Came to Orange

A Story of People's Power

Afterword by Molly Rose Kaufman
Foreword by Dominic Moulden

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"Everything you want to know about the American city you can learn in Orange, NJ."

This story of Orange is a universal story of disenfranchised people finding that, through coalition, they could have political power.

Ernest Thompson (1906-1971) dedicated his life to organizing the powerless, and this lively, illustrated personal narrative of his work shows the great contribution that people's coalitions can make to the struggle for equality and freedom. Thompson cut his teeth organizing one of the great industrial unions, the United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers of America, and brought his organizing skills and commitment to coalition building to Orange, New Jersey. He built a strong organization and skillfully led fights for school desegregation, black political representation, and strong government in a city he initially thought of as a "dirty Jim Crow town going nowhere." Thompson came to love the City of Orange and its caring citizens, seeing in its struggles a microcosm of America. This story of people's power is meant for all who struggle for human rights, economic opportunity, decent housing, effective education, and a chance for children to have a better life.

Thompson grew up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, on a farm that had been given to his family at the end of the Civil War. The family was very poor and oppressed by racist practices. Thompson was determined to get away and to obtain power. He migrated to Jersey City, where he became part of the union organizing movement that built the Congress of Industrial Unions (CIO). He became the first African American to hold a fulltime organizing position with his union, the United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE). He eventually headed UE's innovative Fair Employment Practices program and fought for equal rights and pay for women and minority workers. Thompson also helped build the National Negro Labor Council, 1951-1956, and served as its director of organizing. In 1956, under the onslaught of the McCarthy era, UE was split in two, and Thompson lost his job. His wife, Margaret Thompson, brought the local school segregation to his attention. Ernie "Home" Thompson organized to desegregate the regional schools, building strong coalitions and political power for the black community that ultimately served all the people of Orange.

Mindy Thompson Fullilove, MD, is a board-certified clinical psychiatrist who conducts research on the health effects of urban processes, as well as a professor of urban policy and health at the Milano School for International Affairs at The New School for Public Engagement. Dr. Fullilove cofounded the free popular education center in Orange, New Jersey—The University of Orange. She is the author of Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America, and What We Can Do About It and Urban Alchemy: Restoring Joy in America's Sorted-Out Cities


Original Language English
Original Publisher Bridgebuilder Press
Original Publication 1976


Foreword by Dominic T. Moulden

Introduction by Coleman A. Young

In Memoriam 


1 Maryland Boyhood 

2 Jersey City 

3 UE Organizer 

4 Black Labor: In the Union 

5 Black Labor: In the NNLC 

6 Strong Men, Stronger 

7 Repression 


8 Gerrymander in Orange Park 

9 The New Day

10 The Campaign Rolls

11 Building Power

12 Into the Central Arena 

13 Gerrymander Again 

14 Walk In With Ben 

15 Home's Economic Policy in Orange 


16 Doc Becomes an Educator 

17 Twenty Years of Neglect 

18 Community Help to Learning 

19 More on the Board 

20 A Second Chance 

21 The Time is Up 

22 Walk On With Ben 

23 In the Streets 


24 Job Democracy 

25 Redeem the Cities 

26 Crusade for Learning 


27 Pure Coalition at Last 

28 Coalition Old and New 

What We Learned 


Afterword by Molly Rose Kaufman

Additional Materials


The re-release of Ernie Thompson's book about his rich life as an anti-racism union organizer should be read by young (and other) human beings, who have decided to hold church in the streets, courts, state houses, and ballot boxes in the south (and other) parts the U.S. against the white nationalism of the fake GOP.  I am giving copies of it to my colleagues on the NAACP Board and staff. 

- Reverand William J. Barber II

Ernest Thompson, fondly known as Home, Homeboy, and Big Train, makes plain for us that coalition building may appear as intuitive as preparing a meal, but reminds us that it is less intuitive and more intentional and sacrificial. Through engaging glimpses of his childhood experiences and actual anecdotes from coalition building, Thompson suggests it takes a broad and inclusive approach. He points out

- Rev. Dr. Anika Whitfield

I did not realize how much Ernie Thompson had influenced my approach to public health until I reread Homeboy Came to Orange. Fourteen years ago, I read it as a way to understand and put into context the work of NYC RECOVERS, an organization whose goal was to promote collective recovery post the 9/11 disaster.  At the time, I understood how Ernie's approach to coalition building

- Lourdes J Rodriguez, DrPH, Director, Center for Pl

Home for Ernie Thompson is the small town of Orange, N.J.  Though Orange is only 2.2 square miles in size, "Homeboy's" story is filled with lessons for people living for much big cities.   Dr. Mindy Fullilove’s skilled narrative is a “lens” through which she uncovers the embedded context, diverse perspectives and interpersonal episodes shared today by many people struggling for justice and equity on main streets and in towns and cities across our country. 
- William Morrish, Professor of Urban Ecologies, Par

Jun 29, 2018
"In his incisive memoir, "Homeboy Came to Orange," longtime activist Ernest Thompson recounts how he joined the people of Orange, New Jersey, to fight for labor rights and racial justice (New Village Press). "
- Catherine Lizette Gonzalez, Colorlines

May 1, 2018
"At a time where cynicism about government prevails, the tale of Homeboy will leave you even more inspired to work for social change."
- Randy Shaw, BeyondChron

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Mar 28, 2018
"By realizing our interconnectedness we can really create a nation of healthy people."
- Mindy Fullilove, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Apr 3, 2018
"Historically, why did we get so excited about difference, and what did we use it for?" says Fullilove. “We know that the use of difference, racial different, certainly in the United States, grew up around justifying chattel slavery.”
- Stephen Henderson, WDET

We Also Suggest

Urban Alchemy
Restoring Joy in America's Sorted-Out Cities
Mindy Thompson Fullilove