James ‘Zimp’ Smith smiles as he greets his nephew, LeRoy Minnatee, after the street-renaming ceremony honoring Smith on Dec. 8, 2012 at the southeaster corner of Ocean and Dwight in Jersey City. (Alyssa Ki/The Jersey Journal)
A former Tuskegee Airman who became a prominent local African-American entrepreneur was honored today by town residents and local civic leaders during a street naming ceremony held in Jersey City this afternoon.
Roughly a hundred people gathered at the southeastern corner of Ocean Avenue and Dwight Street around 12 p.m. to celebrate the achievements of James “Zimp” Smith, the first successful African-American businessman to own his own franchise in Hudson County during an era when minority owned businesses were rare.
With the 88-year-old war hero and local icon in attendance, the corner was officially renamed James “Zimp” Smith Way to remember Smith’s contribution to the community, said Council Woman-at-Large Viola Richardson while addressing the audience during the one-hour ceremony.
The location used to house one of Smith’s most popular take out restaurants called Zimps. Beginning in 1955, it was one of the twenty businesses that Smith opened over the next forty years. Prior to his success, Smith served in the Air Corp in the Philippines during World War II. Although he was a Tuskegee Airman, he did not serve as a pilot.
“He helped many people and served the community greatly through all the businesses he started and jobs he created,” said Garret Smith, former Mayor of Roselle and Smith’s son, minutes before the ceremony began.
Among those speaking at the ceremony were Mayor Jerramiah Healy, Assemblyman Charles Mainor, Hudson County Freeholder Jeff Dublin, and Virginia Miller on behalf of State Sen. Sandra B. Cunningham who was unable to attend.
During his address Healy said “Who better to name a street after than Mr. Smith”, adding that Smith “guided with his knowledge” aspiring African-American business owners.
With Smith sitting in a chair next the podium, Richardson said,”The beauty of this is that Mr. Smith is here to smell the roses.”
Smith rose to the podium during the conclusion of the celebration and thanked the applauding crowd.
“It’s nice to be recognized,” he said.
Among those in the audience was Phil Black III, 54, of Garfield Avenue. Black said Smith hired him when he was 17-years-old and employed him to work the counter at his restaurants.
“I always admired and respected him,” said Black, adding “It seemed like he had the Midas touch.”
article by Rafal Rogoza via nj.com