Civil rights collection established in Martin Spritzer’s loving memory at Metuchen Public Library

A revered community member, the late Martin Spritzer, a former Metuchen Borough attorney, was committed to the cause of civil rights from the start of his law career.

His advocacy now fittingly continues through a contribution to the Metuchen Public Library from the Martin Spritzer Fund, which establishes a collection of more than 120 books and two dozen DVDs dedicated to civil rights and America’s historic struggles against racism.

The collection, which will continue to expand, provides appropriate civil rights-focused content spanning the past and present in the genres of nonfiction, biography, and fiction for children, young adults, and adults.

The contribution was celebrated along with Spritzer’s memory during a dedication ceremony at the Metuchen Public Library Saturday afternoon.

To commemorate the occasion, Senator Patrick Diegnan, Assemblymembers Robert Karabinchak and Sterley Stanley honored Spritzer with a Joint Legislative Resolution from the Senate and General Assembly.

Diegnan presented a framed copy of the resolution to Spritzer’s son, Evan, who attended the event in person, and daughter, Dinah, who participated virtually.

“Martin has been described as a true icon in Metuchen, so it seems apropos that his legacy be allowed to endure at the public library in the borough he loved,” Diegnan said. “A community advocate and mentor to many, Martin made a profound impact on Metuchen and beyond. This donation allows his dedication to the cause of civil rights to reach others in a fitting place where visitors come to learn and grow.”

STORY CONTINUES BENEATH PHOTO

The chair of more than 10 organizations including the Metuchen-Edison Race Relations Council and the Middlesex County Human Relations Commission, Spritzer served as borough attorney for 16 years. He was integral in the establishment of the Metuchen Community Pool, Metuchen YMCA expansion and Main Street development.

A graduate of Highland Park High School (1945), Spritzer was also an alumnus of Rutgers University (1948) and Harvard Law School (1951). After settling in Metuchen, Spritzer practiced law in the borough and neighboring Edison for 42 years.

NAACP Metuchen-Edison Branch President Reginald Johnson said the Ivy League-educated Spritzer “sacrificed a more lucrative career to serve the underdog,” noting Spritzer was critical in improving race relations and uniting the community.

Spritzer reportedly “saw small towns as being the fountainhead of democracy” and wanted to use his “legal training as a way of improving what was there.” He believed “human effort could make the world better for most people.”

Mayor Jonathan Busch said Spritzer was a dedicated activist who played a significant role in ushering Metuchen through the Civil Rights Era. He called Spritzer a “steady hand during the ’60s and ’70s, a period of great change in Metuchen.”

“Most people are very happy to live in this town,” Spritzer was quoted as saying in a 1973 New York Times article about the borough. “We’re not immune from problems, like any other town, but we have a marvelous variety of people, services, incomes, and nationalities. My 13‐year‐old can walk safely anywhere in town, and that’s worth a lot to those of us who live here.”

Apparently, the more things change, the more they stay the same, as nearly five decades later, Metuchen could still be described in similar fashion, a reflection of the impact leaders such as Spritzer had in building a framework for the borough.

Borough Council President Jason Delia said Spritzer’s contributions to Metuchen helped create “the inclusive and welcoming community that we all get to be a part of today.”

Attendees of Saturday’s event received a first look at the special collection made possible through the generosity of the Martin Spritzer Fund, and learned about civil rights and human relations in Metuchen, past and present.

Dr. Hazel-Anne M. Johnson-Marcus, current chair of the Metuchen Human Relations Commission, who is also an associate teaching professor and the senior director for Faculty Diversity and Inclusion at Rutgers University, credited Spritzer with creating “a foundation for families like mine to be a part of this community.”

“We talk about the Civil Rights Era, but we are not done,” said Johnson-Marcus. “We are continuing this work.”

“Our work here expanded to think about (all) community members who are underserved,” Johnson-Marcus said, referring to undocumented noncitizens, members of the LGBTQ community, persons with physical and mental disabilities, individuals who are victims of hate crimes, those who feel unsafe in houses of worship, and others.

“Some of my ideals have been realized,” Spritzer once said, according to a quote appearing on a display at the library. “Things are not as good as they should be, but they are better.” Spritzer would take solace in knowing Metuchen is continuing his work.

Spritzer defended the right for a moment of silence to be conducted at government meetings and was fittingly honored with one at a borough council meeting days after his passing.

Spritzer died in December 2019 at the age of 92 at Galloway Ridge, a retirement home in Fearrington Village, Pittsboro, N.C., where he remained active in Democratic politics. Spritzer served on the Chatham County Human Relations Commission and chaired the Fearrington Village Democratic Club. Spritzer continued his activism in North Carolina, helping state residents register to vote.

Beyond community service, Spritzer’s biggest cause was family. In addition to raising two children, Spritzer and his wife, Lola, to whom he was wed for 64 years, had four grandchildren.

“As a child it looked to me that my father’s principal occupation was me,” Evan Spritzer said, noting that as a byproduct of growing up around influential borough leaders, such as former mayors Donald Wernik and John Wiley, “a certain moral energy became a big part of my upbringing.”

The mission statement of the Martin Spritzer Fund, which is to raise “awareness for equity, civil rights and anti-racism,” and a quote capturing Spritzer’s quintessence, which reads, “you have to be fair to all of the people,” is stamped inside every book of the library collection bearing his name.

Spritzer will be remembered in perpetuity at the Metuchen Public Library, an invaluable community asset, providing visitors with enrichment opportunities in a safe space for learning and social activities.

The library serves as a gateway to knowledge, culture, and connectivity through traditional resources, such as books, and modern technology, such as free high-speed internet. The Metuchen Public Library is constantly evolving to meet 21st century needs of visitors, including more than half of the borough’s residents, who are library card holders.

Metuchen Public Library Director Hsi Hsi Chung said the Martin Spritzer Fund’s contribution will “enhance our collection to educate and inform the community about important social issues.”

A webpage on the library website is devoted to the books and DVDs which compose the Martin Spritzer collection. The webpage also contains a link to biographical information about Spritzer. His countless contributions over 30 years resulted in numerous accolades, including Governor Thomas Kean’s appointment of him in 1988 to the statewide Martin Luther King Commemorative Commission.

“In many ways,” said Wiley, who was among a dozen speakers during Saturday’s ceremony, “this community owes Martin a great deal.”

Middlesex County Democratic Organization Vice Chair Beatrice Moskowitz, who also presented a resolution, and Middlesex County Surrogate Claribel Cortes were among the dignitaries at the event.

Friends remembered Spritzer for his grace, perseverance, civility and eloquence. He was described as a man whose “mission was always to repair our world.”

Through the Martin Spritzer Fund’s donation, that mission will continue.

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