A Talk with the Leveretts




J. Herbert Leverett graduated from Hackensack High School in 1946. He ran track and played basketball, but by his own account he said with a smile, “If I finished the race, I was having a good day. In basketball, I was a little better but not much.” He excelled in the classroom and upon graduation from H.H.S., he went to Newark college and received a degree in engineering.

He joined the Navy in 1952 and served in Korea aboard the Air Craft Carrier U.S.S. Cambria until 1955. He rose to the rank of Lieutenant in 1955 and stayed in the Navy Reserves for another twenty years, retiring in 1975 at the rank of Lieutenant Commander, which is equivalent to a Major in the Army.

An old saying, ‘don't mistake kindness for weakness', applies perfectly to Herbert Leverett. In 1955 when Lieutenant Leverett and other officers went to get a hotel room in Norfolk Virginia , they refused to allow him a room because he was ‘colored'. The other officers having served with Lieutenant Leverett and having a high regard for him, refused to stay at the hotel, they all went to a place that welcomed them all.

In the 1960's when he was at a Naval Base, a ensign brought him a message from another officer. Upon finishing the message, Commander Leverett said, “Aren't you forgetting something”. The ensign, knowing well what he was talking about, stood at attention and saluted. Tom Meli who graduated with Herb Leverett said a lot of white serviceman would resist saluting a black officer back then, especially southern servicemen.

J. Herbert Leverett, through steadfast perseverance, had gone from being refused a hotel room in 1955, to having people of all races salute him in 1965 as an officer in the United States Navy, the largest armed forces in the world.

In 1965, Herbert Leverett was elected as the first Negro councilman in the city of Hackensack's history. Tom Meli, who helped run the 1965 campaign said an important point to mention on Herb Leverett's election was that he was elected by the whole city of Hackensack, {at large}, not just from his sending district, which made him one of the first Negros to be so elected in the Nation, in a city the size of Hackensack up to 1965.

Herbert Leverett and his wife Jean have had a prison ministry up until only a few years ago at the Hackensack Annex. Jean said many times they have met people on the street who thanked them for sharing the Gospel and how it changed their lives.

A statement by George Washington is one that would explain the impression you get when you meet Herbert Leverett. George Washington said, “I hope I shall always possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.”

J. Herbert Leverett should be an inspiration to us all.

NOTE: I received this information from Mr. Leverett and his wife when I visited
them in 2006.
Bob Meli

NOTE: The term Negro is used because it is
Herbert Leverett's preference.


Background image of Civil rights and equity obtained from: