In a classroom, on a football field and in a prison – these were the battlegrounds for some of the most fervent clashes waged in defense of civil liberties in New Jersey since 1960. Award-winning journalist Mary Jo Patterson provides an exclusive front-row seat to these skirmishes in the book, On the Frontlines of Freedom, a look at the first 50 years of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey. Patterson chronicles the rich and colorful history of the ACLU-NJ against the backdrop of changing social and political tides in New Jersey and America. The main fighters are the men and women who were brave enough to stand up for what was right, even in the face of unrelenting opposition. They were supported by the troops of the attorneys, staffers and civil libertarians who founded and worked at the ACLU-NJ since its founding in 1960. On the Frontlines of Freedom highlights the crucial work of the organization over the past 50 years and pays tribute to those who were bold enough to stand on the front lines.

Where to buy On the Frontlines of Freedom

On the Frontlines of Freedom is available in hardcover, paperback and as an ebook from these retailers:

Read an Excerpt

The furor started in the summer of 1958, when a reporter asked builder William Levitt if he planned to sell to blacks in his newest housing development in Willingboro, N.J., a farm community midway between Trenton and Camden. Levitt, plainly and unapologetically, said “no.”

The developer had established a whites-only policy in older Levitt communities in Levittown, N.Y., and Levittown, Pa., and saw no reason to do anything differently now. “If we sell one house to a Negro family, then 90 to 95 percent of our white customers will not buy into the community. That is their attitude, not ours. We did not create it, and we cannot cure it,” he told the Saturday Evening Post. “We can solve a housing problem or we can try to solve a racial problem, but we cannot combine the two.”

Reviews and Comments

“This wondrously fascinating and informed narrative history of the life and times of the ACLU of New Jersey is far more than a welcomed chronicle of a venerable organization that protects the rights of citizens and settlers. It contributes as well to a deeper understanding of the complicated, contested and oft troublesome quest for a meaningful democracy in contemporary New Jersey. Mary Jo Patterson has given us a riveting account of why the ACLU has engaged so many fronts and issues where justice and equal rights are worth fighting for and defending."

Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor of History
Rutgers University-Newark

"This rich and informative accounting of more than a half century of New Jersey history reminds us that though are laws and protections may be exemplary, they can occasionally be abused by agents of the State or powerful institutions and organizations. Throughout this period, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey has been steadfast and brilliant in defending the rights of individuals and assuring that those who would deny our freedoms and liberties are held in check. On The Frontlines of Freedom should be placed in the hands of every social studies teacher in our state."

former civil rights activist and co-founder of the
Newark-Essex Chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality

“I walked the smoldering streets of Newark with Hank di Suvero and his then-wife Ramona Ripston, introducing him to families of victims of police shootings during July 1967. Di Suvero, the new ACLU-NJ director, bravely sued the Newark Police Department when most of civil society was succumbing to irrational fear and law-and order rhetoric. As history shows again and again, we need the ACLU to take unpopular stands when the Bill of Rights is threatened.”

Newark Community Union Project, 1964-68
Author, Rebellion in Newark (1967)

“This short book . . . serves as a reminder that past success in achieving legal protection of individual liberty gives no assurance against future governmental encroachments. [It] reminds us that the need for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey is as great now as at any time in its fifty year history.”

Former Chief Judge, Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
Director at Gibbons P.C.

About the Author

Mary Jo Patterson
Mary Jo Patterson is a freelance reporter and writer. During a 37-year career with three newspapers, she distinguished herself in all categories of newswriting, covering everything from Scrabble competition to national security. Her profile of Gov. Jim McGreevey helped The Star-Ledger win a Pulitzer Prize in 2005, and her first-day account of the fatal fire at Seton Hall University won first prize in the American Society for Newspaper Editors competition for deadline writing in 2001. She was also a member of a reporting team awarded the American Bar Association's Silver Gavel Award in 2006 for a series of stories on the Patriot Act. Since leaving the world of daily newspapers she has written frequently about education and health. Mary Jo grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., and graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University. She received two graduate degrees from Columbia University, including a masters in journalism. Married with a grown daughter and son, she lives in West Orange, N.J.


On the Frontlines of Freedom is available in hardcover, paperback and as an ebook from these retailers: