Montclair’s ‘Mother Hinton’ valued wit, wisdom, the wealth of community
By DIEGO JESUS BARTESAGHI MENA
One of the many fond memories Marilyn Hinton Jacobs has of her late mother, Myrna Owens Hinton, is about a necklace.
Myrna Hinton gave her daughter the necklace as a gift for her 18th birthday, and Jacobs still wears it proudly around her neck. It has a pendant with three little diamonds in it. Jacobs said the diamonds represent wisdom, wit and wealth.
“I wear it in memory of her now, but it’s something that I realized — that she didn’t just leave it for me,” Jacobs said. “She left that for everyone to understand the power of wisdom, the power of wit and the power of wealth. And I don’t just mean financial wealth.”
Jacobs said those three words meant a lot for her mother.
“From my mother’s perspective, wisdom is just what it is, and the ability to know the truth. Also, the ability to learn and to seek knowledge,”Jacobs said. “She was always seeking knowledge, even at 88 years old. Wit, my mother had a keen sense of humor and her laughter was amazing. And wealth not only means seeking material wealth but it is deeper than that. It is the unlimited wealth of resources of a community. Unlimited wealth of knowledge and a sense of belonging.”
Myrna Hinton died Oct. 8 at the age of 88.
Keith Ali, another of Myrna Hinton’s children, thought back to the summer of 1967. His mother was working in Newark at that time, as a nurse. Because she couldn’t find a babysitter for her kids, she took them to work. The Newark riots were happening during that summer.
“She had to drive through the National Guard,” Keith Ali said. “And the Guard was, of course, poking their guns in the car and telling her this and that. But she showed her credentials and told [the Guard] who she was, and they let her pass.”
Myrna Hinton was dedicated to helping people, and courageous enough to continue to do so even at risk to herself, her son said.
“She gave us the kind of courage we know that she had. We knew we had her back and she had our back,” Keith said.
Myrna Hinton held several roles throughout her life. According to her obituary, she had been a registered nurse for more than 65 years. She worked as a public health nurse before becoming an executive director in family planning in Essex and Middlesex counties. She also worked as a nurse for the Department of Children Families Regional School in Newark.
Jacobs said nursing started as a goal for her mother; it became a passion. After graduating high school, Myrna Hinton first planned to become a mortician, but her father wasn’t happy with that choice, and she changed her plans, Jacobs said.
Myrna Hinton went to the Jersey City Medical Center School of Nursing to get her degree in 1951. She applied to Mountainside Hospital School of Nursing first, but she was turned down because she was African American, her daughter said. Jacobs said that was the reason Myrna Hinton put so much dedication and time into nursing.
“She was going above and beyond with families that needed medical attention. Calling her friends up until like two months ago asking them if they took their medicine,” Jacobs said. “And even with her nursing license, the last time it was about to expire [when Myrna Hinton was 83], I had to actually tell her no more.”
Keith Ali remembers one time when someone passed out on their block, having a seizure. The neighbors were yelling Myrna Hinton’s name to come and assist the man.
“That would be common in our block,” Keith Ali said. “If something happened to somebody, my mother would be sought after for medical attention or to help get them to better medical attention.”
He said his mother cared for the community, and drew courage from her faith.
Myrna Hinton was a member of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church for her entire life, following in the steps of her father, Richard L. Owens Sr., who became a member of the church in 1929. She was a lay speaker, had been in the Young Adult Choir, had been director and president of the Gospel Choir, had been Chancel Choir president, had been on the Pastor Parish Relations and Agape Fellowship committees and had been president of the United Methodist Women.
Roger Terry, president of Montclair’s NAACP chapter, remembers meeting Myrna Hinton and her family in the 1960s at St. Mark’s Church, which was the hub of the chapter at that time.
“So, not only were they connected in the community, but they were strong on civil rights. They were strong on changing different laws in the community and assisting young African American people, and all people, in the community,” Terry said.
Jacobs said her mother was involved in civil rights advocacy from a young age as well. She was a past president of the Montclair Chapter of the National Council of Negro Women, an organization founded in 1935 in Harlem to unite African American women in social planning and action.
Jacobs said Myrna Hinton became involved in the organization because Myrna Hinton’s grandmother was fond of Mary McLeod Bethune, the founder of the National Council of Negro Women.
“Bethune came to Montclair for a visit and my mother met her as a child,” Jacobs said. “I know that inspired her to get involved with the National Council of Negro Women.”
Myna Hinton was often referred to as “Mother Hinton” in Montclair, part of a hub of parents who helped shape upcoming generations.
“[Myrna Hinton] was a strong individual. She had carte blanche to correct any young person in the community, in any of our groups. So, she was well-respected. You knew it was important not to step out of the line,” Terry said. “She didn’t have to say a word, but when our eyes met, I knew I had a strong spiritual individual that was there to assist me.”
Myrna Hinton was also a doula who helped deliver 98 babies during her time as a nurse at a community hospital.
“What happened is that the doctors would not be around. This is in the 1950s,” Jacobs said. “The doctors would say, ‘Is Hinton around?’ and they told her to prepare for delivery and it happened so often that it was just like, ‘Let Hinton deliver the baby.’”
In recent years, Myrna Hinton became an active member of the Montclair Neighborhood Development Corporation’s Do Drop Inn, a social group for senior citizens that gathers at the Wally Choice Community Center at Glenfield Park three times a week.
Hinton was also honored as a grand marshal at the 2021 Montclair African American Heritage Parade.
“This community had an exceptionally strong African American community and they were the cause of it. The mothers, fathers, grandparents — they all stuck together,” Terry said. “They made sure that there was no place we could go in town [without someone asking] ‘Aren’t you Terry?’ or ‘Aren’t you a Hinton?’ You were well-known throughout the community no matter what the circumstance was.”
Councilman David Cummings, a lifelong resident who serves the Fourth Ward, said Hinton knew you, even if you didn’t know it, “because she cared about everyone” and was involved in everything going on in the community.
“I know her children are feeling a deep loss. Montclair lost a fighter for people, a caretaker for children and adults. There's a reason she was called ‘Mother Hinton,’” he said. “She will be missed.”
Jacobs and Keith Ali said they’re thankful for the support they have received from the community, and for those who’ve recognized the legacy of their mother.
“First of all, our heartfelt thanks for all that love, support and recognition. Secondly, the legacy of someone like Myrna Owens Hinton must continue,” Jacobs said. “And in that legacy, as was said in her eulogy, a connector. We have to network. We have to embrace each other. We need to be the bridge in our own community.”