What is now Carteret was originally created as the borough of Roosevelt on April 11, 1906, from portions of Woodbridge Township, based on the results of a referendum approved on May 22, 1906. The name was changed to Carteret as of November 7, 1922. The borough was also called Carteret during the period from December 19, 1921, to January 16, 1922.
Saturday night into Sunday, 1926-04-25, a racial altercation took place in Carteret. John Carroll, a local Boxer, and Ralph Johnson, both of them White employees of the United States Metal Refining Company of Carteret, were walking through the segregated African American neighborhood in the southeast side of Carteret on their way home after working the night shift. As they passed a group of African Americans who were standing on the street, offensive words were passed between the two groups, and a fight started. Carroll was stabbed almost immediately over the heart with a pocket knife. His assailants took off running, with Johnson in pursuit. Johnson soon caught up to the fleeing men, when one of them turned and stabbed Johnson in the abdomen. The assailants then fled.
Johnson was taken by ambulance to the Perth Amboy hospital, where his condition was judged as serious. Carroll’s body was taken to Burns’ Undertaking Parlor in Carteret, where he was embalmed and set up for a Wake and Funeral. During the day, many White men came to view Carroll’s body, and to discuss the incident. The group grew into a mob centered on the locus defined by Union Street and Roosevelt Avenue, in the African American neighborhood known colloquially and disparagingly as The Jungle. their intent evolved into a concerted effort to drive all of the African Americans from Carteret. The discussion evolved into action when at about 9 PM, two African Americans—who apparently had nothing to do with the event, and were unaware— got off a Streetcar from Carteret Junction on Roosevelt Avenue close to the mob. Instantly, fifty white men from the mob surrounded the two African Americans, and marched them to the town limits and ordered them to not return. The mob then returned to their previous location. On the way, they looked for more African Americans, but apparently the word spread, and they remained in their homes out of sight. In the meantime, some or all of the original group of African Americans returned to their homes in Carteret, including Robert Duceast, age 24, who resided at 27 Hudson Street in "The Jungle".
In an attempt to prevent further violence, Mayor Thomas Mulvihill, Police Chief Henry J. Harrington, and County Prosecutor John E. Toolan placed the entire 21-man Carteret Police Force on extended duty, with orders to suppress any violence. The police established a Deadline between the two Segregated neighborhoods, and – although the streets of the African American neighborhood remained deserted, no whites were permitted to enter. However, fits of violence continued to occur. Two African Americans who were found by a group from the Mob near the Lieb Chemical Works on the outskirts of Carteret were attacked. At about the same time, another African American who was sighted near Carroll’s house, was chased by a patrol, and had to be rescued by several policemen. An unrelated group of African Americans in a car drove up on Roosevelt Avenue to where the main group was, parked their car unaware of what was happening, and got out. The Mob surged towards them, but the police was able to intercept the African Americans, order them back into their car, and order them to drive away and not return. The near-victims escaped unharmed.
The violence started to escalate when the Mob started to switch to Arson as a means of getting the African Americans to leave. A group boarded a car, and went off, followed by approximately 40 others on foot, to the intersection of Salem Avenue and Bergen Street to destroy the restaurant and barber shop of James McDougall, a prosperous African American who was a political ally of Mayor Mulvihill. In the meantime, the Police were informed, and they rushed a car with several Officers to the location to prevent the arson from taking place, but the Police had to use drawn pistols and clubs to get the group to cease and desist. No arrests were made, and McDougall wasn’t harmed.
The Mob then decided to destroy the First Baptist Church on Larch Street, which was the main church for African Americans in Carteret. The Reverend George H. Reed was in the middle of his Sermon when the mob arrived. The Mob wasn’t armed with firearms, so they resorted to using clubs and cudgels. Stones were thrown through the church windows, and the Mob invaded the church and forced the Pastor and Congregation out. Early Monday morning, the Mob returned, some of them masked to avoid recognition, hell bent on burning the church. The Mob placed Tinder around the wood frame church, and then set the building on fire. Shortly, the building was ablaze, and would have quickly been consumed except that Carteret’s Volunteer Fire Department arrived on the scene and soon made short work of extinguishing the fire. In the meantime, the Mob stood by silently, and did nothing to hinder the firemen. Police Chief Harrington ordered the Mob to disperse, and they ignored him. He finally got them to disperse by ordering the Engine Company to turn their hoses on the Mob. They dispersed, but went off and reformed and entered The Jungle while the firemen and police were focused elsewhere. They started banging on doors and shouting through the windows. What they shouted was very specific: “Get out of town, and stay out.” The men, women and children of the neighborhood were escorted to the Carteret- Woodbridge border, where they were released. The Mob returned to the church, relit the fire, and this time the building was reduced to ashes. That same day, Mr. Duceast and five other African Americans were arrested for the original stabbing incident. Mr. Duceast was charged with Murder, while the others were held as material witnesses. News of the rioting started an investigation into the status of African Americans in the Borough of Carteret. The investigation was carried out by Reverend George S. Miller of the Washington Baptist Church of Orange, New Jersey; Reverend Charles Mayhew of the First Baptist Church of Arlington, New Jersey; and Reverend Otto Laegeler, Superintendent of Religious Education of the New Jersey Baptist Conference. They met with African American members of the Segregated Baptist Conference to discuss what was to be done. That same day the members of Carteret Fire Company #2 raised $1,000 as a fund for the widow and children of John Carroll.
Subsequently, many of the African Americans who were forced out returned to Carteret, and their numbers increased over the years.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the borough has a total area of 5.0 square miles (12.9 km²), of which, 4.4 square miles (11.3 km²) of it is land and 0.6 square miles (1.6 km²) of it (12.63%) is water.
There were 7,039 households out of which 35.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 52.1% were married couples living together, 16.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 26.0% were non-families. 21.9% of all households were made up of individuals and 11.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.88 and the average family size was 3.38.
In the borough the population was spread out with 25.2% under the age of 18, 8.4% from 18 to 24, 30.0% from 25 to 44, 21.4% from 45 to 64, and 15.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 37 years. For every 100 females there were 94.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 90.0 males.
The median income for a household in the borough was $47,148, and the median income for a family was $54,609. Males had a median income of $40,172 versus $28,132 for females. The per capita income for the borough was $18,967. About 8.6% of families and 11.0% of the population were below the poverty line, including 15.8% of those under age 18 and 9.4% of those age 65 or over.
Carteret has a large Punjabi Sikh population. These numbers increased between 1999-2004. Two gurdwaras, Singh Sabha and Deshmesh Darbar, are located in Carteret. The Sikh community has dubbed Carteret as "kartarpur", in remembrance of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism.
The Current Mayor of Carteret is Democrat Daniel J. Reiman, whose term of office will end on December 31, 2010. As of 2008, members of the Borough Council are Council President Joseph Sitarz (2009), Vincent Bellino (2010), Iris Colon (2008), Jorge Diaz (2010), Randy Krum (2008) and Susan Naples (2008); A position with a term ending in 2009 is vacant.
A private rabbinical college, Yeshiva Gedola of Carteret is a recent addition to the community.