Fred Means

Fred Means, 1970 (Al Henderson/Newark Public Library)

Fred E. Means was born in South Carolina and grew up in Newark, NJ. He graduated from Miller Street School and South Side High (now Malcolm X Shabazz). After spending three years in the Army, Means earned a Bachelor of Science degree from New York University, a Master of Arts degree from Trenton State College, and Master’s and Doctorate degrees in Education from Rutgers University.

Fred Means served in many civil rights organizations and boards in Newark, including CORE, the Business and Industrial Coordinating Council (BICC) and the United Community Corporation (UCC). The BICC was formed in response to demonstrations at the construction site of Barringer High School in 1963 to protest discrimination in hiring of African Americans in the building and construction trades. The Council was responsible for bringing together business and civil rights interests to encourage equality in hiring practices by the city’s major businesses. The UCC was Newark’s Community Action Agency funded by President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty program. The UCC served as a training ground for political engagement by the city’s poor and working-class communities and was a major organization in promoting community empowerment.

Fred Means succeeded Raymond Proctor as the chairman of the Newark-Essex Chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). As a member of CORE, he took part in a number of high-profile campaigns against discrimination in employment, housing, and education, as well as issues of police brutality. Means, along with Robert Curvin and Raymond Proctor, organized protests against discriminatory hiring practices of the New Jersey Bell Telephone Company in 1963 and conducted several training seminars on civil rights for NJ Bell’s management employees.

Fred Means speaks at a CORE rally in 1965. (Jim Lowney/Doug Eldrige Collection)

In 1965, as chairman of Newark-Essex CORE, Fred Means and national chairman James Farmer led a march in downtown Newark protesting against police brutality. The march was organized in response to the fatal shooting of Lester Long, an unarmed Black man, by Newark Policeman Henry Martinez. Means was one of the key organizers of community demands for a civilian review board in the wake of continued allegations of police misconduct and brutality in Newark.

In 1967, Means and other educators formed the Organization of Negro Educators (ONE). As the first president of ONE, Fred Means led the organization to protest the common practice of Black teachers being hired as substitutes and paid as much as $2,000 per year less than regularly-employed white teachers, only to be rehired the following school year. That year, Fred Means and ONE also supported Wilbur Parker for the highly contentious appointment of secretary to the Board of Education. In 1968, Newark had no Black principals, one Black vice principal, two Black assistant superintendents, and most of the Black teachers were substitutes.

In 1973, Mayor Ken Gibson appointed Fred Means to a three-year term as a member of the Newark Board of Education.

References:

Robert Curvin, Inside Newark: Decline, Rebellion, and the Search for Transformation

Who’s Coming In, Who’s Going Out?

World War II kicked off the second Great Migration, as African Americans from the South sought better living conditions in Newark and other cities. Between 1940 and 1950, the African American population of Newark increased from 45,760 to 74,965—growing from 10.7% to 17.2% of the city’s total population. In many ways, this population influx marked a tipping point for recognition.

For most of Newark, the depression ended. “Help wanted “ signs went up. But African Americans could not always find a job. The New Jersey Afro-American wrote in 1941 that while contracts for nearly a billion and a half dollars in government defense orders have been placed with firms in New Jersey, the Urban League finds that these firms have steadfastly refused to hire colored workers.”

 

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“Help wanted “ signs went up. But African Americans could not always find a job.
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But some African Americans did find employment. Jobs for blacks in the Newark defense workforce improved from 4% in 1942, to 8.8% in 1943. With the overall economy booming, Newark’s downtown stores began hiring some African Americans as elevator operators and janitors. Large restaurants hired blacks as chefs, cooks and waiters—they could work, but not sit down to eat. The war years helped enhance the prospects of some, while still denying prosperity for the many.

Whites Begin to Leave

Around 1947, the white middle class started deserting Newark for the suburbs, along with the businesses that sustained them. The post World-War II boom was good for businesses for a while, but factories, schools, and streets had been neglected during the war. Overcrowding was a problem, especially in the ghettos. These conditions made the suburbs very attractive as alternatives to Newark.

The G.I. Bill of Rights and FHA loans made it easier for whites to buy a house, and brand new highways built by the federal government with taxpayers’ dollars made it easier to drive those new automobiles to the suburbs, in Essex County and further west. These same mortgages were unavailable to most African Americans; and most suburbs were off limits.

 

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These same mortgages were unavailable to most African Americans; and most suburbs were off limits.
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But Newark’s heterogeneous ethnic character remained intact in the early and mid-1950s. Newark was described as follows by writer Joseph Conforti:

The Germans had given way to the Irish who in 1950 shared political power with an Italian and a Jew. The ethnic division of the city could also be observed less directly. Many occupations were ethnically identifiable: the police and fire departments were overwhelmingly Irish; the construction trades were Italian; the merchants were largely Jewish, the small luncheonettes were Greek, the large businesses were owned and operated by WASPs, skilled craftsmen were likely to be German, and the factory operatives were Irish, Polish and Italian. Even the city’s taxicabs had ethnic identifications…yellow cabs were operated by the Irish, 20th Century cabs by Jews, Brown and White cabs by Italians, and Green cabs by blacks.

Newark’s Changing Demographics

Ghettoization continued in Newark. By 1940, the Third Ward (today’s Central Ward) alone contained more than 16,000 black residents. By 1944 nearly one third of the apartments and housing in the black areas were below the standards of minimum decency. Some houses still had outside bathrooms.

The slums were among the worst in the nation. The situation was particularly grim for African Americans, clustered on “the hill” just west of the Essex County Court House. Public Housing did not help a lot. There were 7 low-income projects finished before the war, but by 1946, there were 2,110 white families and only 623 black families in the buildings. Four of the projects housed no black people. The best low-rise public housing, such as Bradley Court, was reserved for whites; while the poorest units, such as F.D.R. Homes, were reserved for blacks. Ultimately, the majority of African Americans were steered into the growing number of high rise public housing which just happened to be built in the center city where black people had been confined beginning at the turn of the 20th century.

 

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Four of the projects housed no black people.
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The 1950 Census showed the trend in population increases for blacks, and decrease by whites. Newark’s total population rose only slightly from 429,760 in 1940 to 438,776 in 1950. Black residents had increased from 45,760 to 74,965—more than a 60% increase. When newspapers took a look at the faces of misery, increasingly they were black.

Even though the city began hemorrhaging jobs (250 manufacturers left between 1950-60; 1,300 manufactures left during the 1960s), the more dramatic change in the city’s socioeconomic structure was the rapidly changing composition of the city’s population.

African Americans were rapidly become politically and economically obsolete in a city where they would soon be in the majority. Segregation and discrimination by race and class defined Newark’s offering to the city’s newest immigrants.

Listen to the people speak about their experiences as newcomers to Newark below…

Fred Means and James Farmer, 1965

Fred Means and James Farmer, 1965

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Fred Means addresses a press conference in response to the fatal shooting of Lester Long by Newark Police in 1965. At right is James Farmer, national chairman of CORE. — Credit: Fred Means Collection

Statement to Newark Human Rights Commission, 1965

Statement to Newark Human Rights Commission, 1965

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Transcript of statements made by Fred Means during hearings of the Newark Human Rights Commission in July, 1965 on a police review board. — Credit: City of Newark Archives and Records Management Center

Police Report on CORE Activity, 1966

Police Report on CORE Activity, 1966

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Newark Police report on CORE demonstrations at Hahne’s department store on Broad Street in 1966 to protest discrimination in hiring. — Credit: Junius Williams Collection

Explore The Archives

African American Repairman

African American Repairman

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Photograph from the PSEG archives of an African American repairman at work. — Credit: PSEG

22 Clayton Street Stove

22 Clayton Street Stove

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A look inside the apartment of an African American family at 22 Clayton Street in Newark. — Credit: WPA Photographs, NJ State Archives

22 Clayton Street Bathroom

22 Clayton Street Bathroom

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A look inside the apartment of an African American family at 22 Clayton Street in Newark. — Credit: WPA Photographs, NJ State Archives

African American Stoker

African American Stoker

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Photograph from the PSEG archives of an African American stoker at work. — Credit: PSEG