Frederick Toto

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Star-Ledger article from July 16, 1967 covering funeral arrangements for Frederick Toto. (The Star-Ledger)

Frederick Toto was a Newark native who joined the city’s police department in 1962. Detective Toto lived at 56 Smith Street with his wife, Ethel, and their three children.

The morning of Friday, July 14th, Toto returned home to his family around 8:00 A.M., after having completed a 24-hour shift the previous day and night. As violent conflict continued in Newark for the second evening following the arrest and beating of taxi driver John Smith that Wednesday evening, Newark police officers were assigned extended shifts to try to curb the unrest.

After having finished this 24-hour shift, friends of Toto urged him to go home and rest. ‘I told his wife (Ethel) not to let anyone get to him,’ Toto’s friend Ernest Orgo told the Newark Evening News. ‘We had coffee together at 8 a.m. and he was so tired he didn’t even wait to have it served but went home. Somebody called him and he went out again.’

Later that day, while Newark policemen responded to “extensive breaking, entering and larceny” on Springfield Avenue, a crowd gathered outside the Scudder Homes project near the corner of Broome and Mercer Streets. While this group was peacefully watching the excitement down the street on Springfield, three police cars turned onto the block and opened fire on the crowd, leaving Isaac Harrison and Robert Lee Martin dead.

The presentment of the Essex County Grand Jury, which heard testimony on the killings during the rebellion, asserted that “Newark police responded to a radio call, checked the location, and upon return to their car they were met by sniper fire apparently coming from the Project. The police retaliated by firing upon the Project…”

Although “sniper fire” was widely reported by police and National Guardsmen, very little evidence was found to support the 258 reports of “sniper incidents” claimed by city and state police. Furthermore, reporting “sniper fire” was used as a justification for the indiscriminate shooting of innocent civilians, as in the case of Isaac Harrison.

Given the lack of radio communication between law enforcement agencies during the rebellion, it is likely that the reported “sniper activity” was actually the multiple shots fired at 22-year-old Robert Lee Martin by police around the corner on Mercer Street just moments before.

Whatever the source was, as this gunfire erupted outside the Scudder Homes, National Guardsmen and police, including Detective Toto, flocked to the corner of Broome and Mercer Streets and took cover behind their cars across the street. As the police, troopers, and Guardsmen opened fire on the Scudder Homes, some reports claim that people from inside the apartment building returned fire at the police in retaliation for the killings of Harrison and Martin.

Detective Toto and Patrolmen Paul Buttross were positioned across the street from the project when, according to Buttross, ‘we heard some shots from an apartment house across the street. We all ducked low but Fred stood up. I heard a shot, got some flying glass in my face and when I turned around Fred was down.’ Toto had been shot in the chest and was taken to St. Michael’s Hospital.

Although Buttross did not see who shot Detective Toto or where the shot came from, officers immediately assumed that Toto had been shot by a sniper and opened fire on the project where the sniper was believed to be hiding. ‘Guardsmen and policemen, wearing bullet-proof vests and advancing behind armored cars, including an eleven-ton personal carrier, opened fire on the top floors,’ the New York Times reported. ‘When they finally secured the building…all the snipers were gone, but some of the hallways were splattered with blood.’

Furthermore, as officers not on the scene got word of Toto’s shooting, some sought retribution for their colleague’s death by opening fire on civilians, such as Oscar Hill, Cornelius Murray, and Rufus Council, just moments after Toto was shot.

About an hour after he was shot, Detective Frederick Toto was pronounced dead at St. Michael’s Hospital at the age of 34. Toto’s death, according to Tom Hayden, “stirred shock and anger in the white community. Both Newark papers carried their photographs and background stories of praise for their contribution: no [black] victims were given such newspaper treatment.”

The Essex County Grand Jury found “no cause for indictment” of any alleged sniper involved.

References:

Tom Hayden, Rebellion in Newark: Official Violence and Ghetto Response

Ronald Porambo, No Cause for Indictment: An Autopsy of Newark

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…

Armando Fontoura, former Newark Police Officer and current Essex County Sheriff, talks with Karen Yi about responding to Det. Frederick Toto’s shooting.  — Credit: NJ Advance Media

Article on Death of Frederick Toto

Article on Death of Frederick Toto

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Article from the Newark Evening News on July 15, 1967 covering the shooting of Newark Police Detective Frederick Toto. — Credit: Newark Evening News

Grand Jury Report on Frederick Toto

Grand Jury Report on Frederick Toto

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Grand Jury report on the fatal shooting of Detective Frederick Toto on July 14, 1967. The Grand Jury found “no cause for indictment.” — Credit: Newark Public Library

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