Toritto – A Life In Pictures – #5

Toritto and Judy at my senior prom – May 1959.  I was 16.  She just turned 12.

🙂

The years went by between my 6th grade elementary school and my 12th grade high school graduation.  Leaving P.S 187, I attended Edward B Shallow Junior High and then New Utrecht High School.  During the Summer before my junior year our family moved to our own little house on a dirt street in the outskirts of Coney Island.

I continued to attend New Utrecht until school authorities learned our family had moved out of the district.  I was transferred to Lafayette High, which in some ways was a superior school.

My problems in high school, to the extent I had any, revolved around my age.  I was a year younger than everyone else.  I had completely skipped the 8th grade (clever boy!)and was now a 16 year old senior.  I was a kid in everyone’s eyes.  Additionally, I had transferred in during my junior year and didn’t have the long term friendships I had previously enjoyed at my old school.

Graduation was approaching and it seemed everyone had a prom date except me.  There wasn’t an 18 year old girl/woman alive that was going to attend her prom with a 16 year old too young to drive, drink or go to night clubs after the dance.

Enter Judy.

Judy was my best friend Billy’s younger sister.  Judy had just turned 12!  Billy and I spent half our lives at each other’s houses so I knew his sister well.  When kicking around my date difficulties I thought of his sister.  You can see she had blossomed quite nicely and quite early.   So I asked her casually but then had to ask her parents because, after all, she was only 12.  She had never been on a real date and only knew the boys in the neighborhood, including me.

“O.K. she can go but it’s only because we know you so well.  There is to be absolutely no drinking or clubbing!  Do we understand each other?”

“Yes sir.”

So Judy and I went to my senior prom, held at a fine Manhattan hotel.  I was 16, She was 12.

Obviously there was no getting a 12 year old (or me for that matter) into a night club afterwards.  So Judy and I went to Coney Island in prom dress and tux and to cheers, applause and congrats of the crowds rode the Cyclone, the Wonder Wheel and the great Parachute Jump.  Mostly we were waved on any ride we chose to go on for free.

I graduated high school on a Thursday and went to work on Monday at what is now Citibank.  In the mail room.  Suddenly everyone began treating the 16 year old as if he were a man – a working man – including my father.

I learned during the holiday season that Judy passed away last year.  She will live forever in the ether of the internet.  Always my date to the Senior Prom.

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Toritto – A Life In Pictures – #4

My Mother

This is one of the earliest photos I have of my mother.  She is standing on the left and judging from her clothes was still in the Catholic orphanage at the time as a Ward of the State.  I have no idea who the other women are or where they are or what they plan to do all dressed up.  That is not steam rising but a defect in the photo.  She would have to leave the orphanage at age 18 which she did after earning her high school diploma in 1940, which was very rare for an immigrant girl at the time.

Another early photo of my mom in her orphanage clothes with two friends at Central Park.  My mother never spoke of her experience at the orphanage but after leaving the care of the Benedictines she never went to church again save for weddings and funerals.  She insisted her sons attend public schools.

At Central Park. I have no idea who she is with.

 

Mom in 1944 after she had me.  She made her peace with her father Carmelo and is here with her sister-in-law Helen, married to her  younger brother Dom. In the shadows directly in front of the door is her brother Ernie, in the Navy during the war.

Mom in front of our house on Bay 53rd street, circa early 1960s

Mom and Dad at my wedding – December 28, 1963; She would pass at 43 on April Fool’s Day, 1966.

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My Father

My father’s Confirmation photo – circa 1930

Mom and dad in front of our little house; circa 1960.  The ghost behind the glass is me.  My father was never the same after mom passes.  I can honestly say I don’t think he ever had another happy day.  He was gone less than seven years after mom died at age 56.  He suffered from emphysema and had oxygen in his apartment but continued to smoke.  He favored Kools because he said the menthol in the cigarette made him feel better.  He was felled by the flu in less than 24 hours.  I got a call at two in the morning from my youngest brother in January 1973 that poppa had died.

June 1966 – two months a widower

My last photo of my father

Rest in peace.

 

 

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TOOTH!!

Look at that bright, shiny new tooth!!  Poor Clark boy.  Cranky all weekend. 

Just think Clark – Nine more teeth and you’ll have as many real ones as Grandpa! 

🙂

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Toritto – A Life in Pictures – #3

Sixth grade – my last year in elementary school P.S. 187.  It was May Day – but in the early fifties May Day became the “Spring Festival.”  Mom, me, Nicholas and the two Alfreds (my brother and our neighbor).

Me as a teen having a cup of Joe at the home of my then girl friend’s grandmother, a very proper Swedish lady.  Note the cups!  Though we broke up 55 years ago, we still exchange Christmas cards.  She sent me the picture.

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Grandparents

My paternal grandfather Francesco Scarangello at the wedding of his granddaughter circa 1950.  He was born in 1872 in Toritto, Italy  and a 33 year old widower in 1905 with 3 young children, no wife to care for them and no future in the new Italy.  He decided to come to America.  He courted my grandmother and they came to New York, built a life for themselves and had 5 more children.  My father was the youngest.  He died on my twelfth birthday in 1954.  Three of his grandchildren were named after him, including me.  What I wouldn’t give for an hour to speak with him.

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My paternal grandmother Laura (DeVito) Scarangello at our  house in the early sixties. She married a man with three children and left her country for a life of adventure in America.  She never saw Italy again.  Her sister soon followed her.  She had five children of her own, raised eight and took my mother in off of the streets when she had no where else to go.  She died when I was in Eritrea.  I missed her funeral.  I miss them both.

A photo from 1923 which cannot be restored.  My maternal grandparents, Carmelo Lafragola and Antoinette (Forte) Lafragola with the first two of their five children.  My Uncle Joseph is the boy standing and my mother Mary is on his lap.  Antoinette died in the 1930s (She is buried with my parents) and the State, in its wisdom would not allow an Italian immigrant to raise five children with no wife.  My mother was sent to a Catholic orphanage run by the Benedictines and her baby sister sent to foster care.  By the time my mom left the orphanage at age 18 grandpa had remarried and  would not take his grown children in – even temporarily.  Grandma Laura above saw her sitting on the curb with her little suitcase and took her in.  There she met my father

Carmelo Lafragola. His children eventually make their peace with Grandpa (although I don’t think they ever forgave his wife!) and my mother was with him when he died in the Veterans Hospital in 1965, around the same time that Laura passed.  He was the only one of my four grandparents who became a U.S. citizen.  He served with Pershing in France during the First World War, was wounded and awarded the Purple Heart.

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Toritto – A Life in Pictures – #2

Uncle Dom, one of my mom’s three younger siblings and me, Easter 1946

Riding bikes with my younger brother Alfred in the park

 

Me at Brookville Lake State Park – 1949

Outside my Brooklyn home with my neighbor’s son, also named Alfred.

My friend Alfred and I after our First Communion in my parent’s bedroom.

And a portion of the party afterwards – May 1953  I’m up top with the bow.  Mom is on the right with the big smile and my brothers Nicholas and Al front and center.

My first grade class photo (1949).   I am standing directly with my teacher (Mrs. Fiore!) just in front of her right arm.  Teacher’s pet!

Christmas – I’m guessing 1953 – my fat period which went on for about a year until I suddenly slimmed down and got like a rail.  And it’s when everyone found out I couldn’t see shit and I got glasses.   Mom, Al with his tongue out and Nicholas.

A photo which can’t be restored.  The five of us – dad, mom, me, Al and Nicholas in 1952.  I STILL had no glasses!

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Toritto – A Life in Pictures

I have lots of photos, hundreds in fact, mostly not organized and just stashed away for years in boxes, stored closets and garages.  Many are pictures not seen even by my daughters.  Many  are of family who were gone before they were born.  Many are of me.

I am rapidly approaching my 75th birthday in September and with the coming of this milestone I’ve decided to document my life  in pictures.  So I am going to bore you with pictures of me and the major events of my life in chronological order, a few photos at a time from the stored boxes.

And thus my presence on this earth will be forever enshrined in the ether of the net world.

Doing my bit against Fascism – 1943

Cute boy!

August 30, 1945 – Almost 3!

Outside my home in Brooklyn

Outside of my maternal grandfather’s “latticini freschi” – his Italian dairy store.

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A Bullet of Change

So it’s June of 1967, fifty years ago this month.  Tampa, Florida is a bustling Southern town.

This town on the Gulf coast, not yet a major city,  is so different from Miami Beach and Ft. Lauderdale which were experiencing rapid growth with the influx of retiring New Yorkers.

No.  Tampa was still a Southern town with one exception.  While it was populated by typical Southern whites and blacks living apart and in separate worlds, it also had thousands of Cubans and Italians working in the major industry – making cigars.

My uncle Earnest Lafragola got a job with Havatampa Cigars when he got out of the Navy after the Korean war.

The immigrants too lived in their own world.  I mean, were they white people?  Southern whites didn’t quite think so; and the black community knew they weren’t black.  For the most part however the immigrants and blacks got along better than the immigrants and whites.

By 1967 there had been a number of major “race riots” in the United States and Lyndon Johnson, as a result passed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.

Notwithstanding, not much had changed.  Housing patterns were very much segregated and economic opportunity for minorities simply didn’t exist in the wider world.

The black community was self contained, trying to take care of its own in Tampa.  And the community revolved around Central Avenue.

The opening of the first library on Central Avenue

Central Avenue was a hub of more than 100 stores and restaurants within shouting distance of mainly white downtown. Its nightclubs and beer gardens drew some of the all-time-great blues, jazz and soul entertainers, including a young Ray Charles.  Central Avenue was the Harlem of the South complete with it’s own equivalent of  the Cotton Club.

Underneath, the fact that one sixth of Tampa’s 350,000 were black,  no African-Americans had ever served on the Tampa City Council, the local school board or the fire department; 55 percent of black men worked at unskilled jobs; and 60 percent of the housing for black people was deemed “unsound.”

One bullet would change all that – and Central Avenue as well.

Group of African-American ladies dining at the Central Hotel

It was early in the evening June 11, 1967 when, following a report of a burglary of a photo store, police spotted three young black men with the stolen goods. Police chased the suspects through the Central Park Village housing project.

The trio split up, leaving a trail of photo equipment valued at around $100.

One of the teens, Martin Chambers was shot in the back by a white police officer from  25 yards away.

Chambers, who was unarmed, died later at the hospital  .  Chambers’ last words: ‘Get me to a hospital, please, mister.’   He had a dime and a nickel in his pockets.

News of the shooting and death quickly spread and soon violence erupted in the Central Avenue corridor.   In Tampa, Chambers’ death was the trigger for the most destructive riot in the south.

“The days of rioting that followed his death seemed like they’d never end.”

On June 11, 1967, flames and looting erupted along Central Avenue, hub of the thriving African-American community that stretched from Ybor City to downtown.

The rioting lasted three days and it was weeks before calm was restored — with the help of courageous local youths who called themselves the White Hats.   Before the three days of rioting ended, 500 Florida National Guardsmen, 235 Florida Highway Patrol troopers and 250 local law enforcement officers had been called to duty.

The day after her son was shot, Janie Bell Chambers confronted Gov. Claude Kirk when he visited the riot scene. ‘Right must prevail, and justice must prevail,’ she told him. A few days later, Chambers collapsed when Hillsborough County State Attorney Paul Antinori said an inquiry had found the Officer was justified in shooting her son. Antinori’s seven-page report said ‘this was the only means to prevent the complete escape of Chambers.’

He had failed to stop on command.

The decline of Central Avenue began that night in June fifty years ago.  A decade later, Central Avenue was razed, largely because of the damage from the riots.

In the years immediately following the riots, African-Americans in Tampa enjoyed improved employment opportunities, joining the ranks of firefighters and the city attorney’s office.

The tragedy of Chamber’s death and the riots served as catalysts in opening more jobs and better housing to African Americans, according to local historian Fred Hearns, an East Tampa resident who was a freshman a the University of South Florida in 1967.

Still, Hearns said, despite the progress, conditions that led to the riots a half century ago remain prevalent today.

“I think racism is the number one problem that impacts progress of large groups of people,” said Hearns, who worked 33 years in the city’s Community Affairs department before retiring as its director in 2007.

“It’s still with us today.”

Young black men were nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed by police officers in 2015, according to the findings of a Guardian study that recorded a final tally of 1,134 deaths at the hands of law enforcement officers in 2015.

Despite making up only 2% of the total US population, African American males between the ages of 15 and 34 comprised more than 15% of all deaths logged that year by an ongoing investigation into the use of deadly force by police. Their rate of police-involved deaths was five times higher than for white men of the same age.

Paired with official government mortality data, this new finding indicates that about one in every 65 deaths of a young African American man in the US is a killing by police.

Riots continued in that long, hot Summer of 1967 – in Newark, Detroit and Cincinnati.  Lyndon Johnson established the Kerner Commission to investigate the causes and recommend corrective actions.

The report’s most famous passage warned, “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.”

While the 400+ page report became a best seller, Johnson ignored it.

As for Central Avenue, it was paved over by the Interstate.  But we put up a nice plaque.

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