East Orange honors first black fire captain with street renaming

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EAST ORANGE, NJ — Mayor Ted Green and the East Orange City Council designated the corner of South Clinton Street and Elmwood Avenue, across from Fire House 5 as Robert Slaughter Square on July 15. The ceremonial street renaming honors the legacy of retired Fire Capt. Robert Slaughter, a well-respected public servant and the first black fire captain in the city of East Orange.

Family, friends and local public officials gathered to pay tribute to Slaughter, who also served as special chief in charge of public relations and fire safety. During his nearly 30-year tenure, Slaughter was instrumental in the founding of the International Association of Black Professional Firefighters and the Firefighters League Advocating Minority Equality; in 1969, he was elected president of the Vulcan Pioneers of New Jersey.

“I’m honored to give a gentleman like Mr. Slaughter his flowers while he is still here,” Green said. “This street renaming is to serve as a reminder for all of our young people that visit this corner so they can remember the esteemed legacy Capt. Slaughter left in the city of East Orange.”

Fifth Ward Councilman Mustafa Brent, who is also a fire captain in the city of Newark, reminded attendees about the hardships Slaughter had to endure as a black firefighter at the height of the civil rights movement, when segregation still existed throughout the nation.

“Mr. Slaughter was a firefighter in a time where they used to send black firefighters home because they didn’t want them working in a firehouse because it was an all-European crew,” Brent said. “I want all to understand the gravity of not just being a firefighter at that time, but (what it took) to elevate to captain and retire as (special) chief.”

East Orange Fire Chief Andre Williams echoed Brent’s sentiments, referring to the turbulent time Slaughter had to navigate and how it paved the way for Williams and the rest of the East Orange Fire Division, which is predominantly black and reflective of the current city population.

“Robert Slaughter came on the job in 1961 — that’s before most of us could even vote. It was not easy to be a firefighter anywhere in this country in 1961 as a black man,” Williams said. “What he endured, he endured it for us to stand here today and wear this uniform. Understand that without him, I wouldn’t be standing here. He is a pioneer that fought for equality for African American firefighters.”

Before the new street sign was unveiled, Slaughter spoke to the audience of more than 50 people, which included many retired and current East Orange firefighters.

“I thank everyone for showing up and showing appreciation. I thank everyone that chooses to be a fireman — it wasn’t like that at one time. Thank you for showing up,” Slaughter said.

Slaughter retired with distinction after 29 years of service.

Photos Courtesy of Precious Osagie-Erese