In the spring of 1960, April 19 to be precise, some boys were playing basketball in the Williamsburg projects. It was 3:30 p.m. on a Tuesday. Perhaps the boys were playing a game right after being let out of school. The game was being played on Humboldt and Ten Eyck Streets which intersected near the middle of the projects. While the boys were playing, some visitors came by and they weren’t there for a friendly visit.
One of the boys was black 17-year-old Fred Bronson, a member of a gang called the El Quintos. He had a dark brown complexion, was 5’5″ tall and weighed 140 pounds. He had a round face with symmetrical features with a little fuzz of hair on his lip and some chin whiskers. His face adorned some small scars, the results of some childhood accidents. His small right finger was broken during a baseball game. Bronson lived on Siegel Street, some ten blocks away, so it was apparent that he and his friends were looking for trouble. One didn’t just trespass into other neighborhoods without expecting trouble. At least that was the case in New York City in the 1950s.
Bronson and his pals stood watching the basketball game for a few moments. One of the boys who was playing was Stuart Mann, 16 who lived on 169 Ten Eyck Walk, very nearby. Mann was not affiliated with any gangs, unlike Bronson. He was a dedicated high school senior, a mathematics major with academic interests and a peaceful person, not known to be aggressive.
As Mann was playing the game, and came near the perimeter of the play area, Bronson stopped him and asked if he was a member of a gang. Mann abruptly turned and said no, then continued with the game. All of a sudden, Bronson walked up to Mann, who was facing the other direction, with his back turned, and stabbed him in the back with a knife. Bronson then fled the scene of the assault. The next day, a Housing policeman (there were two police forces, one force for the precinct and one force for the various housing projects in the city), arrested Bronson at his home and booked him on assault charges. When asked why he assaulted Mann, Bronson said that he had never seen him before on the street and stabbed him because he “did not like his face.” Bronson then refused to give a further explanation.
Who was Fred Bronson? Bronson was a Brooklyn-born only child who lived with both his parents on 258 Seigel Street, in a five room apartment in an apartment house. This area of Brooklyn was poor and had a mixed population of blacks and Puerto Ricans. The housing in this area was considered a slum. His parents were married in 1941, both having family roots in South Carolina. His Mom was an operator in a skirts and slacks factory and his father was usually employed as a chauffeur, although at the time of the assault was working at an electronics company. Bronson didn’t have any abnormal childhood sicknesses or diseases and always lived with his Mom and Dad. He went to school like any other kid, attending P.S. 147 and then J.H.S. 49 where he graduated from. He was an average student with satisfactory marks for attendance, conduct and scholarship. It was when he began attending Eli Whitney Vocational High School that he began to change. He was just passing his academic record, but when it came to his behaviour, the school had several reports of problems. Twice he got caught drinking liquor at school. As he got deeper into his teen years he became involved in the El Quintos gang and compiled a reputation and record.
Police knew him to be a member of the El Quintos gang, although Bronson denied he was. However, this was most certainly a lie, an attempt at self-preservation. The fact Bronson asked Mann if he was in a gang before stabbing him, is telling. His past history gives evidence of his gang activities. On January 21, 1959, Bronson and seven others were preparing for a gang rumble when they were picked up by police. On March 21, 1960, Bronson and some other youths were apprehended on Moore Street between Leonard Street and Manhattan Avenue. They were armed with radio antennas and ashcans for the purpose of assault. Less than two weeks before Bronson stabbed Mann in the back, he was “acting in concert” with 11 other boys on Boerum Street and Bushwick Avenue. They were horsing around, using “loud and boisterous language,” and were preventing pedestrians from using the sidewalk.
A little over a month after Fred was arrested for stabbing Stuart Mann in the back (he spent two days in the hospital to recover from his injury), he was back at it again. On May 29, 1960, at about 6:00 p.m. on Varet Street and Graham Avenue, Bronson took a violent hold of Angel Santiago by putting his arm around Angel’s throat and cutting his right cheek with a knife. Bronson was arrested for this and charged with Assault in the 3rd degree, but in the end the case was dismissed. This is the last we hear of Bronson, nothing further on the record.
Sometimes I wonder whatever happened to Fred, Angel and Stuart and how their lives turned out.