Abstract: Robin Hoods to "just robbin'": Race, Violence, and Organized Crime in Chicago, 1945-1975

Will Cooley


In the 1940s and 1950s, Chicago's white organized crime syndicate forcibly removed black organized crime leaders and took over the illicit economy. Though blacks were employed in the informal sector, it was only as lower-echelon underlings. Many of Chicago's black residents deeply resented this situation, viewing it as another form of exploitation, and in the 1960s and 1970s, youth gangs emerged to re-take control of vice activities in Chicago's black communities. Yet when youth gangs such as the Rangers asserted themselves in the 1960s, the gangs' brazen methods alienated their communities and exacerbated tensions with law enforcement. This paper historicizes the rise of black street gangs by showing that when the lucrative informal economy was removed from black management in the 1950s, it also eliminated the experienced black organized crime figures who had cultivated a general community tolerance of their activities and developed indispensable political ties. When the next generation tried to reclaim the control of vice, they were bereft of crime mentors. The lack of mentorship impaired the development and maintenance of formal and informal businesses in black communities.