Black Street Gangs in Los Angeles: A History (excerpts from Territoriality Among African American Street Gangs in Los Angeles)
Black Street Gangs in Los Angeles: A History (excerpts from Territoriality Among African-American Street Gangs in Los Angeles)
by Alex A. Alonso
In Los Angeles and other urban areas in the United States, the formation of street gangs increased at an alarming pace throughout the 1980s and 1990s. The Bloods and the Crips, the most well-known gangs of Los Angeles, are predominately African American and they have steadily increased in number since their beginnings in 1969. In addition, there are approximately 600 Hispanic gangs in Los Angeles County with a growing Asian gang population numbering approximately 20,000 members.
Surprisingly, little has been written about the historical background of black gangs in Los Angeles (LA). Literature and firsthand interviews with Los Angeles residents seem to point to three significant periods relevant to the development of the contemporary black gangs. The first period, which followed WWII and significant black migrations from the South, is when the first major black clubs formed. After the Watts rebellion of 1965, the second period gave way to the civil rights period of Los Angeles where blacks, including those who where former club members who became politically active for the remainder of the 1960s. By the early 1970s black street gangs began to reemerge. By 1972, the Crips were firmly established and the Bloods were beginning to organize. This period saw the rise of LA?s newest gangs, which continued to grow during the 1970s, and later formed in several other cities throughout the United States by the 1990s. While black gangs do not make up the largest or most active gang population in Los Angeles today, their influence on street gang culture nationally has been profound.
In order to better understand the rise of these groups, I went into the original neighborhoods to document the history which led to these groups. There are 88 incorporated cities and dozens of other unincorporated places in Los Angeles County (LAC). In the process of conducting this research, I visited all of these places in an attempt to not just identify gangs active in Los Angeles, but to determine their territories. Through several weeks of field work and research conducted in 1996, I identified 274 black gangs in 17 cities and four unincorporated areas in LAC.
Post WWII to 1965
The first major period of black gangs in Los Angeles began in the late 1940s and ended in 1965. There were black gangs in Los Angeles prior to this period, but they were small in numbers; little is known about the activity of these groups. Some of the black groups that existed in Los Angeles in the late 1920s and 1930s were the Boozies, Goodlows, Blogettes, Kelleys, and the Driver Brothers. Most of these groups were family oriented, and they referred to themselves as clubs. Max Bond (1936:270) wrote briefly about a black gang of 15-year-old kids from the Central Avenue area that mostly stole automobile accessories and bicycles. It was not until the late 1940s that the first major black clubs surfaced on the East side of Los Angeles near Jefferson High School in the Central Avenue area. This was the original settlement area of blacks in Los Angeles. South of 92nd Street in Watts and in the Jefferson Park/West Adams area on the West side, there were significant black populations. By 1960 several black clubs were operating on the West side of Los Angeles, an area that had previously restricted black residents during the 1940s.
Several of the first black clubs to emerge in the late 1940s and early 1950s formed initially as a defensive reaction to combat much of the white violence that had been plaguing the black community for several years. In the surrounding communities of the original black ghetto of Central Avenue and Watts, and in the cities of Huntington Park and South Gate, white Angelenos were developing a dissatisfaction for the growing black population that was migrating from the South during WWII. During the 1940s, resentment from the white community grew as several blacks challenged the legal housing discrimination laws that prevented them from purchasing property outside the original settlement neighborhoods and integrate into the public schools. Areas outside of the original black settlement of Los Angeles were neighborhoods covered by legally enforced, racially restrictive covenants or deed restrictions. This practice, adapted by white homeowners, was established in 1922 and was designed to maintain social and racial homogeneity of neighborhoods by denying non-whites access to property ownership.
By the 1940s, such exclusionary practices made much of Los Angeles off-limits to most minorities (Bond 1936; Davis 1990:161,273; Dymski and Veitch 1996:40). This process contributed to increasing homogeneity of communities in Los Angeles, further exacerbating racial conflict between whites and blacks, as the latter existed in mostly segregated communities. From 1940 to 1944, there was over a 100 percent increase in the black population of Los Angeles, and ethnic and racial paranoia began to develop among white residents. Chronic overcrowding was taking a toll, and housing congestion became a serious problem, as blacks were forced to live in substandard housing (Collins 1980:26). From 1945-1948, black residents continually challenged restrictive covenants in several court cases in an effort to move out of the dense, overcrowded black community. These attempts resulted in violent clashes between whites and blacks (Collins 1980:30). The Ku Klux Klan resurfaced during the 1940s, 20 years after their presence faded during the late 1920s (Adler 1977; Collins 1980), and white youths were forming street clubs to battle integration of the community and schools of black residents.
In Huntington Park, Bell, and South Gate, towns that were predominately white, teenagers formed some of the early street clubs during the 1940s. One of the most infamous clubs of that time was the Spook Hunters, a group of white teenagers that often attacked black youths. If blacks were seen outside of the black settlement area, which was roughly bounded by Slauson to the South, Alameda Avenue to the east, and Main Street to the west, they were often attacked. The name of this club emphasized their racist attitude towards blacks, as Spook Hunters is a derogatory term used to identify blacks and ?Hunters? highlighted their desire to attack blacks as their method of fighting integration and promoting residential segregation. Their animosity towards blacks was publicly known; the back of their club jackets displayed an animated black face with exaggerated facial features and a noose hanging around the neck. The Spook Hunters would often cross Alameda traveling west to violently attack black youths from the area. In Thrasher’s study of Chicago gangs, he observed a similar white gang in Chicago during the 1920s, the Dirty Dozens, who often attacked black youths with knives, blackjacks, and revolvers because of racial differences (Thrasher 1963:37). Raymond Wright was one of the founders of a black club called the Businessmen, a large East side club based at South Park between Slauson Avenue and Vernon Avenue. He stated that, “you couldn?’t pass Alameda, because those white boys in South Gate would set you on fire,? and fear of attack among black youths was not, surprisingly, common. In 1941, white students at Fremont High School threatened blacks by burning them in effigy and displaying posters saying, ?we want no niggers at this school? (Bunch 1990: 118). There were racial confrontations at Manual Arts High School on Vermont and 42nd Street, and at Adams High School during the 1940s (Davis 1990:293). In 1943, conflicts between blacks and whites occurred at 5th and San Pedro Streets, resulting in a riot on Central Avenue (Bunch 1990:118). white clubs in Inglewood, Gardena, and on the West side engaged in similar acts, but the Spook Hunters were the most violent of all white clubs in Los Angeles.
The black youths in Aliso Village, a housing project in East Los Angeles, started a club called the Devil Hunters in response to the Spook Hunters and other white clubs that were engaging in violent confrontations with blacks. The term “Devil” reflected how blacks viewed racist whites and Ku Klux Klan members. The Devil Hunters and other black residents fought back against white violence with their own form of violence. In 1944, nearly 100 frustrated black youths, who were denied jobs on the city?s streetcar system, attacked a passing streetcar and assaulted several white passengers (Collins 1980: 29). During the late 1940s and early 1950s, other neighborhood clubs emerged to fight the white establishment. Members of the Businessmen and other black clubs had several encounters with the Spook Hunters and other white clubs of the time.
For the complete history visit: http://www.streetgangs.com/features/041610_black_los_angeles