Egyptian Cobras
Egyptian Cobras

Egyptian Cobras

Founded Founded in 1954 in or near Near West Side
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Primary ethnicities African American
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Status Extinct

I first off want to clarify, this organization has nothing to do with the Mickey Cobras.  The Mickey Cobras were not birthed from this organization, they have almost nothing to do with each other despite what legends say.

Legend has it that the Egyptian Cobras broke away from the Imperial Chaplains street gang that traces all the way back to 1948 in the Maxwell Street Market section of the Near West Side neighborhood.  The name “Egyptian Cobras” was chosen because the black Egyptian Cobra snake is the most dangerous snake in the world that has venom that can kill quickly.  The Egyptian Cobra dominated Africa and is the most common deadly snake in the continent.  The Egyptian Cobra is also known to appear in other continents around the world including North America.  This snake is also known to be the largest sized venomous snake in Africa.  Not only was this name chosen because of the deadly and dominating nature of the reptile itself but also because in ancient Egyptian culture the Egyptian Cobra snake was an iconic symbol in Egyptian mythology and was the symbol of sovereignty of the pharaohs.

The breakaway happened at the intersection of Halsted Street and Maxwell Street in the year 1954 in the Near West Side community, on the same corners that the Champlains operated at on Halsted Street from Maxwell up to Roosevelt resulting in a rivalry.  The founder of the Cobras may have been James Cogwell (Not Mickey Cogwell) or perhaps it was Arthur “Fox” williams, or maybe even Walter Caffey.

The Egyptian Cobras, just like the Imperial Chaplains, were not created to be a “gang.”  Just like the original purpose of the Imperial Chaplains, the Cobras were created as a social group that also stuck up for the mistreatment of fellow black residents on the west side of Chicago as they were treated like second class citizens.  What differed between Chaplains and Cobras is that Cobras were more vocal and extreme than the Chaplains, thus, what led to a fracturing in 1954.  Any positive activities the Cobras may have done for the black community are lost in history as this organization was not reported in the newspapers until they started acting bad by 1958.

In the mid-1950s racial clashing between whites and blacks intensified in the Near West Side community as white Italian gangs like the Taylor Dukes took formation and Hispanic groups like Ambrose and Imperials took formation.  There were tight boundaries and blacks were not allowed to walk on several different streets even if they needed to travel from one spot to another to get what was needed.  This is what led to the creation of the Egyptian Cobras.

Starting in 1955, North Lawndale became economically depressed as white flight now was running it’s course in full swing closing businesses and allowing predatory landlords to buy several buildings and rent them out without maintenance, thus, making them slumlords.  As more poor black southerners arrived in the neighborhood they soon fell into the trap of being rented out apartments by these predatory landlords that did not set the example of how to properly maintain these tenement apartments causing these buildings to fall into disarray and dropping the value of the whole community making North Lawndale the next black ghetto.

Back on Halsted Street the Cobras battled Italian gangs like the Taylor Street Dukes and the two gangs became bitter enemies. If any members of the Cobras could afford it they purchased black sweaters with a cobra snake emblem on it.

By 1957, Egyptian Cobras were now in a negative spot light by the city officials and the police.  Much of this resulted in many frustrated members acting out violently as other gangs tried their hand at dominance on the streets.  During the 1957 to 1958 Chicago police sweeps of North Lawndale the Cobras were the second most targeted group besides the Clovers as several members were arrested, beaten and tortured by Chicago police.  The Clovers especially were targeted by these sweeps and these sweeps single handed destroyed much of the Clover’s power allowing the Egyptian Cobras to gain the upper hand on the west side by 1958.

In the year 1958, the Egyptian Cobras became the dominating gang in North Lawndale as they now swelled into the hundreds in size.

As the later 50s progressed it seemed as if the Cobras put most of their focus into North Lawndale as their numbers seemed to decline in the Maxwell Street area by 1960.  According to another May 8, 1960 newspaper article, the Cobras only had 54 members left in the Maxwell Street Market area.

Even a case of Cobras beating one of their own in Maxwell Street Market area made the news in August of 1960 where leaders were even arrested and charged with the crime. What wasn’t highlighted in this story is the fact that Jake Jones, the young man they beat to death had just raped a 14 year old girl and this was a violation beating.  This is the gang taking justice into their own hands on a rapist which is usually a crime that people despise and love hearing about vigilante justice but since this was a gang doing the beating and it was a gang of black men doing it, everyone ignored the justifiable reason for the beating and scorned the Cobras more.

The rivalry the Cobras had with the Vice Lords was legendary as Vice Lord conquests wiped out most North Lawndale gangs but they couldn’t remove the Cobras.  The Cobras ran the K-Town area of North Lawndale on the west side of Pulaski. In the early 1960s it was just these two gangs that dominated the neighborhood.

In the summer of 1964, Egyptian Cobras, Vice Lords and Roman Saints on the west side all called a truce as now all three organizations worked toward bettering themselves and their west side communities.  This truce would last into the early 1970s.  After this truce many older Cobras partook in positive community actions as they worked with charities and worked on neighborhood cleanup programs.

Just like the Vice Lords the Cobras struggled to keep members in line and prevent many from committing violent crimes and engaging in gang wars.  Cobras would often get involved in protest about racial injustices but sometimes the protests were misunderstood and taken in a different and violent direction by younger members a good example was the 1968 incident in North Lawndale.  The Cobras became angry over the death of “Crazy Baby” that was killed by a white police officer.  Five members of both the Egyptian Cobras and Soul Brothers gangs targeted a white woman living at 14th and Keeler.  According to court documents in the case of People vs. Montgomery in 1972, the boys stormed Marie Smrz’s home forcing the door open by breaking the glass then they demanded money.  When Smrz said she had no money they proceeded to beat her violently then poured alcohol on her then set her on fire.  Apparently the motive for the crime was to get revenge on a white person by killing them.  The plan was said to have been put together by Walter “Maniac” Montgomery who was the one that first stormed the house, he was convicted of murder. (Sources: People vs. Montgomery, 1972 and A Report on Chicago Crime, 1966, Chicago Crime Commission). Other than this negative action in 1968 from the west side Cobras, many of the older Egyptian Cobras were involved in positive community relations in collaboration with the Vice Lords.  Just like the Vice Lords Cobras were creating job training programs and opening legit businesses, the Cobras were also politically active in the late 60s.  There were still hundreds of members in North Lawndale in the late 1960s.

The beginning of the end for the Egyptian Cobras began in the early 1970s when the federal government began indictments of gang leaders of the Vice Lords, Egyptian Cobras and Roman Saints in 1971 for mismanagement of government funds.  The actions of a few caused leadership to take the heat.  The Egyptian Cobras were then left with not much guidance as they shrunk in size.  Sometime in the mid-1970s the Egyptian Cobras ceased to exist.