Imperial Chaplins
Imperial Chaplins

Imperial Chaplins

Founded Founded c. 1948 in or near Near West Side
Affiliations Give details
Colors Black, Red, and Gold
Color usage As Imperial Chaplains it is unknown, early 1970s to present black and gold, black and red 1978-present
Primary ethnicities African American
Symbols Give details
Status Inactive

Black southerners had been migrating to the Near West Side for decades before the 1940s but migration picked up in the early 1940s and blacks began migrating heavier into the Maxwell Street Market area right by the famous Maxwell Street Market along Halsted Street.  By the later 1940s the black population of the neighborhood had grown quite significant and many more black children wanted to frequent Stanford Park that used to be located at 14th Place and Union.  Stanford Park was a highly coveted Park that offered several recreational activities for neighborhood youth since 1907.  There were parks, a pool and even pitchs to play sports.  This was one of the first parks in the city and was cherished by many west siders.  This was also a park loved by hoodlums and street toughs since it opened.  Throughout the decades of the first half of the twentieth century different ethnic groups would fight over the park.  The Italians and Irish loved to keep the Jews out of the park and Jewish youths often had to knuckle up to fight their way in.  The park was located right in between Little Italy and Maxwell Street Market area so there was for sure rivalry there.

By the 1940s, as the black population of the Near West Side grew, more and more blacks began to occupy the park much to the dismay of Italian and Irish youths.  By the late 1940s, black residents made Stanford Park a pillar of their social activities.  In the minds of the Italians and the Irish it looked like a take over of the blacks of their beloved park.  This was common all over the city in later years where whites would feel threatened or angered seeing their parks and pools filled with blacks and just like what happened to the Jews in previous decades the blacks would have to fight to use the park.  Different social athletic clubs would fight one another after baseball matches or basketball games until they evolved into something similar to gangs.  The same could be said about the boys near Stanford Park.  The black social athletic clubs would evolve into gangs as they fought the Italian or Irish athletic clubs for the park.  The most notorious of the black clubs were the Clovers of 14th and Halsted and the Imperial Chaplains of Maxwell and Halsted to Roosevelt.  These two clubs fought the Irish and Italians and were allies in the late 1940s but by the early 1950s they began fighting each other.

In the year 1950, the Loomis Courts projects were constructed and Imperial Chaplains and Clovers moved into these buildings and took control.

As the Grace Abbott public housing projects opened in the Near West Side neighborhood in 1952, Chaplains and Clovers moved into these buildings, simultaneously, Chaplains and Clovers were also moving into the Jane Addams projects as those projects were now starting to allow blacks to move into the older section.  Both gangs were taking over the ABLA housing projects and were the first to run “The Village.”

In the year 1951, members of the Imperial Chaplains and 14th Street Clovers settled in the North Lawndale neighborhood as many Jewish residents moved out of the area. The Chaplains made 16th and Homan down the 16th and Trumbull as their main stronghold. The rivalries between Clovers and Chaplains would now carry over onto these streets.  Although their rivalry kicked off in the early 1950s they were not a completely wild bunch.  Many of times Clovers and Chaplains had to focus on fighting off invading gangs and other hate groups coming from nearby South Lawndale that invaded the neighborhood looking for blacks.  The Chaplains made 16th and Homan down the 16th and Trumbull as their main stronghold.  The rivalries between Clovers and Chaplains would now carry over onto these streets.

In the year 1954, a group broke away from the Chaplains in Maxwell Street Market area that took on the name “Egyptian Cobras.”  The Cobras had their own idea of how to handle issues black youths faced in the neighborhood and the Cobras seemed to have a more violent and extreme approach.

By 1955, more gangs began breaking away from the Chaplains causing a major gang war on the streets of North Lawndale and Maxwell Street Market area which prompted many more members of this mostly Jewish community to leave the neighborhood, the Chaplains still continued to grow despite losing members to other gangs, the newer members were Junior Chaplains.  The Egyptian Cobras also colonized North Lawndale in the Filmore District at 14th and Kedvale.

In The mid 1950s, Chaplains began to spread around the west side heavily as they settled deeply into the Near West Side neighborhood.  Chaplains also steam rolled into West Garfield Park and East Garfield Park and could even be found in the Cabrini Green high rise projects as they opened up in 1955, Clovers would also join them there.

In the year 1957, the Henry Horner public housing projects opened their doors for the first time and Imperial Chaplains made their way into these buldings as did their rivals the Egyptian Cobras and 14th Street Clovers.  Clovers, Chaplains and Egyptian Cobras were the first to dominate Henry Horner projects.

By 1957, the Chicago police had identified and targeted the Chaplains and Clovers and began arresting several members of many gangs in the neighborhood.  Many of the boys were taken to the Illinois Youth Center in St. Charles to serve out sentences.  It was in this facility where Edwin Perry got together with 6 other youths to create the Vice Lords. Two of the youths “Wren” and Maurice Calloway were members of the Imperial Chaplains and Edwin Perry tried to join but “Big John” of the Chaplains wouldn’t let him (Source: A Nation of Lords: The Autobiography of the Vice Lords, Second Edition).

In the fall of 1958 when the Vice Lords hit the streets of North Lawndale they aggressively attempted a complete takeover of the whole North Lawndale neighborhood, rivals like the Imperial Chaplains stood in their way.  The Imperials were still in very large numbers in the hundreds by 1959, and the Vice Lords had a personal vendetta to settle against them.  Edwin Perry was enraged that ‘Bow Chest” of the Chaplains had slapped a Vice Lady in the face and now Perry wanted to chop the arm off that Bow Chest slapped her with and bring it back as a trophy basically.  One Friday night Pep and the Vice Lords found out Bow Chest and several Chaplains were gathering at the Central Park Theater (3531-39 W. Roosevelt Road).  The Vice Lords marched down there and started a big brawl with the Chaplains.  In the midst of the fight the Vice Lords and Perry pinned Bow Chest down and slowly began cutting his arm off with a blade.  They severed his arm halfway before the police intervened.  When Perry went to prison for cutting Bow Chest’s arm nearly off word got around the facility and all the Imperial Chaplains incarcerated flipped to Vice Lords, this severely declined their numbers.  (Source: A Nation of Lords: The Autobiography of the Vice Lords, Second Edition).

By 1960, the Chaplains were losing numbers badly especially after the Vice Lords flipped most of their incarcerated members.  It appeared the gang was about to go extinct until they revitalized themselves on 16th Street in 1961 and began recruiting very well again.

In 1961, the Vice Lords kept beating up Egyptian Cobras and Imperial Chaplains anytime they saw them on the streets wearing their sweaters.  Vice Lords stripped the sweaters saving up a few hundred of them until they crashed a party that Cobras and Chaplains were throwing.  All the Vice Lords were wearing the sweaters disguising themselves as Cobras and Chaplains until all of a sudden, they started beating on actual Cobras and Chaplains.  The Vice Lords shot out the ceiling lights with shotguns and threw their jukebox down the stairs.  Of course, because of all the sweaters it was hard to tell who was who but Vice Lords ordered actual Cobras and Chaplains to move over in one area but no one moved and this is when Cobras and Chaplains never wore the sweaters again.  Vice Lords were known for crashing rival gang parties and beating everyone up in sight while kicking out their windows, this was all strategies to terrorize and intimidate other gangs in the area and caused them all to shrink in size (Source: A Nation of Lords: The Autobiography of the Vice Lords, Second Edition)

By the Autumn of 1961, Imperial Chaplains finally gave in and became Vice Lords, however, they wanted their own branch that they called “Imperial Vice Lords.”

In the year 1971, the Imperial Vice Lords landed in the Austin neighborhood at Chicago Avenue and Austin Avenue.  In this community the Imperial Vice Lords met another Vice Lord branch led by Bennie Lee called the “Insane Vice Lords” from Madison Street and Cicero Avenue and the two branches became close.  In the year 1975 the leader of the Insane Vice Lords Bennie Lee was incarcerated and leadership of the Imperial Vice Lords was also no longer existent, it was at this point that both IVL gangs came together to form the “Imperial Insane Vice Lords,” and there was a new leader of this Vice Lord group Sidney “Don Sid” “Prince Symphony Sid” “Prince Shy Ku Auton” Hughes that led the organization and personally oversaw all operations in the Grace Abbott IIVL buildings until 1982 when he was convicted of rape charges.  Afterward Mathew “DJ” Williams took over as the leader of all operations for 20 years.  Under Williams’ leadership the IIVLs grew incredibly on the west side of Chicago mainly in Austin neighborhood and the public housing projects on the west side.  Williams also opted to allow all races into the organization in 1985 when the Vice Lord nation bestowed that option on all branches.  The IIVLs opened operations in the north side neighborhoods of Uptown and Albany Park in the 1980s and 1990s.  The IIVLs also opened on the south side at 71st and Jeffery in the South Shore neighborhood and they also opened in the suburbs of Elgin and Joliet.

The Imperial Insane Vice Lords still operate in large numbers presently; therefore, the spirit of the Imperial Chaplains is still alive with the IIVL organization.  This is the story of how IIVLs became so strong in the Henry Horner projects and the entire ABLA housing projects, because they were rooted in these buildings as Imperial Chaplains as far back as the 1943.  The Vice Lords ended up having a strong presence in Cabrini Green for the same reason, once the high rises were built the Chaplains moved in.

Near West Side neighborhood Established 1949-1960

Halsted & Maxwell Established 1949-1960


Please send in 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and 1970s pics!


  1. Who was the founder of the Chaplains and what happened to him?
  2. Who were the Chaplain leaders from the 40s to 1961 and what years were they in charge?
  3. Who was the first Imperial Vice Lord leader and what happened to him?
  4. What year did the north side sections open?
  5. What year did 71st and Jeffery open?
  6. What year did Elgin open?
  7. What year did Joliet open?