From the intersection of Chicago Avenue and Orleans then heading west to the intersection of Chicago Avenue and Austin Avenue
|Gangs headquartered||Black P Stones, Gangster Disciples, Vice Lords, Four Corner Hustlers,|
From Lake Shore Drive to Austin Boulevard the Chicago Avenue corridor has obtained notoriety often only known to those that call Chicago area home. From the towering corporate skyscrapers in the downtown Near North Side community along East Chicago Avenue to Cabrini Green to the neighborhoods of West Town, Humboldt Park, and Austin along West Chicago Avenue much legend has been birthed over the decades on the Avenue named after the very city this street resides. This is the self-titled Avenue comparative to any music artist that has a self-titled album in their discography. Publications are scarce if not completely non-existent about this legendary Avenue as many of writers and historians have never needed to pronounce any significance with this corridor, yet thousands of people pour onto this popular Avenue daily as traffic is the most intense along Lake Shore Drive intersecting with Chicago Avenue. My purpose is not to provide you a fluffy fun article about Chicago Avenue’s history to fill a missing void from a lack of Chicago Avenue articles in existence but to instead share with you the infamous dark side of this often seemingly cursed Avenue.
I have not been unable to find any good history about the paving, naming and wonderful historical events surrounding this Avenue’s history but then again that isn’t my place anyway, this is about gang history.
Chicago Avenue begins as E. Chicago Avenue at the intersection with the bustling Lake Shore Drive. During normal day time hours this is the busiest part of Lake Shore Drive. On many days there can often be minimal traffic along Lake Shore Drive but once one arrives at the stop light at Lake Shore Dr and Chicago Avenue there is always almost some traffic at this intersection. Chicago Avenue is a less known about main vein cutting through the downtown area but at the same time the Avenue is often talked about by Chicagoans and tourists alike but not enough for books and articles to be written more regularly. The biggest reason why Chicago Ave and Lake Shore Drive is so popular for motorists is because it is the only point of entry into the downtown area via Lake Shore Drive north of the Chicago River when traveling north bound. The lonely exit is the easiest way to access the Near North Side community which then leads to shopping, corporate offices, downtown area landmarks etc…Even when traveling south bound there is not much option for exits into the Near North Side except for Ohio Street exit which does ease down traffic a tad along the south bound corridor. The Near North Side is a very important part of Chicago as it is the site of fine dining, elegant shopping, the John Hancock Tower and even the Northwestern University School of Medicine. The intersection of Chicago Avenue and Lake Shore Drive is the place to be when traveling the Lake Shore Drive main vein as it is the point of entry into the many downtown spots. This is where the long trip down this legendary Avenue begins that runs all the way into the Melrose Park suburb.
Most of the earliest history of Chicago Avenue begins a little later than the earliest settlement years of Chicago’s history. As the Near North Side community came into fruition in the 1830s most of the settlement was closer to the Chicago River and especially some of the earliest organized crime and gangs haunted the river area including the infamous “Sands” of the 1850s. The Near North Side was a cultural melting pot of several different European ethnic groups over the decades and this community once housed many impoverished Chicagoans. One notable group was some of Chicago’s first Puerto Rican migrants that moved along this notorious corridor in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s in the area or Chicago Avenue and Clark Street. In this area there were several often blighted and affordable apartments that migrant workers could live in as they served the restaurant and hotel industries of downtown. These families were some of the last lower income families that resided in the downtown area for the most part as most of the Near North Side became unaffordable for families below upper middle-class status.
The first terror of The Avenue
As scores of poverty stricken Irish and German immigrants settled the Goose Island and western Near North Side community areas in the 1840s and 1850s an impoverished and desperate culture developed. These many impoverished families built shantytowns in the dirt and mud as they took up employment in the dirty industrial factories in the surrounding area. Soon this part of the city became shunned as Chicago’s elites looked at this place as a home of misery and a place to avoid altogether. Many people in this community area took to a life of crime often running with gangs to get a bite to eat. These streets became so tough that one had to become tough to adapt to living on these streets. This area housed some of the hardest and most dangerous Chicago criminals. The police were too terrified to patrol these streets and thanks to a lack of city interest they could get away with refusing patrol. This became the makings of “Little Hell” which became one the most notorious ghettos on Earth. Although Chicago Avenue is not directly synonymous with this portion of the city it served as an invisible divider between Little Hell and the more prestigious River North community area. Shopping, elegant mansions and office buildings were common site in River North in the 19th century while north of Chicago Avenue was a dirty, poverty stricken, and dangerous ghetto. River North was patrolled by police and well-kept while Little Hell was shunned and suffocated of city resources left victim to neglect and rot as families lived under the terror of criminals.
This nightmare of a community continued well into the 20th century until the city unhatched a master plan to bulldoze this long-standing ghetto that had now become mostly Italian and replace it with public housing projects. During the 1940s into the early 1960s the razing of this land persisted until Little Hell was completely eradicated by 1965 and fully replaced by the notorious Cabrini Green public housing projects.
During the construction years of Cabrini Green from 1942 through 1961 the projects were an ideal place to live. Italian, Puerto Rican and black families lined up during these years desperate to become part of this new, clean and safe public housing community. This was a dream come true for these hard-working families, but the dream would fade beginning in 1965 and by 1968 the Cabrini Green projects had completely become a living hell. It soon became apparent this was just a ghetto built on top of another ghetto. Once the Housing Authority started moving in under class income types that could not pay actual rent the Housing Authority experienced a financial drain and could no longer afford to upkeep the buildings leaving them to fall into neglect and high crime. Once again, the same social and economic issues that once plagued Little Hell now plagued Cabrini area. By the late 60s most of the paying two income families moved out of Cabrini Green in a phenomenon known as “black flight.”
As the neighborhood changed from mostly Italian to mostly black racial conflicts ensued that centered around Chicago Avenue. Once again Chicago Avenue was a divider between a population of hardened black gangs from Cabrini Green and hardened white gangs from the Chicago Avenue area. The greaser white gangs eventually formed The CORPS which consisted of several greaser groups that came together in the later 60s to fight back against Cabrini Green crime and gang activity. Legendary brawls ensued on these mean streets especially after the last of the white youths formed The CORPS which was one of the toughest greaser squads one can imagine and they were Chicago Avenue lovers until they packed up and left with the rest of the whites in 1975.
Since the late 1960s Cabrini Green became a nightmare with murders, violence, gang activity and squalid unlivable conditions. Many residents lived in terror and suffered the effects of living in a gang warfare zone. Crack cocaine and heroin was pushed into the millions of dollars in profit through the decades as these buildings became one of the most talked about best sources for obtaining drugs.
Chicago Avenue was the main vein suburbanites and city travelers would use to enter downtown from Lakeshore Drive. Chicago Avenue also served as the main vein for suburbanites to travel when they wanted their fix of Cabrini Green’s rich drug trade. This went on from the later 1960s until the beginning of the 2010s decade. I recall as a youth hearing many stories from peers about their late-night adventures to these projects. Many times, they told these stories with great humor poking fun at the people living in these buildings. Many of these suburban youths wanted to fuel up for a party and had no marijuana, cocaine or even crack cocaine connections but they could count on that cruise down Chicago Avenue to the projects often late at night that would always produce results. The Gangster Disciples roamed along and near Chicago Avenue and could guide curious Naperville, Oak Brook, Downers Grove etc… suburban youths on where to get the best dope. Many of youths partied the night away at swanky, high-priced downtown nightclubs that once dotted the streets of the Near North Side in the 1990s and 2000s then they would stop near Chicago Avenue to get a late-night taste of something powerful to keep dancing the night away at a late-night house party or chill out with a joint. After the nervous bunch would get their product and head back to the burbs, they spent the rest of the weekend and part of the early next week telling their tales about surviving a brief drive up in the notorious Cabrini Green projects that began at Chicago Avenue. The cheap jokes and giggles could be heard among them as they poked fun at disheveled homeless moving about. They joked about the trash lining the streets near these buildings and would laugh at the women hauling scores of children in a hurry through the streets as they avoided possible sniper gun fire. They joked about the fierce bickering of derelicts or two women in a heated exchange on these streets as the poverty and dysfunction became a source of humor for these privileged youths. Often as they would pull into these projects looking to score their fix, the smart-ass sarcasm could be written all over their faces and an occasional smirk told the street-smart people of Cabrini that these customers thought little of them. It then became the people of Cabrini’s time for fun as they put on an act of craziness and rage which would scare the dickens out of these kids and make them high tail it in their Eddy Bauers right back to the burbs. Now the people of Cabrini would get their laugh as they never meant any harm, but the joke was to make these brats believe they were in great danger. Chase them and taunt them down Chicago Avenue as they fled for Lake Shore Drive as the laughter would erupt at the expense of these sons and daughters of privilege.
The legends of Chicago Avenue started here beginning at Chicago Avenue and Orleans Street intersection until the Near North Side boundaries came to a terminus. Then begins a new Chicago Avenue story the further west one travels.
1962: The race wars begin
The craziness of Chicago Avenue began in 1962 when Puerto Rican migration shifted west down Chicago Avenue arriving in the West Town and Humboldt Park areas of the city. Puerto Rican people were forcefully evicted from their houses and apartments during a large urban renewal drive that began in 1962 as the city was preparing for the Near West community to begin housing the new University of Illinois at Chicago campus. Although the plan was not yet approved until 1963 preparations already began to reshape the community and add new buildings and new housing to make the area more attractive for decision makers preparing to approve this new location for the university. Several notices were handed out from door to door that a large portion of the Little Italy, Greektown, and Maxwell Street area was soon to come down by the bulldozer. The same process was felt in Lincoln Park in 1962 when the community pushed for urban renewal to tear down the many affordable houses and apartments in Lincoln Park to launch a war on the poor. Scores of Puerto Rican people found themselves being pushed into the unfriendly lands of West Town and Humboldt Park.
In West Town and West Humboldt Park Chicago Avenue had served as a divider. In West Town Chicago Avenue separated Noble Square from the more southern part of West Town that housed the Italian community. In East Village Chicago Avenue also divided the community from the more Italian southern sector. Chicago Avenue separates Ukrainian Village from the Italian southern section. Chicago Avenue was also the divider between East Humboldt Park and the Italian southern portion. This main strip separated the Italians from the Polish and Ukrainians. In West Humboldt Park Chicago Avenue did not serve as a divider until Puerto Rican people settled the West Humboldt streets south of Chicago Avenue and north of Franklin Boulevard/Ferdinand Street.
By 1962 almost all the white population of East Garfield Park had packed up and left the community as now the neighborhood was vast majority black, disinvested and had succumb to high crime and urban blight. Now that East Garfield Park had become redlined all the way up to Ferdinand/Franklin it became no surprise that banks and other lending institutions now deemed the area between Chicago Ave and Franklin/Ferdinand as unfit for living for the average white middle-class family and soon property values fell sharply causing the white flight panic to unfold. The people of West Humboldt Park now had to accept that south of Chicago Avenue would now house a Hispanic populace mixed with some of the poorest whites that could not afford white flight. Both the impoverished whites and the white middle class just north of Chicago Ave became upset about this new change and racial conflict ensued as one greaser gang after another formed along this avenue even naming themselves after this street to show the community that they owned this border and there was to be no crossing it for the Hispanic population. The Puerto Rican youths fought back forming gangs near Chicago Avenue to fight against white groups wondering south of Chicago Avenue sadistically seeking to taunt and harass the Puerto Rican youth. The Chicago Avenue divider was not enough for these groups as they also sought to indulge in predatory behavior against their perceived enemy. This is one of the biggest reasons for the formation of the original Latin Kings of West Humboldt Park who started as a group named the “Imperials” that haunted just a few blocks south of Chicago Ave at Kedzie and Ohio. Imperials were one of the first Hispanic gangs to actively fight back against invaders of the Puerto Rican community and actually protect the neighborhood. It was no surprise that by 1964 they had manifested into the Almighty Latin Kings we know today. The Latin King’s original hood was at Kedzie and Ohio from 1962 until 1967.
In West Town the same racial battles began brewing between Puerto Rican people and whites and once again the Chicago Avenue border served as somewhat of a divider but not so much along racial lines as West Humboldt Park. The Gaylords, C-Notes and Chi-West stood guard along this legendary border starting in 1958 when they became their biggest rivals to each other. The Gaylords’ original hood was right near Eckhardt Park and Chicago Avenue. Membership of the Gaylords mainly consisted of Italians from southern West Town and Polish from Noble Square and East Village. The Gaylords stood their ground against undesirable Italian gangs from south of Chicago Avenue as they did against undesirable Polish gangs from Noble Square and East Village. The Gaylords fought savagely against C-Notes, Playboys, Ventures, and Pulaski Park in their early years. When the Puerto Rican exodus began in West Town in 1962 the Gaylords now focused their frustrations on the Puerto Ricans that mainly settled in the Eckhardt Park area along Chicago Avenue. The most legendary Puerto Rican group to boldly throw down with the Gaylords was the Skulls of Eckhardt Park. The Skulls were some tough guys that fought along the Chicago Avenue border against the Gaylords as the Gaylords felt they owned the park, and the Skulls should have no say so. In the end the Gaylords mostly won the battle as the Skulls retreated to Wicker Park to join alongside the Imperials to form the Almighty Latin Kings we know today. As you can see the Chicago Avenue conflicts between white and brown was a big motivator for the formation of the Latin Kings and many disputes along The Avenue is part of the backbone of Latin King history.
One of the biggest Chicago Avenue legends was that of the Chi-West that formed at Chicago Avenue and Western Avenue at the Ukrainian Village/East Humboldt Park/southern West Town border. In the early days of Chi-West Formation in the late 50s and early 60s the conflict was not so much racial but instead dealing with wars with other greaser groups that frequented the area. The Jokers dominated to the west in East Humboldt Park while the C-Notes dominated just south near Smith Park and Chi-West didn’t want these groups in their hood. When Puerto Rican gangs first formed in East Humboldt Park in 1962 Chi-West was on high alert and even made the newspaper in December of that year for duking it out with the Spanish Kings gang. Chi-West aggressively protected this corner territory and felt this area of Ukrainian Village was the perfect access point for their worst enemies; therefore, this is where they focused and sure enough their strategy worked like a charm as even here in 2023 there have never really been any other gangs that claim Ukrainian Village. Chi-West ran these streets from 1958 until their presence faded in the 1990s. Even though Chi-West mainly disappeared from the streets their handywork may have partially been responsible for the community maintaining its value through the years as they kept gangs and crime out during the critical 1960s through the 1980s years.
1967: Black migration begins
By the year 1967, black migration had already fully changed the cultural identity of multiple west side communities. North Lawndale, East Garfield Park and West Garfield Park had now become completely black communities as almost not a single white person now lived in those neighborhoods. Lending institutions became eager to redline and disinvest in these communities forcing these neighborhoods to crumble into urban blight and high crime. The rest of the west siders in West Humboldt Park and Austin were now nearly shaking in fear worried that their communities would be next to succumb to such conditions. They feared everything they worked hard for would now be taken away as safety, housing values and neighborhood amenities would soon go away like in the Garfield Park area. When the first black families dared to venture west of the Kenton Avenue railroad tracks that divides West Garfield Park from Austin the white community of Austin became furious as black families now were seen near the intersection of Cicero Ave and Jackson Boulevard. This was one of the busier intersections of Austin and many Austinites felt they lost a good part of their community; however, they did not blame their former neighbors for abandoning this area leaving the area open to lower income families they instead blamed the race of people that arrived looking for affordable housing. By this time West Garfield Park now had high crime, gangs and urban blight which caused a depreciation in home values in southeast Austin by 1967. Instead of working tightly as a community to stop the panic and fix up the area of Cicero and Jackson residents instead bought into the panic that block busting real estate agent installed into them. Soon the scene of angry white adults encouraging young white boys to attack black boys on the streets and angry greasers roaming up and down Cicero Ave became common place in southern Austin and the panic would soon spread further toward Columbus Park.
One should not blame the white flighters. Put yourself in their shoes. If you worked hard for your home and investing in your community for years and suddenly uncontrollable change was coming to your neighborhood, what would you do? You would do what was best for your home values and for your children. You would pack up and leave, afterall, you have no obligation to these new arrivals. As an average citizen how is it your responsibility to assure your new neighbors arrive with eased transition? I often see much anger over past generations of white flight, but one must understand most of us would do the same thing if we were put in the same situation no matter what race you are you would want what’s best for your family. I place the blame on the institution, the greed of big business, and flawed city planning. Don’t blame those elders that once were homeowners in the city back in the 1960s, look at the larger picture for placing the blame. One also should not blame those families that moved into these communities. The miss conception is that these families of color arrived to wreck havok and become careless renters or homeowners. There are beliefs these families came to shit all over these communities and not care and perhaps to reshape these communities into ghetto paradises. Nothing can be further from the truth, they came here live like everyone else; however, many of these impoverished families lacked home ownership skills and other life skills due to living in squalid living conditions in the south or being used to dwelling in urban ghettos. Many of these families did not even know how to upkeep property. Chicago had urban upkeep training plans that had worked with families previuously, this was done in the 1960s in the Clarence Darrow projects, it was just a matter of where they felt like giving this program to.
To create a ghetto all an entity needs to do is suffocate funding for at least average police patrols, at least average schools, trash removal, urban repair etc…Once the community is stripped of resources to better itself crime can flourish especially with the lack of police patrols. Often times police that patrolled these areas were not held at higher standards to protect the community, not only that, the assigned police unit was also understaffed because of budgets. Crime was often blamed on the new arrivals in these west side communities; however, most criminals committing crimes in this community did not reside here. These criminals saw opportunity in a land no one was investing in anymore. This brought about the rise of the gangs to patrol these lands that the city had shunned. Now the gangs would patrol the streets and stop criminals dead in their tracks.
I went on a little tangent, but I felt it necessary to show you as the reader what really happened, and this was what happened to Austin beginning in 1967. Not only was Austin effected by the 1967 west side black migration wave, black families also began to settle the West Humboldt Park community south of Chicago Avenue. This once mostly Puerto Rican area was now being settled by black families as Puerto Ricans ventured north of Chicago Avenue to settle close to the actual park Humboldt Park. Black families began settling this neighborhood in the 1950s but only made up 1% of the Humboldt Park area population according to the 1960 census. The property values of West Humboldt Park from Chicago Ave down to Ferdinand/Franklin Boulevard had been steadily falling in the 1960s. In 1962 Puerto Rican people were able to migrate to this area as it became increasingly affordable now that the Garfield Park area panic and disinvestment had set in. By 1967 that panic had increased more as the Garfield Park area became more feared. Gang issues and higher crime plagued these southern Humboldt Park streets in the middle 60s and even the Latin Kings were birthed on these streets. Now some of the poorest of black families could afford to rent apartments in this area but they were empathically warned by both the white and Puerto Rican gang populace to dare not wonder north of Chicago Ave. This was a problem because most of the neighborhood’s resources were north of Chicago Ave; therefore, crossing this invisible border was inevitable.
1968: Let the gang banging begin
1967 was a frantic year for many west siders as the long-standing white neighborhoods of Austin and West Humboldt Park were now being settled by a new culture of people and now the talk around the community was that crime and poverty were soon to arrive. Panicked residents were contacting realtors and hastily preparing to vacate. Those that could not afford the privilege of white flight strapped themselves with cheap crappy Saturday night special pistols they bought from the local pawn shop and put bars on their windows and other security on their homes while their teenage sons and daughters gathered down the street conversing with their friends about how they will be prepared for the perceived black invasion. Neighbors talked among each other and if they weren’t planning a hasty departure, they were planning on how to keep this neighborhood from changing. Much of this would lead to political action or complaints to the city but sometimes grown men would push their children to torment blacks freshly arriving on these streets. Many long-time residents did not want to embrace these new neighbors and the way the institutions and businesses treated black families reflected that distaste. Black youths often couldn’t go anywhere in Austin or Humboldt Park without being teased and taunted or turned away.
It just so happened that the Vice Lords had expanded their influence deeply into the West Garfield Park community by 1968 as the last of the white population departed by 1965. Four Corner Hustlers formed in 1968 in West Garfield Park and became an instant success pushing out many groups of Vice Lords. The Vice Lords then took up sanctuary in the Austin community in 1968 as they were invited by many frustrated black youths trying to survive on the streets of southern Austin as white greaser gangs and an overall hostile community tried to push them out. These youths networked with anyone they knew, including family to send out an S.O.S to the Vice Lords organization to please come to Austin and protect them, in exchange these youths would join the ranks of the Vice Lords. This was the beginning of the Insane Vice Lords and the Austin area Conservative Vice Lords; Traveling Vice Lords would soon follow later. During the late 1960s and early 1970s years various Vice Lord groups migrated to Austin or formed on the streets of Austin. Austin was the motherland of the Cicero Insane Vice Lords, Insane Vice Lords, Undertaker Vice Lords and Mafia Insane Vice Lords.
The drug trade in Austin was apparent by 1975 which was the arrival year of the Austin area Four Corner Hustlers and possibly the Black Souls. Austin was cut up with multiple main vein roadways like Cicero Avenue, Austin Avenue, Division Street, North Avenue and Chicago Avenue. Impoverished black youths began selling drugs along these avenues as the busy traffic made for flourishing business. Vice Lord groups and Four Corner Hustlers had now advanced into Central Austin as black migration swept into this area, but North Avenue was the cut off at the time as white gangs still defended northern Austin. It was discovered by drug dealers that Austin not only had several main veins, but this community also had a very easy access point to the expressway system to move drugs in and out of the neighborhood. Groups like Four Corner Hustlers and Undertaker Vice Lords flocked to the area of Cicero Ave and Flournoy down to Lexington to control this traffic. Illegal drugs then moved up the Cicero Avenue corridor then the transit broke off into the many streets that connected to Cicero Avenue. Insane Vice Lords were heavily situated along Cicero Avenue and ruled the busy intersection of Cicero Ave and Chicago Avenue in the 1970s through the 1990s.
Chicago Avenue in Austin was not only a major drug vein it was also home to major vice operations as pimps and prostitutes roamed this avenue day and night pushing sex. Drug dealers worked hand in hand with pimps or even just near the pimps of Chicago Avenue as Chicago Avenue became the one stop shop for all your sins. You wanted drugs? Chicago Avenue had it. You wanted hookers? Chicago Avenue had it. You wanted black market guns? Chicago Avenue had it. If you wanted to see a scene of intense gangbanging violence, Chicago Avenue had it as the gangs along Chicago Avenue were ferocious and downright crazy. One had to be ferocious in order to retain control of their money-making schemes.
The Insane Vice Lords were known as some of the craziest gangsters one could imagine. In the 1997 rap song “Walk Wit Me” performed by DA Smart he states, “Now let’s go to see them Insane Vice Lords on the avenue in Austin. They are the craziest I ever saw…” In this track he points out the craziness of the Insane Vice Lords and how they ruled Chicago Avenue. After Insane Vice Lord Bennie Lee was put in prison by 1973 the once known as Apache Vice Lords took on a new identity as the “Insane Vice Lords” and became a violent and dangerous group. The IVLs became very aggressive over drug territory and had little to no tolerance for opposition. It was because of this violent stance that the IVL leadership and hard-core members almost all ended up in prison by the late 1990s. Chicago Avenue had a mixture of gangs that ran this corridor but the IVLs were one of the more notorious.
In West Humboldt Park the growing population of black youths became fed up with being beaten by Puerto Ricans and whites telling them they could not wonder anywhere north of Chicago Avenue. Being confined to the area of Chicago Ave to Franklin/Ferdinand from Pulaski to Sacramento is not a large area and by 1968 the city was neglecting this part of West Humboldt Park more as a lack of amenities in this area became a growing reality. This was not a dilapidated area by any means, but it was an area on hard economic times as the 1960s progressed. Black youths in this small area absorbed many beatings, taunts, unfair treatment and attending Orr High School at Chicago Ave and Pulaski was tough to say the least. Luckily, there was soon help nearby as Supreme Gangsters and Black Souls began hanging out in the area responding to cries of help from their cousins and friends trying to survive near this Chicago Avenue corridor. It became an easy sell for both gangs to quickly recruit on these streets as now Monticello Ave between Ohio Street and Huron Street became the border area between the two gangs. Both gangs fought back against angry whites and Puerto Ricans and had it out with the Latin Kings but their main focus within no time became each other. The war between Black Souls and Supreme Gangsters was legendary that even made the newspapers in the early 70s. Lots of police intervention put down most of this gang element by the mid-70s but both groups left their mark, and the Supreme Gangsters would eventually evolve into the Gangster Disciples we know today, and the group still exists in West Humboldt Park on these same streets.
1976: The Bicentennial, new arrivals come to West Humboldt Park
As out nation celebrated its 200th anniversary scores of Chicago’s toughest and meanest gangs now celebrated their new digs as they had traveled alongside a larger black and Hispanic migration wave that was most pronounced that year. Although unofficial and largely undocumented I have discovered through several interviews that so many communities city-wide began changing racially and gang boundaries grew or started in new neighborhoods during the exact year of 1976. West Humboldt Park was one neighborhood then underwent one of the most rapid racial changes in the bicentennial as the last of the white population had now departed taking all of what was left of the white gangs with them out of the northwest corridor of the community as now Insane Unknowns, Spanish Cobras, Maniac Latin Disciples and Imperial Gangsters moved in. Black migration now crossed north of the Chicago Avenue corridor while remaining west of Pulaski as the new population advanced as far north as Division Street. Many of the Puerto Rican populace, especially among the youth, objected to this as racial violence once again ensued but this time the white man was out of the picture. This was a violent war between brown and black. Now Orr High School looked different as there were now more black students than brown. Black Souls were long gone but the Supreme Gangsters were not, but they would not become the biggest defenders of the black youths this time around, now it was the Almighty Vice Lord nation. Insane Vice Lords, Traveling Vice Lords, Conservative Vice Lords and Unknown Vice Lords found this new area to be ideal to set up operations and this would allow them to consume a large portion of Chicago Avenue leading into Austin. The Vice Lord groups also settled right into former Black Soul and Supreme Gangster territory from Chicago Ave down to Franklin/Ferdinand now allowing the Vice Lords to control more of Chicago Avenue operations that sometimes extended into West Town leading to Cabrini Green then to Lake Shore Drive. This also extended the legacy of the Insane Vice Lords that now even established territory for some time in West Town.
By the late 1970s and forward, Chicago Avenue now became a legendary corridor for its beauty in the downtown area and its hard times on the west side. Chicago Avenue stood as a boundary separating ghetto from upperclass, separating gangs, separating white from black then black from brown. Many mostly young suburbanites since the late 1970s spun their tales to their friends at school lunchrooms, kegger parties and many other social gatherings about their storied trips along Chicago Avenue at night often while consuming the product they scored after they connected with a street corner dealer. They told tales of disheveled crazies, characteristic homeless ones, outrageous prostitutes of strong character, and even extreme gang violence. They giggled as they told tales of dirty streets, dilapidated buildings and humorous bickering of drug addicted street walkers. Chicago Avenue at night became a smirk-worthy conversation for these pampered youngsters as the once silly Illinois law prohibiting marijuana made such ventures necessary for suburban youths. Naïve as they were they thought they were laughing at ghetto people that lived voluntarily sloppy lives as they aimed to separate themselves from the rest of humanity when in reality, they were laughing at disadvantaged individuals that became the product of systematic greed that haphazardly pushed people of color into communities abruptly that were not ready to receive them thus causing a devastating economic collapse. The fallout caused a dysfunctional and forgotten part of society that fell victim to the drug addiction and unrelenting poverty.
For decades youths of suburbia have treated the western more part of Chicago Avenue as a freak show or comparative to a tourist attraction for the sake of humor. Over time some youths were witnessed with mouths hanging wide open in amusement with staring eyes that could be seen from yards away. Sometimes the people of Chicago Avenue on the west side responded with a chest pounding type of angry display for these youths the flinch backwards over only for the sake of their amusement as well. This has been a callout to out of towners that display such obvious and disrespectful amusement with smirks and cockiness. Rarely would any travelers be harmed in these hardened hoods along The Avenue but the sheer sense of danger was enough to petrify such youths as they fled in terror only to become the subject of jokes and amusement for the harmless west side perpetrators of the display…justice was indeed served to a rather ignorant pampered group.
With all this being said, if you are one of the more fortunate whom feels the need to travel more west along Chicago Avenue especially at night to indulge in your sins remember to have respect in your heart and mind for those that call The Avenue home. Come in, do your business and leave or perhaps support a local business on your way out. Keep your eyes out of the staring position and keep smirks clear from your expression. Am I giving you this advisement for your safety, no, not really, because likely you will not be in danger, but I am trying to provide you advisement, so you remain respectful. Use your peripheral vision or if you use your main vision to see the scenery do not keep your eyes locked in an obvious staring motion at other human beings. Just try to imagine if people came to your neighborhood staring and smirking, it might make you feel low especially if you happen to be downtrodden. From this piece you can see how and why Chicago Avenue became what it became over time. There are several racial, economic and socio-economic factors that caused these neighborhoods that house Chicago Avenue to become depressed and dysfunctional. At one time newly arrived black families attempted a normal life but were instead hung out to dry over poverty’s bottomless pit. Dreams of living in a beautiful well-kept neighborhood with low crime was taken away when the city turned away assistance leaving the neighborhoods to lack employment and economic support. Drugs became an escape from these harshest of realities which created the colorful streets you laugh at. Wait until you leave the west side before you chit chat among your friends about what you perceive to be humorous. Also remember one other thing you are certainly no better as you make your purchases of cocaine, heroin or hookers. You have your issues too and you are the buyer; therefore, you perhaps don’t have your life together and someone can laugh at you too even if you are from Oak Brook, Downers Grove, Round Lake or wherever and have wealthy parents. You are a user or addict, and The Avenue controls you by providing you what you crave so be respectful of the community!