North Lawndale
North Lawndale

North Lawndale

Origins Settled in 1827 and annexed in 1869
Area West Side

Arlington Street, Taylor Street and 5th Avenue on the north, 21st Street, Cermak and the railroad tracks on the south, the railroad tracks on the east, the railroad tracks on the west

Gangs founded Satan Disciples, Vice Lords, New Breeds,
Gangs headquartered Vice Lords, Gangster Disciples, New Breeds,

This area was settled in 1827 as part of the Lawndale-Crawford area and from there some farms were built in the area and eventually the area became a part of the suburb of Cicero and Cicero Township until the year 1869.  In 1869, Chicago annexed this area and this Chicago neighborhood started with a population of about 1,500 people.

In the year 1870 Millard and Decker, a real estate firm, subdivided the land and named the area “Lawndale” to attract people to move into this community with the hopes of turning this area into a middle-class enclave.  After the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 many people came flocking to this neighborhood due to the solid materials the homes were built with.  The first groups to move in were Dutch, Irish and Germans especially after McCormick Reaper Works relocated here after the original location near downtown was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire.

As the 19th century progressed into the 20th century, more people migrated to this neighborhood because jobs were plentiful in the area such as McCormick Reaper Works in South Lawndale, Western Electric in Cicero and Sears, Roebuck & Company which was right at 925 Homan Avenue in North Lawndale by 1906.

In the early 1910s Russian and Polish Jews migrated into this neighborhood as they became the vast majority as they experienced upward mobility.  The Irish and German population was heavily opposed to this migration and attempted to not allow renting to these families but putting together the constructs of official legal covenants failed due to the people’s lacking of legal expertise.  The neighborhood established itself as a thriving middle class Jewish community in the next few decades to follow, as more Jews left the Jewish Ghetto in the Maxwell Street market area of the Near West Side in favor of this safer and less rundown neighborhood.  Around this time Italians also moved to North Lawndale but in less numbers.

The Jews set to work right away and began building two flats and two story family apartment buildings and even some buildings with 10-30 units for renting, this caused the overall population of North Lawndale to explode as now North Lawndale became 67% Jewish by 1930 (Source: Family Properties, New York Times, March 17, 2009)

In the 1920s, several Jewish shops, synagogues, libraries and community centers opened making this neighborhood the largest Jewish enclave in Chicago with over 75,000 Jews.  This community was hardly paradise as there were no amenities like parks and recreational areas and it was very overcrowded.  The main appeal was a place for Jewish people to live without worrying about the discrimination they faced in the rest of the city and to escape the harsh “Jewish Ghetto” or Maxwell Street Market area near Maxwell Street.  This community lacked single family homes because of all the rented property which made a lack of opportunity for Jewish families to own their own property. In other parts of the city there was not enough purchasable property Jews were allowed to purchase due to covenants. (Source: Family Properties, New York Times, March 17, 2009).

In the year 1948 the U.S. Supreme Court declared restrictive covenants as unconstitutional and were made illegal.  North Lawndale already had a black population of 1,400 by 1947 because Jewish families from the neighborhood encouraged black families to move here and the cooperation from landlords made it possible since the year 1940.  The Jewish population felt empathy for the plight of black families from more disadvantaged areas of the city and wanted to lend a helping hand.  During the 1940s when these first black families were moving in there were only two minor incidents of racial attacks against blacks from this Jewish community.  These black families were middle class and paid substantial down payments for their properties and never missed payments, they even upgraded and modified their properties this made them very appealing neighbors (Source: Family Properties, New York Times, March 17, 2009).

In the year 1948, many Jewish families experienced upward mobility now that the war and Great Depression were over.  Now that the restrictive racial covenants were lifted Jews were able to purchase property anywhere in the city and that’s when they headed further north in the city to neighborhoods like West Ridge, North Park and Forest Glen.  Jews also moved to suburbs like Skokie, Evanston and Lincolnwood.  This was a starter neighborhood for immigrant Jews to assimilate into American culture and now that they had adjusted completely, they looked at this neighborhood as an embarrassment that hurt their pride, now it was time to leave.  This brought about more black middle classes from other parts of the city that could now officially move into North Lawndale without sponsors from friends.  Landlords would now have no choice in renting to blacks now that it was law (Source: Family Properties, New York Times, March 17, 2009).  Blacks settled in the very northeast corner of the neighborhood around Roosevelt and California near Douglas Park in the 1940s.

Many black families followed in the same exact path as the Jews and moved from the Jewish ghetto into North Lawndale after finding upward mobility.

In the late 1940s construction began on the Dan Ryan and Kennedy Expressway highway systems.  This started with the clearing of several “slum” buildings in the Near West Side neighborhood effectively displacing a portion of that community.  These families migrated all around the city after evacuating their homes in 1948 and 1949, this is perhaps what triggered some upset in North Lawndale about “undesirables” moving into the area.  By 1949, white gangs in more affluent neighborhoods began to sprout up all over the city.  These were packs of wild boys who were bored with everyday life and for fun many of them roved the city looking for trouble with other groups of boys.  These groups were known to engage in racial attacks against blacks in neighborhoods were blacks lived.  I am not positive on this theory, but I believe North Lawndale may have been targeted due to the 13% black population by 1949.  Regardless of the details it became fact that white gangs began to form in North Lawndale to battle outsiders and I have found no evidence the early gangs had issues with blacks moving in.  It seems more like these early groups felt attacked by outsiders.  The most notorious group to start up was the Popes gang at 19th and Albany named after Pope Elementary School.  This group would eventually evolve into the Insane Popes of the north side that are still in existence today, they were born on these streets in 1949.

In the 1950s multiple white greaser gangs roamed these streets and sometimes made the newspaper for their gang fights.  From what I have gathered from these old articles is they fought with other white gangs and not with blacks, showing there was not much racial strife in this community.

In the year 1950, the North Lawndale Citizens Council formed to revitalize local businesses, organize residents, and organize citizens to create a successful racially integrated community (Source: Family Properties, New York Times, March 17, 2009).  This brought about more black middle class families to this community as more Jewish families left.  Some Jewish families left because of the open arms policies of these Jewish groups but many just wanted to move upward and leave what they perceived as a starter neighborhood.  This also brought an increase in some racial incidents from angry whites but mainly from whites from South Lawndale (Little Village area) not so much from the Jews (Source: Family Properties, New York Times, March 17, 2009).

The early 50s was still a decent time for this neighborhood as these earliest black families mostly assimilated well.

In the year 1953, construction began again on the Dan Ryan Expressway that tore through North Lawndale, East Garfield Park and West Garfield Park.  This cut off many usual routes for people of North Lawndale to get to local businesses they loved and made the area less appealing than ever.  Several buildings were torn down in this process.

In the spring of 1953 North Lawndale began to experience a crime wave as drug dealers and other criminals drifted into this neighborhood from the south side and Near West Side selling drugs or stealing so they could buy drugs to support their habits.  The Italian Mafia flooded the south side streets with Heroin in later 1952 and as a result the effects of a drug addicted African American community showed up in the Near West Side, North Lawndale and the East and West Garfield Park streets.

In the year 1954, many residents became fed up with the highway construction and the new look of the west side which looked like urban problems were on the horizon.  The crime wave was still going on and more of the Jewish population was fed up and began packing their bags.  This is when the neighborhood began being targeted for redlining and disinvestment.  This caused many good landlords to sell their properties out of fear of depreciation.  Crooked block busting real estate agents added fuel to the first by spreading fear that impoverished blacks were going to take over and because of this driven fear it happened.  After these good landlords left the buildings were purchased by some of the most crooked slum lords the city had ever seen.  It took no time for the value of this community to plummet and now this neighborhood became more affordable to for impoverished black families that fell victim to slum lord abuse.

In the year 1955, the Jewish People’s Institute. the Hebrew Theological College and Labor Lycheum all closed at once and relocated further north, thus, draining the rest of the appeal of the neighborhood which caused many more Jews to rapidly flock from the area in that same year.  This dropped property values further and made way for more impoverished blacks from the southern states to afford to move to this area, many from Mississippi.  These families were former sharecroppers and rural people and had no idea how to maintain urban dwellings allowing their properties to decay (Source: Family Properties, New York Times, March 17, 2009). It was the landlord’s responsibility to correct this behavior but since these landlords were crooked they allowed this behavior and the families had no idea how to maintain the properties on their own. This would cause the appeal of the neighborhood to drop and further property values to quickly sink as businesses began to suffer as well.

By the year 1955, the crime wave had not stopped, and it was infecting the black community of North Lawndale, this factor combined with the beginning of this area’s depression caused gangs like Chaplins, Egyptian Cobras and Clovers to migrate onto these streets with the original goal of offering protection for the black community but they would soon begin acting violently toward each other.   Many groups of black youths broke away from Chaplins and Clovers and started their own more vicious gangs that went on the attack against their former gangs, this would, in turn, cause Clovers and Chaplains to became full-fledged gangs and become increasingly violent.  Many of these new gangs were black southern youths that had just arrived, and the police were especially enraged by their presence.  This began several incidences of police brutality and overall police racism.  It became so severe that black youths could not simply walk the streets in many cases without the police beating them sometimes to death.

As this community was quickly changing starting in 1955, Chicago’s most notorious slum lords began buying up acres of property.  Moe M. Forman, Al Berland, Joseph Berke, Lou Wolf, and Gilbert Balin became the most notorious of them all and were Jews that grew up here and lost their empathy for those less fortunate.  These men instead developed an attitude that it is best to work the system instead of being victimized by it and became criminals and predatory landlords.  They would charge higher rent than the value of the properties as they let them fall into disrepair to save themselves money.  Rent was not discounted in these blighted buildings, but poor black southerners had no other choice as these properties were still much cheaper than anywhere else.

The African American population was growing quite well as white flight was happening in very rapid succession. One thing that helped white flight happen faster was “block busting” which was a method when a real estate agent hires “agents provocateurs,” which were impoverished African Americans that wanted to make a few bucks.  After hiring the agents provocateurs, the real estate agent would go to the doorstep of a white family and persuade the family to sell their home at a rock bottom rate.  The agent would have the family look out the window and see anything from a black woman pushing a stroller to a group of black youths fighting in the streets and making the white family terrified.  The family had no idea they were being hustled by the real estate agent and they had no idea the rowdy blacks outside their window were hired agents provocateurs.  The white family would become terrified and ask the agent how they could get out the soonest possible; the agent then said they can get them out fast if they were willing to sell their home for a certain amount to the real estate company.  The family would be in such a state of panic they would agree to it real fast not giving themselves enough time to do any research.  The agent would then help the family get into a new home outside of the city in the suburbs, sticking the family with a mortgage and the agent would profit big while the family would lose thousands in home equity from their Chicago home.  The other part of the process was even more unethical and immoral as the agent would sell that same home to a black family that was desperate to escape from the poverty and crumbling conditions of Bronzeville, and the family was willing to pay a higher price to get the house.  Even though North Lawndale did not mirror the exact same experience due to lack of single-family homes this was done to good landlords who felt they needed to sell their buildings immediately.

By the year 1957, black street gangs became increasingly violent as some of the first gang related homicides happened in the beginning of the year.  White flight had now run its course from K-Town all the way to Douglas Park leaving the rest of the white population east of the park.  I am not sure when the Popes departed but I believe it was 1957 as their legend on these streets ends at this point.  I was told about a newspaper article where they fought with the Bridgeport Two Six gang (Not related to Gangster Two Six nation) from 1956, then after that their timeline stops in this neighborhood.  White gangs all seemed to be long gone west of Douglas Park by 1957 as now Clovers, Chaplins and Egyptian Cobras were the dominating gangs.  Clovers especially were the largest gang in 1957.  All this commotion and gang activity prompted Chicago police to act.

In the year 1957 police Captain Thomas O’ Donnell had his officers in this district do a massive sweep of the black street gangs as police officers brutally attacked, shook down and arrested black youths whether they were in a gang or not.  Some youths were innocent, and others were hardly guilty; regardless, they were beaten robbed, burned with cigarettes and framed by Chicago police.  Many of the youths ended up being sentenced to do time in the Illinois Reformatory for Boys in St. Charles, Illinois.  In this facility a youth from North Lawndale named Edwin “Pepilo” Perry got together with six others and started his own gang called the “Vice Lords” in 1958.

In the fall of 1958 the Vice Lord boys were out of incarceration and the Vice Lords started congregating at 21st and Lawndale and had the idea to dominate these streets just as they dominated the detention center.  The Vice Lords ran that facility by becoming managers of all the jobs in the facility.  This gave them to clout to snap their fingers and have those that worked under them do their bidding in exchange for extra clean clothes, seconds on meals and desserts and other benefits.  The streets were different but also similar as the Vice Lords learned control through revolutionary thinking combined with violence in excess was the way to reach impoverished and downtrodden black youths.

What needs to be understood about North Lawndale by 1958 is that poverty was so severe entire families slept on the living room floor heated by a 19th century stove.  Rats and roaches climbed the floors and walls, and many families couldn’t even afford three square meals a day let alone even a meal each day consistently.  These were the hard knock streets of North Lawndale where black youths suffered extreme forms of poverty that were so taxing on families that they often had to set their older children free to roam the streets to support themselves.  It became a no brainer that kids would attach themselves to violent gangs so they could pillage together.  This is how the founder of the Vice Lords Edwin Perry grew up and at 14 years old he had to detach from his home to rob houses which landed him in the boy’s home.  The Vice Lords were a way for boys to come together as an organized group to find things they needed they couldn’t get at home, but they would have to commit crime to obtain what they needed.  As I stated earlier North Lawndale was a simple neighborhood lacking parks and recreation for youths and during the more affluent years when this was a starter home for Jews it was functional but now this was a permanent home for blacks and these boys’ needed activity.  When the city lacked these resources, boys became bored and violent.  When you keep children’s stomachs empty and no activity, they become frustrated and bored, this is when they are vulnerable to attach themselves to gangs.  The Vice Lords were not created to kill and maim, they were created to organize and fill voids in this community that lacked for boys, but it quickly spiraled into something terrifying.  You can sit there and blame the gang all you want and the founders, but all this was put together to try to find a sense of organization and civility but without guidance from the city these gangs would fail in positivity because they lacked the education and guidance to stay on the right path.

The last of the white population mainly lived on the east side of Douglas Park which was all blocks away from the only projects built in North Lawndale known as the Ogden Courts over by the intersection of Ogden Avenue and Washtenaw that were built in 1953 to 1954 in an attempt to contain the impoverished black community arriving in the neighborhood during the crime wave.  Among the remaining white population developed a white and Hispanic gang called the Satan Disciples in 1959.  I am not exactly sure what groups caused the Satan Disciples to want to form but I can guess it would have been a combination of black gangs from North Lawndale, Hispanic and white gangs from Pilsen and gangs from the Near West Side.  Eastern North Lawndale was at the center of all this.

By the year 1960 the Satan Disciples had spread to the 18th and California area which was becoming a Mexican part of east North Lawndale.  The Satan Disciples would dominate most of east North Lawndale well into the present years as took control of almost all east North Lawndale.  Black street gangs have never really settled these streets firmly except in the Ogden Courts projects when they once stood.  For many decade if black youths in this area joined a gang it was to be a Satan Disciple.

By the year 1960, the Clovers were destroyed by the Vice Lords and the Imperial Chaplins were on their way out.  The Vice Lords now ruled east of K-Town to Douglas Park and would stomp out the last of the opposition by the end of the year.  The Vice Lords then encroached upon neighboring East Garfield Park and the Near West Side.

During these early 1960s years the Vice Lords and Egyptian Cobras had now conquered North Lawndale which led to an era of bored drunken gang members roaming the streets killing each other.  A rebel group from the Vice Lords had enough and broke away to form the Roman Saints in 1963; however, within no time the Roman Saints became another very large gang causing damage in the community.

In July of 1964 the older Vice Lords began attempting to organize themselves and stop destroying the community and this turned into them becoming “Conservative Vice Lords.”   This movement tapped back into the roots of what the Vice Lords were originally meant to do and that was to organize the youth to protect the community from undesirables.  Now the gang was focused once again on those goals, but this was mainly the wishes of the older Vice Lords, the young ones were still hell bent on violence, this is when the older Vice Lords made an offer of peace with Roman Saints and Egyptian Cobras in 1964.  This peace summit was accepted and the violence between the gangs calmed down significantly; however, it didn’t end but a reduction was still good news.  In this same year the Vice Lords officially organized themselves into factions, I am not sure yet why the factions were organized but this is when Traveling Vice Lords, Unknown Vice Lords and Renegade Vice Lords were formed.

In the year 1965, the Vice Lords connected with police Commander Sims who was one of the first higher ranking police officers in the area.  This allowed for Vice Lords to begin the official path toward positive change.  This arrangement would prevail in 1966 when the Vice Lords stopped racial rioting in North Lawndale which then led to approval for the Vice Lords to open a pool hall in the neighborhood.

In the year 1967, the Vice Lords were heading further in the right direction and established CVL Inc in September of that year which officially incorporated the Vice Lords as a legit social services club.  In 1968 they began to receive government funding to open legit businesses from stores to restaurants to job training a truancy program for the youth.  The Vice Lords also faced crooked landlords head on sticking up for people victimized by crooked slum lords.  All this would go south when the Vice Lords tried to establish more programs and help for the community in 1968 and were denied partially because of the investigations on the Black P Stones and Devil’s Disciples mismanaging government funding.  The difference with that Vice Lord experience was that they were fully willing to use the funds properly and had enthusiasm in the programs.  The Stone leadership was locked up allowing disorganization of the funds due to lack of leadership.  The Disciples were barely interested in the programs and the Vice Lords resented being classified the same way.  As a result of lacking funding and further development for the youths the Vice Lords allowed the 1968 riots to ensue; however, they directed the rioting away from black owned businesses and left Jewish owed ones to their fate.  The white owned businesses charged ridiculous prices, thus, victimizing the black community so it was feasible to leave them to their fate, as a result many white owned businesses left the community in 1968 which allowed banks and lending agencies to further red line and disinvest in North Lawndale.

In 1969, government funding was drying up to the Vice Lords and many positive leaders were exiting the scene as they were either killed, jailed or moved away.  This is when the streets became increasingly violent again as gangs like Black Souls and Goon Squad Gangsters began making the newspapers along with Vice Lords.  My knowledge of the early Goon Squad Gangsters is not fruitful, but I know they were here by 1969.

In the early 70s older Vice Lords continued to fight to keep the community and their organization together; however, more an more members found themselves behind prison walls whether guilty or not.  Even the most positive member Bobby Gore was convicted of murder in 1970 which was a very sketchy and controversial conviction many have said he didn’t commit and was framed.  This is when Vice Lords came together behind bars in the 1970s as they tried to control the streets from prison.  This was also a time when certain factions mainly based out of Austin and East Garfield Park get involved in the heroin trade as the Vice Lords were one of the first west side gangs to move larger quantities of the drug.

The Egyptian Cobras faded from the neighborhood around the mid-70s and went into extinction.  1970s North Lawndale was actually quieter than 1960s North Lawndale; however, urban blight, drug abuse and prostitution became common sites as the 70s progressed.

By the mid-80s North Lawndale was lined with vacant lots, large amounts of blighted buildings and now drug dealers on every corner.  The Vice Lords were now immersed in the drug business and became good at it becoming the biggest distributors of heroin.  North Lawndale was always the home of multiple Vice Lord factions since at least 1964 and now these factions were rivals against each other over drugs.  The most prominent Vice Lord groups in the neighborhood became Conservative Vice Lords, Traveling Vice Lords and in the older decades the Unknown Vice Lords.  Four Corner Hustlers, Black Souls, Black Gangster Disciples and Black Gangsters (formerly Goon Squad Gangsters) now encroached in this neighborhood to conduct business and began violently shooting each other.  The 1980s became a very dangerous decade.

The 1990s and forward were almost as violent if not more violent as North Lawndale continued to score high as one of Chicago’s top 5 most dangerous neighborhoods.  Vacant lots became more common as long time blighted and abandoned buildings had to be razed with no plans for a replacement.  Day and night the homeless, drug addicts, drug dealers and gang members walk the streets. Since the early 1970s even middle-class black families could no longer tolerate these streets and moved out in a phenomena known as “black flight.” Many times when families would leave entire buildings became vacant and would sit this way for decades until razed to become a vacant lot full of waste and criminal activity.

There has been some positivity and neighborhood repair; however, the decay and danger far outweighs any progress.  This is perhaps the second most blighted neighborhood in Chicago right behind Englewood, as several buildings have been left abandoned for decades and every block has at least a few shuttered buildings or homes.

In the 1950s the neighborhood was at first dominated by white gangs like the Popes but soon was dominated by the Clovers, Chaplins and Egyptian Cobras

In the 1960s the neighborhood was dominated by Vice Lords, Roman Saints and Egyptian Cobras

In the 1970s North Lawndale was dominated by Vice Lords and maybe others but not sure.

In the 1980s North Lawndale was dominated by Conservative Vice Lords, Traveling Vice Lords, Unknown Vice Lords, Black Souls, Black Gangster Disciples and Black Gangsters (New Breeds)

In the 1990s North Lawndale was dominated by Conservative Vice Lords, Traveling Vice Lords, Unknown Vice Lords, Black Souls, Gangster Disciples and New Breeds

In the 2000s North Lawndale was dominated by Conservative Vice Lords, Traveling Vice Lords, Gangster Disciples, New Breeds and Black Souls

In the 2010s and later North Lawndale is dominated by Conservative Vice Lords, Traveling Vice Lords, Gangster Disciple and New Breeds

North Lawndale is the birthplace of the Insane Popes Vice Lords and Satan Disciples

Insane Popes (north side group) Established 1949-1950s

19th & Albany (Pope Elementary School) Established 1949-1950s

Egyptian Cobras Established 1955-1970s

Fillmore to Ogden, Kilbourn to Pulaski (K-Town) Established 1955-1970s

14th Street Clovers Established 1951-1960

Not sure where

Black Souls

14th to 16th, Kostner to Tripp (K Town Souls, Gangster Black Souls, 16th and Kostner shared with New Breeds)

16th to Ogden, Homan to Sawyer

16th & Kilbourn

Latin Kings

21st & Albany

Four Corner Hustlers

Polk & Pulaski (P Town)

19th & Pulaski

Roosevelt & Kedzie

Karlov from 14th to 16th

Black Disciples

18th to 21st, Karlov to Pulaski

Satan Disciples Established 1959-present years

Ogden to 19th, California to Western (Evil Side) Established 1959-present years

Gangster Disciples

Grenshaw & Pulaski

16th from Kedzie to Sawyer

Cermak & Kildare

Cermak to Ogden, Kostner to Pulaski (K-Town Komak)

Arlington to Grenshaw, Springfield to Independence

Roosevelt & Pulaski

New Breeds Established by 1969-present years

Roosevelt to 14th, Keeler to Independence (K-Town Breeds)

Douglas to 19th, Sawyer to Albany

Filmore & Kilbourn

Lexington & Kostner

Springfield from 13th to 14th

16th from Kenneth to Kolin (Shared with Black Souls)

19th & Kedzie

Roosevelt & Kedvale

Roosevelt to 13th, Sawyer to Spaulding

Cicero Insane Vice Lords

18th & Pulaski

Conservative Vice Lords

21st & Trumbull (No Worse)

16th to Cermak, Pulaski to Homan (Holy City) Established 1958

Ogden to Cermak, Central Park Ave to Trumbull (No Worse)

Roosevelt from Francisco to Mozart

Roosevelt & Sacramento

16th from Kedvale to Komensky (Shared with Undertaker Vice Lords)

19th & Avers

19th & Ridgeway

21st & Hamlin

21st & Homan

Cermak & Millard

Outlaw Lunatic Traveling Vice Lords

16th & Hamlin (Holy City)

Traveling Vice Lords

Filmore to Roosevelt, Troy to Sacramento (Straight out of Albany, Douglas Park)

Roosevelt to Ogden, California to Rockwell (Trav Land)

Filmore & Homan

Albany & Roosevelt

Grenshaw & Central Park Ave (CPG)

California from Polk to Flournoy

18th & Hamlin (Former Outlaw Lunatic Traveling Vice Lord territory)

Kedzie from Ogden to 19th

Unknown Vice Lords

21st & Homan

Imperial Chaplins Established 1951-1961

Not sure where

All images below are photos of abandoned properties.  All images below are courtesy of Google Maps.