Chicago Sun-Times June 16, 1968


“ EVERY man out here has his own private struggle,” says Bobby Gore, member of a gang that became a club and turned its energies to a good cause- improving the conditions in the ghetto.


A street gang sets out to solve some problems
it helped cause


The West Side black ghetto has erupted in violence three times in the last four years. In the shadow of buildings burned down during the April 5-7 riots, Bobby Gore- spokesperson for one of the most disruptive teen-age gangs of past years- describes the “private struggle’” of young men who grow up against odds in the area. The gang has pledged itself to a self-help program and Gore, 31, a product of the community, is a member of its board of directors. Here is his view of the style of life within the area bounded by Ashland, Kenneth, Lake and Cermak, as told to Sun-Times reporter Basil Talbott Jr.

When I was in my teens on the West Side I ran with a gang called the City Vice Lords. We didn’t have anything to do so we ended up fighting- fighting just anybody. We called it fun back in those days. I was shot at once and cut during the old falls (fights) in the ‘50s. I had trouble with the police but I was never really attacked by one to the point where he knocked me down. It might be because I know how to talk to them.

But now our eyes are open, and we feel it’s time someone looked out for the little brother and sister. We changed to the Conservative Vice Lords Inc. and got a state charter. Just after the riots we opened a malt shop at 16th and Lawndale- Teen Town- and we have a lot of other big plans for the neighborhood. We got started on this conservative thing about four years ago.

It was in July, 1964, when some of the gang heads said it’s about time to stop tearing out hoods (neighborhoods) and start trying to help ourselves fix some of the problems around here. The leaders of eight segments (of Lords) were sitting around with some of the younger fellows who were sipping wine and pitching pennies.

The older guys were talking about our past battles and how many of us had been wounded. One of the younger fellows interrupted and told us he wanted to take 50 guys out later that night and make a fall. He said the older Lords including some in jail had made a name and he wanted to keep it alive.

The rest of the group joined in and said they wanted to take up where we left off. Someone said we hadn’t had a fight in a long time. Their intentions were to hurt anyone who walked the streets that night. They wanted to be like we had been.
We sat up all night. We told the younger guys how we saw people die, people begging not to be hit anymore with a baseball bat or a chain- how guys got cut up- how the people and police would hate their guts and the kids might very well be the ones who were killed.

One of the younger men speaking for his group said they had to have something to do. He said they couldn’t get jobs, they were too old to go back to school and too big to play games. Young kids feel like they want to act.

We told them we knew how they felt because this was the same feeling that got us in trouble. We told them we didn’t want them to get hurt or hurt anyone and we would try to find something for them to do.

We have always heard that Negroes are dumb, stupid, and everything else degrading. But who can tell what you or I can do without giving us a chance to prove ourselves? We learned in school that if you keep telling a person he’s no good, he’ll soon be no good.

So with the young kids watching us and looking to us for guidance, we couldn’t turn out backs on them. If we didn’t help, who else could turn conservative-go on a conservative tack.

At first we met with tremendous resistance. No one would believe we were sincere in our efforts to overcome some of the problems that as teen-agers we had caused. Then we got some help.

Last September we chartered our club with the state as a corporation. We got some (Rockefeller) foundation money and some help from industry (Operation Bootstrap) out there.

Most of the former gang heads-now club leaders- can see where our problems first arose.

The most common feeling on the West Side is one deeply felt by most black people-the sense of hopelessness.
It starts with the kids watching their parents. They see their parents living from year to year without a change. Inside their minds they feel this is the same thing that’s going to happen to them.

Maybe one in 10 gets out of the area. But he’s in California or somewhere else far away. We hardly remember him and most of us are still out here on the West Side. We live from year to year without a change.

I felt this two or three years ago. I felt, what the hell, I’ll never learn anything. But then I got my composure back. I got back my pride and instead of leaving I said I’d stay and try to fight the problem. I figured when you get your economic power and start doing things for yourself you can make a noticeable change. But first you look around this hole, the ghetto.

Overcrowding is a big problem. We have something like 70,000 people in this square mile of Lawndale.

There are only about five or six centers set up for recreation for the kids. And they are spaced so far apart they can’t serve anything but their immediate neighborhood.

The kids go to the centers but it’s a matter of who gets there first because they are not large enough to accommodate everybody. A few guys get in to play basketball and learn some things. But those on the outside don’t have anything to do so they pick up a tin can and start throwing it around. They run up and down the street throwing a tin can at each other.
Maybe they wake up some man who works nights and is trying to sleep. He calls the police and trouble starts. You can understand that.

Last summer the city set up some lots out here but when the doors were opened, so many kids rushed in you couldn’t see the equipment. Younger kids by the hundreds messed up the equipment.

There was a problem keeping kids off until cement dried because some of them had never seen anything like a playground in their lives. They jumped on the merry-go-round in one rush and broke it with their weight-wanting to use it all at once. When they busted it, some kids dumped it in a sand pit.

Overcrowding shows in the school too. My son’s school had an addition built on it three or four years ago. Another was built the next year and last year they put some portable classrooms around the building.

As the building goes up, there is less land to play on. Also, the old ball diamonds were asphalted for more parking. You can play ball on them but you can’t slide.

We have a lot of drop-outs but it’s hard to say why. You can’t put your finger on any one thing.

Some cats just don’t want to learn and some guys are just too cool to learn. This is out of their category. If they go to school and learn something then they can’t be with the crowd they usually associate with.

And when you talk to some of the kids who have gone to some of the high schools out here you wouldn’t think they went to third-grade grammar school for all they know. They are asleep on what’s what. They still think they are kids.

You might say some are street wise but they are the guys we’re trying to reach. They are not up on the real problems. They want the street to make a living for them-busting guys in the head, stealing or doing anything that brings money. But the street can’t make a living for them.

To be out here in this thing and see the everyday routine you’d think it would want to make a guy go to school and learn just that much more. But they feel-what’s the use of going to school. They say, “Look at you cats. What did you guys get out of it? If I get out of school I’m not going to get a job unless it’s sweeping floors.”

Most of the people out here have a hard time just trying to make it. They give quarter parties so they can raise the rent. Maybe they sell chicken sandwiches or play a little pitty-pat-that’s a quick card game where the first one who gets three pairs wins the pot.

Every man out here has his own private struggle. To get by, some buy chitterlings, hog maws, pigs’ ears, greens and chicken feet. They used to throw this away but now that they have found out we eat it some of it costs as much as steak.
What’s more, most of the jobs available are in suburban towns. The average person will work a week and bring home a check of maybe $50. Then he’s got to turn around and spend $8 or $9 on the guy he’s riding with or, if he has his own car, he’ll be putting money in his gas tank.

Most of the businesses out here are Negro-owned. They are small and don’t have enough jobs to do much. We do have a lot of big industry out here. It’s helped us get started but a lot of kids don’t know anything about it.

This is what members of Conservative Vice Lords are trying to open up. We are working with industry and private organizations trying to create jobs. We have just started changing wineheads to workers. We began by giving them something to do in the morning, getting a quarter from each store on a block to have the street swept-and at the end of the day they had $4 or $6 in their pockets. Now we’re funding the program ourselves. One had almost stopped drinking and we have three pretty good Joes.

We’re trying to get all 26 segments of the Vice Lords started in businesses. There is a good chance they will open barbershops, auto repair garages and nurseries-all black owned and black operated.

But most programs only reach few people. Some agency sets up a center and they might have 30 or 40 people. We’ve got 70,000 people in this square mile. So the others just go through the routine of doing nothing or get in trouble with the police.
Now, some police are nice and some are bad. You may have a good policeman in a squad and a bad policeman and then you have a man that just wants to make a buck.

We have pretty good communication with the higher-ups—the commanders. The problem is trying to channel it down to the patrolman. We have to work at it too; because if we don’t say anything, nothing’s going to be done about it. We have to show we’re willing to help.

In the old days, it was a matter of a policeman catching you and taking you home to your parents who would give you a whipping. Today, the police do it themselves. Some of the youth officers come around and shoot pool with the kids but this is not on a large enough scale to be effective.

You still see the police roll by a store a few times and when they spot four or five kids they get out and shout vulgar names and tell them to get on down the so-and-so street. If the kids don’t move fast enough, they kick them, rather than just saying “break it up”.

In the April riots the police were pretty good--better than in the ones two years ago. It seemed you could talk to them better. They weren’t as afraid.

At that time the neighborhood was all tensed up. Nobody knew what to do. The Lords went on the streets with leaflets telling people to cool it but everything started so fast we didn’t have enough time.

It was like a free day—people taking loaves of bread and potato chips to have money. The kids went into stores and ran home with groceries. They said “This is $10 I don’t have to spend” because money is so hard to come by. Everyone on the street was taking things. I guess you could chalk it up to excitement.

After the first day it was quiet around our office. You could hear people say, “Things are back to normal again”—the same day-to-day nothing.

So we started up again. But a lot of the younger guys don’t understand what we’re doing. They are a lot wiser than we were as to what’s happening on the street.

They are starting to make comparisons. When school lets out they see the white kids walking one way down their streets with malt shops and painted houses. Then the black kids walk into their streets past broken sidewalks and buildings falling down and lying on each other.

The black kids do the same thing we used to do. They go into the alleys and play basketball or go hunting rats—joker hunting. The rats—we call them jokers—around here are big as cats and the younger guys chase them, beating them with sticks and hitting them with tin cans.

We show the younger kids our scars from the old falls and tell them what we want to do but they are impatient. We tell them that we’re going to make the West Side the best side no matter what it takes.

Our message to the kids is "Zenezenabu". That’s Swahili for courage.