Source: The Blackberry Preserve

Dear Chief Keef,

I, too, have some stuff I don’t like.

I need your assistance on setting the record straight about a few things concerning the history of Chicago. I’m reaching out to you because 1) your name is “Chief” so it seems logical that you would have more authority than anyone else around there, and 2) Chicago is the birthplace of Black History as a formal observance and celebration. Carter G. Woodson, an alumnus of the University of Chicago, organized a group at the legendary Wabash YMCA, which served as a cultural and recreational center for Black Chicagoans otherwise barred from public establishments. The group metamorphosed into the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), which would function as Woodson’s machine for publishing and popularizing Black history, in large part, by launching Negro History Week in 1926. That said, Chicago, as a pioneering voice of the Black past, has an inheritance and a charge to preserve the integrity of African American history. As your personal historian, I’ll get the information to you. As a premiere ambassador and trailblazer of influence for the city, you can get the word out. Here’s what I need you to let people know:

  1. I need you to let people know that although forces of propaganda portray African American males as the all-inclusive representatives for gang activity in Chicago, the city’s history shows an extensive record of illegal activity spearheaded by Irish, Italian, Sicilian, Puerto Rican, and Mexican gangs. Throughout the 1920s, violence in Chicago surpassed most other metropolitans due to the underworld of bootlegging and racketeering activated and aggravated by prohibition laws.  Mostly Irish and Italians controlled this gangland. Later, these European Descent gangsters were able to successfully integrate into the working and middle class ranks of Chicago’s industrial economy on the basis on whiteness. Meanwhile, African Americans, many of whom had fled the South in titanic numbers, were restricted to segregated housing (by law). Black enclaves quickly became overpopulated and volatile as the apartheid conditions of jobs and education in the city left them with few resources to build sustainable lives.
  1. I need you to let people know that the culture of Black gangs of the 1960s reflect the sociopolitical interests of African Americans during the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements. The spirit of solidarity is apparent in the relationship between David Barksdale (founder of the Black Disciples) and Larry Hoover (founder of the Gangster Disciples) who unified their street soldiers to establish the Black Gangster Disciples. The merger birthed a sturdier sense of community responsibility and the organization began efforts to become more politically active. They initiated education and jobs programs, as well as opened businesses including restaurants, a gas station, and a security operation. Another group, The Conservative Vice Lords, also contributed to the cause of racial uplift. They re-directed their past involvement in crime to opening an ice cream parlor for teens, a recreation center, and The African Lion, an Afrocentric apparel store between 1967 and 1969. They ran afterschool programs, performed community beautification projects, and participated in fundraisers for the American Cancer Society. The Blackstone Rangers did similar work, such as developing and managing a job training initiative.
  1. I need you to let people know that local policy makers, the feds, and outright racism are responsible for destabilizing the progress outlined above. By 1969 Mayor Richard Daley and state attorney Ed Hanrahan, via the Chicago Police Department, declared its official “War on Gangs.”  The authorities framed Bobby Gore (founder of the Conservative Vice Lords) with murder and two weeks later, on December 4, 1969, assassinated Fred Hampton (21-year-old activist and deputy chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party). Members of the CPD shot him twice in the head at point-blank range while sleeping in the home with his pregnant girlfriend. The FBI’s COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program) also worked with local police to prevent the impending alliance between the Black Panther Party and the Black Stone Nation by creating dissent between the two groups by using fake letters and William O’Neale, a paid FBI informant posing as a member of The Black Panther Party.
  1. I need you to let people know that the real gangs were the police. In 1967, the Chicago Sun-Times ran headlines noting, “Klan Headquarters Claim 50 Police Officers in Chicago Police Department Belong to Klan.” This was four years after Dr. King gave the speech that supposedly marked a new beginning for America.
  1. I need you to let people know that racial politics in Chicago were so grimy that it wouldn’t even tolerate non-violent Dr. Martin Luther King. He was hit in the head with a rock after leading marches in all-white neighborhoods as he protested for open housing. By 1966, Dr. King, rather than accept more comfortable accommodations, moved into a low-income apartment on Hamlin Avenue. His goal was to initiate a northern urban campaign to end violence, unemployment, and apartheid housing. He began to interact with several street gangs including the Blackstone Rangers and the Conservative Vice Lords. He also negotiated with local officials to begin measures to ensure fair neighborhood agreements and stop discriminatory practices of real estate agents. Of course, legislators defaulted on their promises. He, too, like Fred Hampton, was assassinated in 1968.

Chicago is yours, Sosa! A Black man, Jean Baptiste Point du Sable (of Haitian descent), founded the city. Oscar DePriest, the first Black congressman after Reconstruction, hailed from the South Side. Publishing mogul John H. Johnson createdEbony and Jet magazines in your city. Fearless lynching investigator Ida B. Wells and gospel queen Mahalia Jackson were Chicago residents. Carol Moseley Braun, the nation’s first Black woman senator is also from the Chi. We can’t forget about President Barack Obama’s affiliation. Tell Kanye West and Robert Kelly we said “Hi!” We could use their help too. Or maybe they could use ours. Either way, we need all hands on deck to get the story straight. Bang!