Chicago Gang History

Status: Active

Mickey Cobras

ColorsBlack, green and red
Primary ethnicitiesAfrican American
SymbolsCobra snake, whip, flail, crescent moon 1966-present, 21 brick pyramid 1966-present, eye 1966-present, 13-3
AffiliationPeople since 1978
FounderUnknown. Submit info.
Founding year1948
Founding neighborhoodNorth Lawndale, 14th and Kedvale
Main neighborhoodVarious south side and south east side hoods

 

The Mickey Cobras are the first street gang in Chicago, and they are the oldest African American street gang in Chicago.  The genesis of this organization goes all the way back to the year 1948 in the Fillmore district of the North Lawndale neighborhood on Chicago’s west side.  North Lawndale was a Jewish community since the 1910s decade, housing about 65,000 Jews by 1946.  In 1948 restrictive covenants were found to be unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme court.  These covenants allowed entire communities to decide what race, ethnicity, gender or whatever they wanted from moving into their community.  It was legal housing discrimination that they could take to court and have it signed by a judge; now in 1948 it was banished. 

In 1948 the overall nation’s economy had improved bringing many more and higher paying jobs to many Americans, or should I specify and say white Americans.  This brought about upward mobility for the many Jewish residents in the North Lawndale neighborhood which meant it was time for them move out of the aging community of North Lawndale.  At first it was a small wave of Jews that left and some African American families moved in.  The black families were not given a nice warm welcome instead there was resentment that they were there.  This was really apparent in the public schools in the neighborhood and that is where all this North Lawndale gang banging started.

The founder of the nation was said to have been put together by James Cogwell who was related to future President Henry “Mickey” Cogwell.  Some have said that Mickey founded the Cobras which is complete bullshit because Henry Cogwell was only 3 years old when the nation was founded.  Henry “Mickey” Cogwell was born July 27, 1945 so he could not have possibly been the founder not only that the myths about Jerome “Pony Soldier” Cogwell founding the Cobras is an even worse fabrication because he was born in 1949 and the Cobras were formed before he was even born.  Even if the founding year was to be 1954 like Wikipedia and the internet say, Henry would have only been 9 years old.  As far as James Cogwell forming this organization, I do not know if I agree or not because I do not know when he was born, all I know is he would have had to have been at least nearly 7 years older than Henry “Mickey” Cogwell which is a stretch unless the Cogwells were a really big family.  Well, whomever actually founded the Cobras they did it in 1948 right on the corner of 14th and Kedvale at 1355 South Kedvale Avenue at the William Cullen Bryant school (now closed down and torn down to a vacant lot).  At this school yard kids were picking on other kids, throwing rocks and mud at each other etc….Some of the African American kids finally got fed up with being picked on because they were black and they banded together.  They started calling their unity the “Egyptian Cobras.”  These kids were only about 9-13 years old in age and back then if the CPD or teaching staff even heard of an “Egyptian Cobras” they probably blew it off as child’s play and not a real threat.  After school the Cobras began congregating at Franklin Park right down the street at the corner of 14th-15th and Kolin.  This was North Lawndale’s first significant street gang and the first serious African American street gang in the city of Chicago, the legacy was now born and this was the birth of a new breed of black gangs in Chicago.

Later in 1948 or perhaps 1949 the Egyptian Cobras starting believing that all black youths should join the club to fight off the oppression they faced and they got real aggressive about recruiting.  When fellow black youths turned them down, the Cobras would bully them to add pressure to join, this lead to a rebel gang to form to deal with the Cobras over zealousness known as the “Imperial Champlains” that congregated between 16th and Homan and 16th and 16th and Trumbull.  Now the issue was not only to combat racism but to also see who the tougher gang was.

By the early 1950s, the two gangs grew larger in number because more Jewish families were packing their bags and heading for the burbs or the far north side.  The families wanted to escape the city life and settle in nicer areas.  Not to say North Lawndale was a bad neighborhood in the early 1950s but there was just better out there and the families could afford it, so why not? 

As the old homes of the Jewish families became available black families from the south side migrated into North Lawndale for a better life then the crumbling “black belt” or the run down Bronzeville area of the south side.  More African American children meant more possibilities for recruiting for the Egyptian Cobras and the Imperial Champlains.  The boys in these gangs were now ranging from 10-11 years old up to high school age.  The high school age members were more rowdy and would engage in more violent behavior.  In the very early part of the decade there was still no cause for alarm.  They committed petty crimes and if members had the money they would buy black sweaters with a cobra emblem on it.  It was also at this point in time when real estate agents really increased “white flight” by using block busting tactics to scare away long term white residents so black families could move in and the real estate agents could take their money while charging higher mortgages.  The agents often misguided these black families into thinking they were getting a good deal and then end up with expensive mortgages.

In the spring of 1953, robberies, muggings and drug related crimes suddenly skyrocketed in the community.  Residents of North Lawndale were shocked and began demanding the police to figure this out.  This was at first deemed just as a crime wave that would only be temporary but this would never go away it was the beginning of a new era. 

The gangs were contributors to the increased crime but many of the crimes were caused by non-gang members.  Often criminals roamed their way to this neighborhood to cause trouble and buy and sell drugs because they knew the black residents would be to blame.  The crime wave continued into 1954 and by the fall of 1954 the pressure was really pushing on Captain Thomas O’Donnell of the North Lawndale area police dept to clean the neighborhood up.  It was at this time that the Egyptian Cobras and Imperial Champlains gangs were identified by Chicago Police. 

A lot of internet sources say the Cobras started in 1954 at Roosevelt and Maxwell which is all bullshit because the Egyptian Cobras arrived with the first black migration wave in North Lawndale and it is common street knowledge that the Cobras were the first black gang in North Lawndale and the first black gang in the city.  It is also known that Cobras outage the Champlains slightly according to many old school Vice Lords that were banging as Champlains as far back as the late 1940s.  Also Roosevelt and Maxwell is way the hell over in the far east side of the West Loop neighborhood, miles away from North Lawndale and no, they would not have spread over there by 1954 because gangs in general were not spreading out back in the earlier 1950s.  At best maybe a small section splintered off and formed near Roosevelt and Maxwell by 1954 but it was not the main hub of the gang.

By 1955, white flight was heavily increasing because that crime wave would not quit, so white Jews were packing their bags in droves while the black population steadily increased.  It was at this point in time in the mid-1950s that new gangs were sprouting up all over North Lawndale like the Dirty Sheiks, Wailing Shebas, Continental Pimps, 14th Street Clovers, Imperial Knights, Barons, Comanches, Roman Saints, Imperial Roman Cobras and Van Dykes. Not only to mention Champlains and Cobras were growing significantly and had members that were already 20-21 years old.  Now North Lawndale was a war zone with street gangs, which led Chicago Police to hurry up and identify the different gangs and that is how the Cobras were first identified in 1954. With some members now aging, the Cobras now needed a system of identifying seniority and that is when they broke it down between Senior Egyptian Cobras and Junior Egyptian Cobras.

In the late 1950s, the gang wars became more murderous as shootings became more of regular thing in North Lawndale.  Things heated up worse once the Vice Lords formed on the street corner of 21st and Lawndale in 1958.  They were hell bent on taking over the whole neighborhood and fought the dominating Egyptian Cobras tooth and nail for it.  The Cobras then began further neighborhood expansion.  Now the Egyptian Cobras began congregating at Roosevelt and Kedzie as they pushed to take over Douglas Park.  This also brought them into heavy conflict with the Roman Saints that had territory in east North Lawndale all by Douglas Park.

Rumor has it that this James Cogwell, the founder, was killed in 1961, I can’t verify that anywhere and no one seems to know him and even gets him confused with Jerome “Pony Soldier” Cogwell who at that time was probably just joining the Cobras as he was only 12 years old at the time.  It is said that Henry “Mickey Cobb” Cogwell took over leadership in 1961 at the age of 16.  Mickey was a fast talking hustler that had tons of charisma, charm, smarts and leadership skills so it is very possibly he indeed did take the throne in that year, although I am not sure if an older brother James Cogwell was the one he inherited it from.

Mickey opened up a new chapter for the Egyptian Cobras when he moved to the south side by 1962 into the Robert Taylor projects that were brand new at that time as they were constructed in 1962 in the Grand Boulevard and Washington Park neighborhoods, the Cobras mainly landed in the Washington Park section of the projects in an area known as “The Hole.”  These were the largest projects in the country stretching for miles so this was prime opportunity for the Cobras to achieve expansion. 

Egyptian Cobras on the south side were not easily identified by police in the 1960s which made for smoother operations for Mickey.  In 1962 he proposed a merger with another gang called the “King Cobras” (not Black King Cobras).  This proposal was accepted and the new organization was now the “Egyptian King Cobras.”  This name was never known in the press or really even by law enforcement.  The name was mainly used on the south side not as much by the Cobras on the west side.

In May of 1966, Mickey was approached by Eugene “King Bull” Hairston and his Black Stone Rangers to meet at a picnic with over 20 other gang leaders on the south side.  This picnic was a proposed merger for all the gangs to come together under one alliance known as the “Black P Stone Nation.”  Mickey accepted just like all the other gangs at that picnic because they all had a common enemy, the Black Disciples.  The Egyptian Cobras were then known as “Cobra Stones” although this name was not heavily thrown around by members or even identified much by the press or law enforcement at first.  Not only this, on the west side the Cobras were still going at it hard with the Vice Lords, and Vice Lords and Stones were somewhat allied due to deep family ties of the leaders of both organizations.

The late 1960s, gave more rise to the Egyptian Cobras than ever and not as Egyptian Cobras but more as Cobra stones.  The BPSN became very active in politics, community outreach and the obtaining of thousands of dollars in government funding.  This even lead to Henry Cogwell making an appearance in the white house to speak for Jeff Fort that turned down the invitation. 

Mickey Cogwell was now the official spokesman for the BPSN.  Cogwell had more of a seat ever since his younger brother Jerome “Pony Soldier” Cogwell was killed on September 7th or 8th 1968 at 5244 State street right outside the entrance of the Robert Taylor homes, he was killed the same weekend as Jeff Fort’s younger brother Leroy Hairston.  The murders were done by the Devil’s Disciples which was the main gang allied with the Black Disciples alliance.  In December of 1968 Jeff Fort led a massive march down State Street demanding that the city rename State Street after Jerome Cogwell.  The Stones proceeded to smash windows, cars and rioting all up and down as they marched causing destruction.  This march was meant to protest the disorderly conduct charge that police were using to harass residents.

In 1972, Jeff Fort was brought up on several charges for mismanaging government funding and he was sentenced to 4 years in prison.  Before he left he appointed Mickey Cogwell to be the interim leader and to keep Eugene Hairston out of power if he got paroled.  Cogwell at that point was running the entire BPSN on the streets and became well known along with the Cobra Stone name.  By the early 1970s the Egyptian Cobras left North Lawndale and were strictly concentrated on the south side.  The Egyptian Cobra name disappeared and the Cobra Stone name was all the way used.  This was the new identity especially since the west side chapter was closed and Cogwell was running the whole BPSN and also he was the last boss of the numbers racket.

In March of 1976, Jeff Fort was released from Leavenworth federal prison.  He made a big announcement that he had converted to the nation of Islam while he was in Leavenworth, now he expected his entire BPSN to convert to the nation of Islam and become the “EL Rukns.”  There was no ifs’ ands or buts about it.  Members were not allowed to retain any Christian, Catholic or Baptist beliefs.  This also meant no eating pork, swearing or consuming alcohol.  Many Stones were not happy with this at all and wanted to object but they had to hold their tongues because Jeff Fort said if there were any objections it meant death especially for his council.  Mickey was the only one to speak up about it because he felt he was close enough to Jeff Fort to say something.  Jeff Fort did not become enraged so everyone thought it was all good until February 25, 1977.  On this day Mickey was walking home at 3:45 in the morning to his home after he had been dropped off.  An assassin came up behind him and Mickey started to run, the assassin fired his 9MM pistol into the back of Cogwell, after Cogwell collapsed the gunman shot him two more times in the back then fled.  No one was prosecuted or identified as the killer but the Cobra Stones’ new leader that took over Theotis Clark “Emperor Thee,” Blamed Jeff Fort and the EL Rukns for the hit even though Fort claimed his innocence.  It was said Mickey was killed because he spoke out about the new Islamic doctrines but that was never verified.  Theotis Clark then changed the organization’s name to the “Mickey Cobras” and declared a full scale war on the EL Rukns. The war did not die down until November 11, 1978 when the Mickey Cobras joined the People Nation alliance with enemies EL Rukns and Vice Lords.

Henry “Mickey” Cogwell was greatly missed by the Cobra Nation as he was a clever hustler and big time numbers racket Chief.  For the first time since Teddy Roe, a black man was back in charge of the numbers racket since the Outfit took it over after Roe’s death in 1952.  Mickey ran the racket like a mob boss and ran all Cobra Stone operations like a mob boss.  It was Mickey that repaired this damaged organization that originally taught the black man to stand up to white gangs in the late 1940s and 1950s, but the organization missed the mark on how to truly create a mob-like empire that the Vice Lords had figured out and that is why the Vice Lords crushed the Cobras in North Lawndale, but Mickey rebuilt the nation when he took over in the early 1960s and perhaps if he lived longer the Cobras could have grown much larger and become even more complex of a mob; however, Mickey’s legacy still remained with the Cobras’ leadership that continued to operate in an organized crime fashion.

Sometime in the early 1980s, Theotis Clark was no longer the leader of the Mickey Cobras and actually in 1985 the EL Rukns tried to kill him for selling Heroin around 67th and Black Stone in the Woodlawn neighborhood.  As the 1980s progressed, the Mickey Cobras grew in numbers spreading in many areas on the south side and in the Cabrini Green housing projects on Chicago’s north side.  They became heavily set up in the Dearborn homes and of course the Robert Taylors mainly at 53rd and State “The Hole” in Washington Park.  They also expanded into Englewood, Woodlawn and Fuller Park neighborhoods.

Please send in 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s pics!  1940s and 1950s pics especially wanted!

Questions:

  1.  Ok, is the founder actually James Cogwell or someone else?  If it is James, what year was he born?
  2. Did the west side Egyptian Cobras carry the name Egyptian King Cobra from 62-66?
  3. What exact year did Cobras pack up and leave North Lawndale?
  4. What year was Theotis Clark dethroned and why?
  5. What was the time line of leader after Clark up to the year 2000?

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