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 14th Street Clovers, Imperial Champlains, Satan Disciples, Mickey Cobras, Vice Lords,
Gangs headquartered Vice Lords,

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 when 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.  After the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 many people came flocking to this neighborhood due to the solid materials the homes were built with.

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 1910s more Russian Jews migrated into this neighborhood as they became the vast majority as they experienced upward mobility.  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 favor of this safer and less rundown neighborhood.

In the year 1948 the U.S. Supreme Court declared restrictive covenants as unconstitutional and were made illegal.  North Lawndale was a community that did not want African Americans but once the covenants were lifted African Americans wanted to look for an escape from the deteriorating Bronzeville section and wanted a better life in this white community that had better schools and better looking homes, it was a dream come true for them.  At the same time some of the Jewish families realized they now had experienced upward mobility and could move to the farther north side neighborhoods such as West Ridge or Forest Glen, or perhaps the suburbs like Evanston or Skokie.  As a result of the lift on covenants and this cluster of Jewish migration, some black families were able to settle here as early as the late 1940s.

The white Jewish community did not welcome the black families with open arms; instead they despised them and wanted them gone.  This hate was felt in the school yards especially at William Cullen Bryant School at 14th and Kedvale when some elementary aged black students got fed up and started a street gang called the “Egyptian Cobras,” a short time later a rival black street gang started called the “Imperial Champlains” that broke away from the Egyptian Cobras in the late 1940s.  These two gangs were ruthless in their later years and were even heard about on the south side because they were tougher and more ruthless then black south side gangs.

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 East and West Garfield Park streets.

By the year 1955 the crime wave had not stopped and it was infecting the black community of North Lawndale, this is when the black street gangs became more plentiful and violent.  Egyptian Cobras and Imperial Champlains were the biggest gangs and tried to smash all the smaller gangs.  With the arrival of the drug trade, rise in crime, sprouting up of several different street gangs and gangs becoming bigger and more violent the Jewish community became fed up and began moving out in larger numbers.

The African American population was growing quite well as white flight was happening at a pretty heavy pace in the earlier 1950s but starting in 1955 it became much faster.  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 door step 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 as long as 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.

Block busting and the closing of many businesses in the area dragged the neighborhood into a slum by the late 1950s with high crime and violence.  This neighborhood became worse than the Near West Side and the south side ghettos, this was the new ghetto and was much worse, redlining and disinvestment became harsh realities that costed many jobs and cut off many loans to black residents.

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 members of the Imperial Champlains and started his own gang called the “Vice Lords” that were geared at angrily destroying the streets of North Lawndale in revenge for their mistreatment by police.  In 1958 the boys were out and the Vice Lords started congregating at 21st and Lawndale and went crazy smashing on every other street gang brutally forcing them to flip to Vice Lords or face onslaughts of violence.  The Vice Lords immediately expanded in North Lawndale and were immediately known by law enforcement as they absorbed one gang after another and they terrorized the North Lawndale community into the 1960s as the last of the white population moved out.

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.  Vice Lords soon occupied these buildings and caused trouble all around the buildings, this sparked the creation of the Satan Disciples street gang that was a gang of white and Mexican greasers from 15th and Tallman, just two blocks away from the projects.

The 1960s was a decade where North Lawndale fell deeper into a slum, the Vice Lords and other gangs destroyed the neighborhood in the wake of their vicious gang wars.  In 1964 the older Vice Lords began attempting to organize themselves and stop destroying the community and this turned into them becoming “Conservative Vice Lords” and then creating “CVL Inc” by 1967.  CVL Inc used government funding to repair the neighborhood and offer job training programs, youth halls and black owned businesses.  The Martin Luther King riots of 1968 greatly destroyed much of the neighborhood; however, the Vice Lords tried to repair as much as possible.

By 1970 all funding was pulled from CVL Inc and the gang went back to being destructive and violent, they also heavily indulged in the drug trade, infecting the North Lawndale community with Heroin.

North Lawndale continued to deteriorate over the next few decades as bombed out abandoned buildings and homes became common sight and vacant lots lined the streets of this neighborhood.  Junkies and vagrants walk the streets at night while prostitutes and drug dealers run the street corners.  Gangs such as Vice Lords, New Breeds, Black Souls, Gangster Disciples and Four Corner Hustlers rule these streets and shoot each other dead over drug turf.

I cannot say much positive about this neighborhood as it is one of Chicago’s worst and has been for a long time. Sure there has been some positivity and neighborhood repair; however, the decay and danger far outweighs the positive.  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.  This is still an active gang war zone and Vice Lords are still here and strong.

North Lawndale is the birthplace of the Vice Lords, Satan Disciples and Mickey Cobras (formerly Egyptian Cobras).


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