NYC gangs 1950-60's

New York City is divided into 'boroughs' or sections, each with their own special history and characterisitcs. These gangs roamed the three main boroughs - Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx (see map above). Over time, Queens succumbed to the gang phenomenom. The gangs from that time period were different from the gangs we see today in some unique ways. For instance, in the 1950's gangs didn't fight over drugs. Drive by shootings were rare, and the gangs were mostly comprised of teenagers aged 12-19. Rock 'n Roll was also coming into its own in the late 1950's. Listening to this music was a way that youth (not just gangs) were able to express themselves in a fashion that was rebelistic in a sense that their parents often hated the new music. Although drugs were prevalent in New York City, particularly with the rise of heroin in the late 50's and into the 60's, the gang wars were mostly fought over "turf" and girls. In the end, drugs helped contribute towards the demise of the gangs. Gang members would get hooked on heroin. Their emphasis and world would turn from the gang to their next fix. Junkies were notoriously unreliable in rumbles and would often be teased mercilessly or ostracized by the gang in the hope they would kick their habit and be a "productive" member of the gang. Gangs were more or less divided into ethnic groups, although many gangs did have a mixture of ethnicities. Blacks, Italians, Irish and Puerto Ricans all contributed to the estimated 6,000 gang members and hundreds of gangs throughout the city.

The Rumble
As a rule, a typical gang would only stay on their turf unless they were out fighting their rivals in their turfs. Turfs were very clearly dilineated and often there would be a "no-man's land" between the two turfs. The "rumble" became a popular way of describing these gangs. A rumble was a huge fight where 20-50 gang members on each side would meet at a prescribed battleground. Often this would be a park or schoolground. The fight wouldn't last for very long, a few minutes at the most, and the result would be broken bones, unconscious victims and even dead boys. Sometimes a rumble would be a spur of the moment thing, and other times a rumble would be planned weeks in advance by the two war counsellors and Presidents of each gang.

These juvenile gangs were often setup in a fairly structured way. There was a President, Vice President and War Counsellor. The President was usually the most intelligent of the group, usually a natural leader, but also tough as nails. The Vice President was similar in that he had to support the President. The War Counsellor was responsible for setting up rumbles, scouting enemy territory and keeping an inventory of the weapons. Some gangs were large enough to have a "junior" gang beneath them. These members would "graduate" to the "senior" gang once they proved their mettle in battle or became of age. Towards the end of the 1950's the rumble was replaced with a new style of gang warfare called "japping." Japping did not involve huge swathes of youths running into a mass of violent confusion. Instead, four or five "boppers" would sneak into enemy territory and find a rival gang member by himself. They would attack and beat him and then skulk back to their home turf.

The weapons used in those days were different from the weapons gangs use now. Gangs today mainly use hand guns. However, the gangs back then lived in the projects and run-down tenements so they could not afford hand guns. Boppers would rely on home made guns called "zip-guns," made out of elastics and a door latch -- sometimes made in the shop class at school! However, these guns were notoriously finicky, sometimes exploding in the face of the operator. Instead the gangs would rely heavily on fists broom sticks, rocks, bicycle chains, garrison belts, switchblades, baseball bats and car aerials. Some gang members would wear pointed shoes that could kick a boy to death in a matter of minutes. If you were ever stomped you were in big trouble. Stomping involved a ring of boys kicking and jumping on their prostrate foe. Sometimes their shoes had metal cleats that cut into the flesh.

How Dangerous?
Were these gangs really that dangerous? Juvenile delinquency, a fancy name for troubled youth (not attending school, participating in anti-social behavior) was a rising phenomenom after World War II. With each passing year new gangs sprang up, and they became larger and more violent. Rumbles were common (until japping took its place), and fights, stabbings, killings and rapes were reported in the newspapers every day. Of course gang activity raised the ire of the law abiding citizens especially whenever a particularly grisly killing would be splashed across the headlines of the New York newspapers. Two incidents in particular that galvanized New York City were the murder of Michael Farmer and the Capeman Murders. Both were particularly brutal even by the gangs' standards. Follow the links to learn more about these crimes.



the Fordham Baldies
the Ducky Boys Gang aka the Ducky Gang
the Fordham Flames
the Golden Guineas (a predominantly Italian American gang)
the Villa Avenue Gang
the Bailey Gang