4. Street Organizations and Community Organizing
In their efforts at developing a new identity as community organizations, the Blackstone Rangers and CVL, Inc. partnered with a number of established organizations working in economic development and in the culture sector. The list of partners for the CVL’s Art & Soul gallery was especially long. Along with the Museum of Contemporary Art, it included representatives of churches, universities, foundations, and corporations. One partner in Art & Soul was the West Side Organization (WSO), which focused on jobs and housing and published a newspaper, the West Side Torch. In one photo, WSO co-founder Chester Robinson appears discussing job programs with youth who may or may not be gang members (4.1). Notably, the WSO also worked with the CVL, Egyptian Cobras, and other organizations to create a paper recycling business, the West Side Paper Stock Corporation, an undertaking that was ahead of its time.
Youth organizations also established cleanup campaigns in their neighborhoods (4.2). They worked with retailers to provide Christmas donations to children, in at least one instance dressing as Santas (4.3). Relations with civic authorities were often strained, but the new organizations made overtures to police to demonstrate the constructive nature of their enterprises, such as the CVL’s open house at Teen Town (4.4); these efforts were, however, swept away in the city’s “War on Gangs,” initiated in 1969, which indiscriminately targeted both licit and illicit activities of youth organizations—indeed may have targeted them all the more fiercely because of their efforts at legitimation. In the fall of 1969—following a South Side convent occupation by members of the Blackstone Rangers in the summer—a group of Vice Lords occupied an abandoned convent in the East Garfield Park neighborhood. One photograph documents the open house they held there for community members and press to explain their plans to convert it into a school (4.5). After six weeks of occupation, police raided the building and ejected the occupants. A few months later, it was demolished.