by Alejandro A. Alonso, M.S.
In Los Angeles and other urban areas in the United States, the formation of street gangs increased at a steady pace through 1996. The Bloods and the Crips, the most well-known gangs of Los Angeles, are predominately African American and they have steadily increased in number since their beginnings in 1969. In addition, there are over 600 active Hispanic gangs in Los Angeles County with a growing Asian gang population numbering approximately 20,000 members. Surprisingly, little has been written about the historical significance of black gangs in Los Angeles (LA). Literature and firsthand interviews with Los Angeles residents seem to point to three significant periods relevant to the development of the contemporary black gangs. The first period, which followed WWII and significant black migrations from the South, is when the first major black clubs formed. After the Watts rebellion of 1965, the second period gave way to the civil rights period of Los Angeles where blacks, including those who where former club members who became politically active for the remainder of the 1960s. By the early 1970s black street gangs began to reemerge. By 1972, the Crips were firmly established and the Bloods were beginning to organize. This period saw the rise of LA's newest gangs, which continued to grow during the 1970s, and later formed in several other cities throughout the United States by the 1990s. While black gangs do not make up the largest or most active gang population in Los Angeles today, their influence on street gang culture nationally has been profound.
In order to better understand the rise of these groups, I went into the original neighborhoods to document the history which led to these groups. There are 88 incorporated cities and dozens of other unincorporated places in Los Angeles County (LAC). In the process of conducting this research, I visited all of these places in an attempt to not just identify gangs active in Los Angeles, but to determine their territories. Through several weeks of field work and research conducted in 1996, I identified 274 black gangs in 17 cities and four unincorporated areas in LAC.
Post WWII to 1965
The first major period of black gangs in Los Angeles began in the late 1940s and ended in 1965. There were black gangs in Los Angeles prior to this period, but they were small in numbers; little is known about the activity of these groups. Some of the black groups that existed in Los Angeles in the late 1920s and 1930s were the Boozies, Goodlows, Blogettes, Kelleys, and the Driver Brothers. Most of these groups were family oriented, and they referred to themselves as clubs. Max Bond (1936:270) wrote briefly about a black gang of 15-year-old kids from the Central Avenue area that mostly stole automobile accessories and bicycles. It was not until the late 1940s that the first major black clubs surfaced on the East side of Los Angeles near Jefferson High School in the Central Avenue area. This was the original settlement area of blacks in Los Angeles. South of 92nd Street in Watts and in the Jefferson Park/West Adams area on the West side, there were significant black populations. By 1960 several black clubs were operating on the West side of Los Angeles, an area that had previously restricted black residents during the 1940s.
Several of the first black clubs to emerge in the late 1940s and early 1950s formed initially as a defensive reaction to combat much of the white violence that had been plaguing the black community for several years. In the surrounding communities of the original black ghetto of Central Avenue and Watts, and in the cities of Huntington Park and South Gate, white Angelenos were developing a dissatisfaction for the growing black population that was migrating from the South during WWII. During the 1940s, resentment from the white community grew as...