Monroe area gangs were product 60's era frustrations

Vicious Gangs in Monroe created atmosphere of violence and fear in the late 1950's and 1960's

The late 1950's and early 60's was a trying era for American Blacks. It was a time when a race disturbed over it's status in America struggling desperately to make sense of what Gunnar Mydal called the "American Dilemma."

Black youth watched Elvis Presely sing a white version of the Blues and make millions while the poverty and conditions the song spoke of continued.

The eight year period between 1956 and 1965 was a trying one for Blacks in Monroe. "White" and "Colored" water fountains were sprinkled throughout the city. Restaurants were serving Blacks from the back door and the plight seemed to be worsening.

Malcolm X placed the blame on the White Devils. Elijah Muhammad called for the so-called Negro to become aware of himself. Martin Luther King urged nonviolent solutions while H. "Rap" Brown and Stokely Carmicheal urged Black youth to "Burn Baby Burn."

Black Youth Listened to some wild and crazy music in the 60's

Black youth across America listened to the many voices speaking to them and reacted in different ways. Some joined the Congress of Racial Equality, in Monroe scores of teenagers signed up. Some joined the Elijah Muhammad's Black Muslim...they did that too in Monroe. But many Black youth, confused, unemployed and forsaken to the streets.

In Watts, whole Black neighborhoods were burned. There were fierce gangs in Chicago and New York and movies about gangs and gang life sparked even more interest...In the late 1950's gangs began to develop in Monroe as well.

Why gangs, and their resulting violent activities, began in Monroe no one really knows. Neither is there an exact date when they began...but theories about the cause are numerous.

HOUSING PATTERNS: Some have theorized that the Monroe gangs began as a result of housing conditions in the city. In the early 1950's the Foster Homes, with over 100 units of housing for the poor, was opened. A few years later the Carver Homes opened bringing hundreds more together as neighbors in close, confined areas.

Booker T was a new neighborhood, just beginning to develop in the early 50's and by the late 50's and early 60's the population began to grow.

Pine Street, and 14th were traditionally centers of heavy Black population.

Neighborhoods were congested. Housing was poor and with hundreds of young people who were only children in the early 50's becoming teenagers, the housing patterns were a major contributing pattern to gang development.

EMPLOYMENT: Employment opportunities for Black youth were minimal. There were no government financed job programs. Most whites hired only a handful of adult Blacks and firms that hired teenagers such as fast food restaurants, theatres etc., were not hiring young Blacks. It was a struggle just to patronize such business with dignity let along get them to hire young Blacks.

RECREATION FACILITIES: Until the city's present recreational facilities were built in the early 1960's there were virtually no public recreational facilities available for Black youth. There was a swimming pool for Negro youth on Renwick Street which had a small tin building behind it, used for a recreation center.

Some recreational activities were sponsored by interested groups on Lincoln-Carroll school campus. (In the early 60's Lincoln Elementary School was housed in what is now known as Carroll Jr. High.).

There was virtually no organized recreational activity for Black youth and for the most part each summer the youth were left idle.

Some say the lack of recreational facilities was a contributor to the gangs and their resultant violent behavior.

The Gang was the Extended Family

If Black parents were blessed enough to have jobs usually they worked long, irregular hours. Frequently many parents were single with three or more children. The need to work considerably greater than the danger of being absent from the home.

As their parents worked, often children were left alone to fend for themselves. The survival instinct became a way of life for these children who learned to either help out, grow up or get out. This crude form of education was learned often without the guiding influence of a mother or father figure.

The frequent absence of a father or mother figure in the home caused a rearrangement of the Black family structure. Instead of the mother or father looking after toddlers and school aged children, it was an older child sometimes only no more than 12 years old. Smaller children looked up to "big" brothers and sisters for guidance... they became their role models.

The Gang Emerges

Whatever the reasons, gangs began to appear in Monroe in 1957.

Among the numerous gangs in the city seven were most notorious: The Untouchables (Known also as the Newtown Gang): The Pilots, The Booker T. Gang, The Bryant's Addition Gang, The Atkins Quarters Gang, The Pine Street Gang, and the 14th Street Gang. (1)

The neighborhood gang was the extended family of the older youth. The gang provided protection, a sense of self esteem, security, and social acceptance. To be in the gang was the epitome of success.

To some of the young men the gang would become their families, broken homes and family troubles left many empty. The gang filled the void in their lives. Others from stable homes, joined to avoid ostracism. In those days it was best to have someone in your corner.

Because the need to be in the gang was great among youth, the requirements for acceptance were often difficult. Some gangs required new members to steal something, or to fight and defeat someone from an opposing gang. (2) It was a test of courage and daring. However most gangs were not known for stealing...only the Pine Street gang in its latter years turned stealing and burglary into a well run business as the police made numerous busts recovering television sets, air conditioners, and weapons from gang storing places.

Young men of strength and charisma emerged as the leader of the gangs. They were usually among the toughest or the most cunning in the neighborhood. They were young men of superior leadership ability, although raw and unrefined. It is said that most of the gangs had a leader. However the Booker T. and Atkin Quarters gangs at times appeared to have no leaders. (3) The leader of the gang was The Father figure in his neighborhood, his word was the gospel and none dared to challenge him.

Among the varied gang members and leaders of the 1960's The Pratt Brothers rose prominent as leaders of the Bookers T. Gang (4) Others who participated in gangs included: Ebbie Gentry-Anderson and Ralph Cheffin of Atkin quarters; The Pratt Brothers, Horace Cherry, Ernest Long were in the Booker T. Gang; Robert "Bobby" Elliot, Melvin Page, Foster Knox, Doc Porter, Simmie Hill, Harold Hill, Franklin Duncan, Grant Emerson, Julian Gray, Clarence Covington, Herbert Riley, William "Pappy" Riley, Dennis Dunn, Ricky Dunn, Ralph Decatur, Wiley Holmes, Wash Jenkins, Fred Collins, Charles Foy, Allen Ross, Bob Willis, and Monroe Sims were members of the Newtown gang; (5) Buford "Hawk" Huckleberry, Raymond "Buzzard" Calhoun, Fred "Frog" Staten, Lavelle Staten and others were members of the Bryant's Addition gang. (6)

One of the primary functions of the gang was the protection of what was perceived to be their territory or "turf." (7) A gang's territory was considered sacred. A gang demanded respect of their territory. No one from another gang was allowed to defile the territory with their presence. Invasion of another gangs territory could start a full scale war.

The territorial boundaries of the gangs were unofficial but were well defined in the minds of gang members. The Booker T. Gang's territory spanned from Sherrouse Street to Rogers Street. The Renwick neighborhood was controlled by a subgroup not associated with the Booker T. Gang composed of the Newman family: Eugene, Kenneth "Screw" and other brothers as well as Tom Adams, John Adams, Justin Austin and others. (9) But the Renwick neighborhood with another subgroup itself was divided, there was the Foster Homes, large public housing project, that sat as Island in the middle of the Renwick neighborhood with another subgroup which controlled the Foster Homes. (10)

The Newtown Boundaries ranged from the "New Homes" area now the vicinity of Carver Elementary School to the Missouri Pacific railroads tracks. (11) All areas East of Wilson Street and South of Winnsboro Road fell in the boundaries of the Bryant's Addition gang and Atkins Quarters was bounded by Jackson Street and Dick Taylor. (12)

Violent Tendencies

Much of the activities of the gangs involved fighting. Some called them full scale wars, there was fighting, shooting. and stabbing.

Between 1956 and 1960 the toughest and most violent of the gangs was the Newtown gang, then called the "Untouchables."

"We use to wear white trench coats, something we got from Foster Knox, who was real cool, it was something we use to distinguish ourselves...we were untouchable. We would fight anybody,..and when there was nobody else we'd go down by the tracks and beat up hobos." (13)

The Newtown gang mainly resorted to fist fighting up until 1959 when the gang had as encounter with a group of boys who lived in the vicinity of the Oak Leaf Bar (now the site of the Monroe Civic Center). These boys used knives, razors and black jacks in their fights and prominent among them were Lawrence Gipson and James Burroughs. As a result of the 1959 fight some of the Newtown gang members were actually hurt beyond bruises. From that time on the gang began using weapons in their fights which included: socks filled with sands, bottles, sticks, and knives. (14)

The first death of record was the of Simmie Hill, who was accidentally killed at old "colored" skating rink on 10th Street by Horace Cherry, as the gang was arriving at the rink to enter. Cherry had fired shots in the air to stop others there from trying to slip in. Foe Newtown the death of Hill dampened their spirit and the "Untouchables " began to diminish in prominence. (15) The gang later was revived by Ancel Johnson who gave it a new name called the "Pirates."

Clarence Tillman was killed at the Town and Country restaurant in the early 60's by Wallie Holmes, a member of the Newtown gang. Charles Foy was stabbed to death in the lobby of Carroll High School (16) A member of the Pine Street gang was killed by Eugene "Duce" Newman, director of The Marbles Recreation Center. Newman was shot by his assailant two times and he killed the youth in self-defense. (17) There were many other accounts of violent encounters and massive gang fights "neutral zones" all across the city.
The Decline of the Gangs
The decline of the gangs have attributed too primary factors...urban renewal and the influence of James Hughey and Morris Henry Carroll.

URBAN RENEWAL: A comprehensive urban renewal project developed by the mayoral administration W.L. "Jack" Howard in the early 1960's proved to be a major factor in the decline of neighborhood gangs.

Put simply, urban renewal broke up the traditional gang neighborhood. The Monroe Civic Center complex was built in the middle of Oak Street neighborhood forcing residents to relocate. During the same period the Interstate 20 Highway split the Newtown community in half and hundreds of residents moved out. The Downtown Washington connector ripped through the Downtown area and tearing into strongholds of the Pilots and the Pine Street Gangs. By the mid seventies the area was fast becoming a ghost town. Today only a few homes are left in the Pine Street area.

MORRIS HENRY CARROLL: As principal of Carroll High School, Carroll had an inordinate amount of influence on the operations of the gangs. As a former football coach he understood boys and knew how to handle them. His role in dealing with them was crucial.

Carroll successfully harnessed the influence of many gang members by encouraging many of them to play football at the school. On the football fields, cross the rivals became teammates, enemies became allies, or at the very least associates. There was a climate of "peaceful coexistence" created wherein gang members tolerated the presence of the others for the sake of the team.

And the team did well. With a football team composed of many gang members and the city's toughest youth Carroll High School won the state championship repeated and posed a 33 game winning. Former gang members such as: Robert Gene and Delles Howell were major contributors to that success. (20) Howell later went on to become a professional football player with the New Orleans Saints and other teams.

But despite Carroll's success with gang members who played on the team..there were still gang fights at the football games themselves with other gang members. Taking a tip from a industrial Willie Melvin who used tougher gang members as cage foreman to keep order, Carroll developed the Carroll Junior Police.

The Carroll Jr. Police squad was composed mainly of gang members, usually the toughest and meanest. They were given khaki uniforms, silver helmets, badges, and a license to do anything necessary to break up fights at football games and on campus. (21) The technique worked as gang members, now Jr. Police, spotted and headed off potential trouble before it began.

Carroll worked untiringly to control the influence of the gangs and was successful in reducing the violent encounter significantly.

JAMES HUGHEY: Perhaps the person who played the most important role in controlling and reducing gangs in the city was "Coach" James Hughey.

Hughey was an athletic coach at Carver elementary school when it was newly constructed. He taught many of the Newtown gang members while they were still young and gained their respect.

A former Newtown gang member Buford Huckleberry remembers:

"We were all mad. We didn't want to be there in the first place we all wanted to go to Monroe Colored High and then they built Carver and told us we had to go there because we lived on the Southside of town." Coach" talked to us and worked with us and we got in our own gang he knew all of us, especially Newtown because we had been working with him."

Coach Hughey used the gang's fighting instinct as a way to keep violence off the streets..he organized and supervised the the rules.

Hughey rounded up a few pairs of 16 ounce boxing glove, some head gear and a basketball clock. If anyone felt like they wanted to fight, Coach Hughey matched them up for two to three minutes rounds. Many fellows, not in condition to fight by rules for six minutes in a ring soon gave up fighting as no longer a fun activity. (23)

Kenneth Newman a participant in one of Hughey's ring fights remembers: "I was never in a gang. But me and my brothers would fight to protect ourselves. My older brothers were rough too and I had to live up to that. I would fight in a minute..but then Coach put me in the ring with these 16 ounce gloves..when I got through trying to defend myself in those gloves, I decided fighting wasn't for me..." (24)

In addition to the boxing, Coach started to organize neighborhood basketball teams to give the youth summer activity. White merchants, desiring to protect themselves from youth violence, donated uniforms for the teams. (25)

Hughey called frequent council meetings with gang leaders where they would meet in a central place and hash out differences in one room, he counseled them frequently and encouraged them to seek to develop themselves fully. Many of the youths listened, some did not.

And in the future.....

Today there are still neighborhood youth groups, some still carry the names of the old gangs of the past, but the violent tendencies of past generations have been reduced significantly by the availability of summer jobs, and a considerable number of recreational activities provided by numerous groups including the Tri-District Boys and Girls Club, and the City of Monroe's Recreation Program.

In this year of Monroe's bicentennial, the memory of these gangs and the people who worked with them is an important part of Monroe Black History that deserves to be recorded, studied, and reviewed for the benefit of future generations.

Article submitted by Bonita Hatcher Armstrong and Roosevelt Wright, Jr.
(1) A conversation with Willie Leo Moore, a former member of the Pilots Gang; March 18, 1983, Monroe, LA.
(2) I bid
(3) I bid
(4) I bid
(5) A conversation with Robert "Bobby" Elliott, a member of the Newtown gang at the time. March 29, 1983 Monroe,LA
(6) A conversation with Buford "Hawk" Huckleberry, a former member of the Bryants Addition Gang, March 29, 1983, Monroe,LA
(7) A conversation with Coach James Hughey an adult youth worker at the time. March 11, 1983, Monroe, LA
(8) I bid
(9) Elliott Conversation
(10) I bid
(11) I bid
(12) I bid
(13) I bid
(14) I bid
(15) I bid
(16) Moore Conversation
(17) A conversation with Kenneth Newman, a resident at the time, a cousin to Eugene Newman. March 29, 1983, Monroe, LA
(18) Moore Conversation
(19) Huckleberry Conversation
(20) A conversation with Curtis J. Armand, coach of the Carroll High School Bulldogs, at the time. March 17, 1983.
(21) Newman interview
(22) Huckleberry
(23) Hughey conversation
(24) Newman conversation
(25) Hughey Conversation