Gangsters of Harlem
by Ron Chepesiuk
Harlem's notorious gangsters have been the subject of more movies than any other criminal group, except perhaps the Italian American mafia.
Shaft, Hoodlum, Harlem Nights, and New Jack City are just a few of the flicks. Yet, Tinsel Town's depiction is largely fictional - good viewing but
inaccurate history. Why fictionalize the gangsters of Harlem when their true story is every bit as colorful?
For the first time, journalist Ron Chepesiuk provides a fascinating look at the underworld of the Big Apple's most famous neighborhood.
Harlem was a highly fashionable white neighborhood in the late 1890s - but during the early twentieth century, East Harlem became
the base for the Morello-Terranova gang, one of the first Italian American crime families.
When the real estate market collapsed shortly after the turn of the century, Harlem emptied of white residents - but white crime syndicates
kept their hold on the neighborhood. By the 1930s, two-thirds of the city’s African Americans were living in Harlem. As the neighborhood
changed, it spawned such legendary gangsters as Caspar Holstein, who pioneered the illegal numbers game, and Queenie St. Claire, the
woman who refused to be cowed by mobster Dutch Schultz.
Later, Bumpy Johnson, the “Original Gangster,” made his mark on organized crime as the middleman
between the Italian American mob and the Harlem community. He became the model for the godfather in the popular Shaft movies of the 1970s.
By the 1970s, big-time drug traffickers like Frank “Black Caesar” Matthews; “The Untouchable”
Leroy Nicky Barnes, and Frank “Super Fly” Lucas had taken over the organized crime turf in Harlem—paving the way for
the No Fear Gang, the Lincoln Crew, the Bloods and the Crips, as well as Clarence “The Preacher” Heatley,
who terrorized the neighborhood for more than a decade with the threat of his basement torture chamber.
In Gangsters of Harlem, Chepesiuk’s lively and well-documented descriptions of Harlem’s gangs and gangsters show that fact can be
more riveting than fiction.
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