When ‘Conservative’ Wasn’t A Dirty Word

Posted: November 23, 2008 in Remember

cvlFrom the “1960’s Conservative Vice Lords’ Homepage
“In the 1960s the Conservative Vice Lords transformed themselves from a street gang into an organization devoted to the economic and social empowerment of the African American community in Lawndale, Illinois.

Their story has been largely forgotten and their accomplishments remain hidden from the present generation. A majority of Chicagoans are unaware of the momentous events that took place in one of Chicago’s poorest Black neighborhoods.

The CVL proved that young Black people from the streets can unite and build a better future. They also showed that their steps forward would be vehemently opposed by the white political establishment.”


The Conservative Vice Lords, like other African American youth were constantly harassed by police. During rising tensions in the Spring of 1966, a CVL sister was killed. Some time later, on Division Street in Humboldt Park Puerto Ricans rioted.

Later in summer, in 100 degree heat, kids all over Chicago turned on fire hydrants and played in the water. But when the Black kids of Lawndale tried to stay cool by doing like their white counter-parts, the police cracked heads and made arrests. While Dr. King was being assaulted in white neighborhoods, Black Lawndale residents had enough and took to the streets.

But the Conservative Vice Lords did not go out and join the rioting or encourage violence. They travelled through the streets talking to the kids and trying to keep things calm. Irv Spergel from the University of Chicago observed their behavior and concluded that trying to destroy Chicago gangs like the Vice Lords was counter-productive and efforts should be made to “re-direct” their energies into stabilizing communities.

At a press conference on the morning of April 4, 1968, the CVL announced the opening of Teen Town. Proposals had been sent to the Rockefeller Foundation and had successfully obtained monies to start what would be an amazing set of programs over the next two years:

These would include: Teen Town; The African lion; Lawndale Pool Room; “Partners;” Art & Soul; a Movie made with the help of students from the University of Illinois – Chicago; House of Lords; The Tenants Rights Action Group; The Management Training Institute; and two Tastee Freeez stores.

The CVL also had a Rockefeller Planning grant, ran summer buses to take kids to retreats, plays, such as Sammy Davis’ Golden Boy, circus, etc. They also ran various beautification drives, and even had an open house for police.

Many of these programs are explained in their 1969 Report to the Public. The CVL would win the support and funding from many prominent people, including Republican fund-raiser, W. Clement Stone. A Chicago institution, Sun-Times columnst Irv Kupcinet, visited the CVL and praised their work.


  1. avery says:

    interesting read. but being from the chicagoland area, the vice lords? i’m sure there are some alternative – and far less sympathetic – readings of their activities. remember, the panthers had some of the same things going on. as recently as the 90’s, the gangster disciples i knew were telling me about growth and development, which was supposed to be the new direction the gang was taking. they even had some members – known gds, now, – running for elected office in chicago. i forget exactly what happened, whether gator bradley got one term, or never made it to office, but at the end of the day, they were still gds. i can easily imagine the same thing here.

    but it’s a great read, though. lots of ‘i did not know that’ material.

  2. Duane says:

    This is why I made it clear (at least I thought I did) in the begining of this post that this is about the 1960s CVL, not the one of today. Before they changed their name to the ‘Conservative’ Vice Lords, they were just known as the Vice Lords and were just as bad as any other gang at that time. Then thanks in part to a gang prevention program started by the city, the gang slowly became convinced to change their ways and do the things mentioned in this post and then some. Then here comes Daley. He decided to treat all gangs the same by cutting funding to programs (regardless if they worked or not) and bring the hammer. Bobby Gore (the leader of the gang of that time) got a murder conviction and the CVL went down from there.

    Read all about Bobby Gore here.

  3. avery says:

    oh, i know vls. prolly too well. and part of it may be a slight bias because they’re vls.

    funny thing is this: i’ve been to that site a few times, and before today, i’d never even looked at the vice lords section. like, i knew about the black p stone rangers and jeff fort and all that, but i didn’t really pay too much attention to anybody on the 5. it was just casual ho-hummery. gds i knew a little better, so i was more interested in that.

    i’ll defer to your point about the cvl being different from the “regular” vice lords, but having been in that specific setting – even during a time of relative peace, i suppose – it’s kinda hard for me to see one type of vl as different from any other kind. especially since they made it a point to keep the name vice lord. you know what i mean, it would be one thing if they had started out as the conservative vice lords and then as their purpose developed and morphed, they became the such-and-suches — still the same group of people, but calling themselves something different. but again, maybe that’s just the 6 in me.

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