They’re a street gang from Chicago’s North Side. A bunch of white boys with baseball bats and knives. They’ve been policing their blocks since 1954 and are still going today. They have the strangest name of any street gang ever. Meet the Almighty Gaylords.
It started as a teen softball team back in the 1950s, when gay meant cheery and joyous. One of the boys got the name from a dictionary, although it might have helped there was an Italian-American singing trio called the Gaylords popular at the time.
Gay as in Happy
Soon the softball got dropped and the team became a gang of kids from Italian and Irish backgrounds staking out corners in their neighbourhood. By the 1960s gentrification and white flight had changed the demographics of working-class Chicago. The Gaylords saw themselves as protectors of their area. Others saw them as racists thugs who chased out any black or hispanic faces.
The gang continued to grow and by the late 1970s was 2,500 strong. They were the largest white street gang in Chicago. Gang members had cards printed: ‘God Forgives, Gaylords Don’t’ and ‘Cross is Boss’. The baseball bats and knuckle dusters had been replaced by guns. People died. Teenagers shot in alleyways, pizza places firebombed.
The gang’s decline started in the 1980s when white working class Chicago moved out to the suburbs. A hardcore clung on, fighting corner by corner. Their graffiti became swastikas and KKK symbolism. Sympathisers said it was just a way to bait their Puerto Rican enemies. Others thought it a genuine reflection of the gang’s politics.
The Gaylords still exist, fighting a losing battle for their white island in the swirling sea of multicultural Chicago. They have only around 50 members these days and the youth section has dried up. When a police bust took down a fistful of leading figures in 2011 on guns and drugs charges, most were fortysomethings who lived in the suburbs.
If you meet a Gaylord these days it’ll be a middle-aged guy in an area bar, knocking back a beer and reminiscing about the days when they ran this block.
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