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1968–1972: The Origins of the Black Mafia

Part of the Studies of Organized Crime book series (SOOC, volume 2)

Keywords

Organize Crime Drug Dealer Social Movement Organization Defense Counsel Eastern District 
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References

  1. 1.
    See the U.S. Attorney Strike Force’s “Intelligence Summary: Black Organized Crime — Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,” n.d.; PPD OCU’s “History of Black B. Inc.,” March 7, 1974; and PPD OCI’s September 1990 summary report on the Black Mafia (no title). Note: Because the group was not investigated until 1972, it was necessary to research the backgrounds of the individual members, and to use sources beyond law enforcement in order to provide a detailed history of the Black Mafia’s origins.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    James Nicholson, “The Underworld on the Brink of War: Part 1 — The Muslim Mob Gets It On,” Philadelphia Magazine, November 1973, p. 126.Google Scholar
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    James Nicholson, “Philadelphia’s Black Mafia,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, TODAY, August 12, 1973, p. T-8.Google Scholar
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    Bruce A. Jacobs, Robbing Drug Dealers: Violence Beyond the Law (New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 2000), p. 1.Google Scholar
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    Nicholson “Philadelphia’s Black Mafia,” p. T-8. Also see Nicholson’s, “The Underworld on the Brink of War: Part 1 — The Muslim Mob Gets It On,” Philadelphia Magazine, November 1973; Strike Force’s “Intelligence Summary: Black Organized Crime — Philadelphia, Pennsylvania” n.d.; and OCU’s “History of Black B. Inc.,” March 7, 1974.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    The Black Mafia’s average age was much less than the prominent Italian-American group in the city at that time. See Annelise Graebner Anderson’s study of Philadelphia’s Bruno “family,” The Business of Crime: A Cosa Nostra Family (Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1979), pp. 41–43. This is likely because the Black Mafia was an emerging organization, unlike the Bruno group which had been in place for some time.Google Scholar
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    Nicholson, “Philadelphia’s Black Mafia,” p. T11.Google Scholar
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    George Murray and Mike Leary, “Black Mafia Figure is Shot, Critically Hurt,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 6, 1975.Google Scholar
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    Camden Police Department, Detective Division, memo, “Information received during interviews with informant,” August 15, 1973, p. 5.Google Scholar
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    Strike Force’s “Intelligence Summary: Black Organized Crime — Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,” n.d., p. 5.Google Scholar
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    The investigation into the CYUD is discussed throughout both the OCU and Strike Force files. See, “History of Black B. Inc.,” March 7, 1974.Google Scholar
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    Commonwealth v. Fairbanks, No. 469, Jan. T., 1971, Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, 453 Pa. 90; 306 A.2d 866, July 2, 1973, p. 3. The Court ruled the prosecution injected terms like “Black Mafia”, “enforcer” and “executioner” based exclusively on hearsay evidence.Google Scholar
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    “Is Black Protection And Extortion Racket For Real?” Nite Life, September 25, 1973.Google Scholar
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    Strike Force’s “Intelligence Summary: Black Organized Crime — Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,” n.d.Google Scholar
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    Clifton E. Marsh, The Lost-Found Nation of Islam in America (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2000), p. 53.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 12. On the origins of the Black Muslim movement, also see Erdmann Doane Beynon, “The Voodoo Cult Among Negro Migrants in Detroit,” American Journal of Sociology, vol. 43 (July 1937–May 1938), pp. 894–907. This article is contained in the FBI’s Black Muslim files.Google Scholar
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    Nicholson, “The Underworld on the Brink of War: Part 1”Google Scholar
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  19. 19.
    C. Eric Lincoln, The Black Muslims in America third edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1994), pp. 248–249.Google Scholar
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    Also see Clifton E. Marsh, From Black Muslims to Muslims: The Transition from Separatism to Islam, 1930–1980 (Metuchen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press, 1984).Google Scholar
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    Lincoln, The Black Muslims in America. Also see Sterling X. Hobbs, “The Young Muslims,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, TODAY (pullout section), April 27, 1975, pp. T-18-19, T-23-25.Google Scholar
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    Joshua D. Freilich, Nelson A. Pichardo Almanzar and Craig J. Rivera, “How Social Movement Organizations Explicitly and Implicitly Promote Deviant Behavior: The Case of the Militia Movement,” Justice Quarterly, vol. 16, no. 3 (September 1999), p. 655.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 24.
    Street sources predictably had differing views as to whether the Philadelphia’s Black Muslims were primarily a religious or political organization. See, for examplez, Camden Police Department, Detective Division, memo, “Information received during interviews with informant,” August 15, 1973, p. 1, in which the informant, a Black Muslim, vividly details the machinations of the Philadelphia Mosque.Google Scholar
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    Tyree Johnson, “Muslim Changes Revealed,” Philadelphia Daily News, February 20, 1978, Local, p. 12.Google Scholar
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    According to Shabazz, he was born in Philadelphia and raised as a Christian. At age fourteen, he was introduced to “the teachings of Islam [by] a barber who’d been imprisoned with some Muslim brothers down in Virginia”. Thomas Hauser, Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times (New York: Touchstone [Simon & Schuster], 1991), p. 91. He graduated from Benjamin Franklin High School, served in the Army and worked for the Postal Service, among other jobs, following his discharge. He left his job in 1954 to assist Malcolm X drum up interest in Philadelphia’s Temple No. 12. In addition to overseeing Mosque No. 12, Shabazz was also asked to spend time in the South on occasion. He spent time as the Nation of Islam’s minister over the Deep South for a time beginning in 1961. Born in 1927, Shabazz died of congestive heart failure at the age of 70 in January 1998. Andy Wallace, “Jeremiah Shabazz, 70, Former Nation of Islam Minister, Ali Aide,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, January 9, 1998, p. B07.Google Scholar
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    David Remnick, King of the World (New York: Random House, 1998), pp. 128–129. The Shabazz-Ali relationship is explored in fascinating detail throughout Hauser, Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times. Also see Ron Borges, “Still King of the Hill,” The Boston Globe, June 7, 1991. In 1961, Jeremiah Shabazz was asked to travel from Atlanta to Miami to speak with Ali, after Ali had initially met there with Minister Ishmael Sabakhan. Many years later, Shabazz was a middleman in a controversial exchange between Muhammad Ali and boxing promoter Don King. King allegedly short-changed Ali by over a million dollars for his 1980 bout with Larry Holmes. Though the signed contract called for Ali to receive $8 million, King claimed he had an oral contract with Ali for $7 million. Ali’s lawyer, Michael Phenner, thus immediately sued King for the difference. Within a month after the fight, however, a debilitated Ali informed Phenner that he had accepted $50,000 in cash from King, and had signed a release to drop the pending lawsuit. According to Jeremiah Shabazz, King summoned him to King’s office and handed him a suitcase containing $50,000 in cash, and said, “I want you to give this money to Ali, but only after you get him to sign this document,” Thus, Shabazz and a notary public made the trip and Ali relented, absolving King, legally at least, of the breach of contract. The circumstances surrounding the transaction are recounted in Jack Newfield, Only in America: The Life and Crimes of Don King (New York: William Morrow & Company, 1995).Google Scholar
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    ibid., p. 134. While focused on the life and times of Muhammad Ali, Remnick also presents a thorough history of the Black Muslim movement during the 1960s and 1970s. In line with Eric Lincoln’s points regarding the persistence of the Black Muslim movement, Remnick (p. 274) states that James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time (New York: Dell, 1963) was correct in identifying “the Nation (of Islam) not as a particularly effective political group, but as a symptom of continued oppression.”Google Scholar
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    ibid., p. 165.Google Scholar
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    Philadelphia Police Department, Organized Crime-Intelligence Unit, “Investigation of Roosevelt Fitzgerald,” September 3, 1974, p. 6.Google Scholar
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    Strike Force’s “Intelligence Summary: Black Organized Crime — Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,” n.d. The Black Mafia paid this amount directly to Philadelphia’s main mosque at 13th and Susquehanna Streets.Google Scholar
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    The defendants were Edward Sistrunk and Robert Mims.Google Scholar
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    United States of America v. Larry Starks, Clarence Starks, Alonzo Robinson, Donald Everett, Abney Merrill, Albert Ferguson Alonzo Robinson, Appellant in No. 74-1947 Larry Starks, Appellant in No. 74-1966 Donald Everett Abney, Appellant in No. 74-1967, Nos. 74-1947, 74-1966, 74-1967, United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, 515 F.2d 112; 1975 U.S. App. LEXIS 15030, April 21, 1975, p. 15.Google Scholar
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    United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, United States of America v. John W. Clark, William Christian and John Griffin, Criminal No. 73-471, 398 F. Supp. 341, July 14, 1975, p. 14.Google Scholar
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    William Christian and John Griffin, Criminal No. 73-471, 398 F. Supp. 341, July 14, 1975, p. 14 Ibid. In this case, the Court rejected the claims of prejudice.Google Scholar
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    The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States prompted a review and revising of these policies. Under the old guidelines (i.e. those in place during the Black Mafia’s tenure in the 1970s), the FBI could not send undercover agents to investigate groups that gathered at places like mosques or churches unless investigators first found probable cause, or evidence which led them to believe that someone in the group had broken the law. Full investigations of that sort were not permitted without the Attorney General’s consent. See, for example, David Johnston and Don Van Natta, Jr., “Ashcroft Seeking to Free F.B.I. to Spy on Groups,” The New York Times, December 1, 2001.Google Scholar
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    See, for example, OCU’s “Investigation of Muhammed’s Mosque #12-C, 4110 Haverford Avenue,” dated April 16, 1974.Google Scholar
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    Nicholson, “Philadelphia’s Black Mafia,” p. T-12.Google Scholar
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    Donald Goddard, Joey (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1974), noted that in 1970, New York’s Auburn Prison experienced similar circumstances. According to his sources, half of Auburn’s 1,675 inmates were African-American or Puerto Rican. “Of these, atleast 400 were militants — men who regarded themselves, not as convicted criminals, but as political prisoners, as black revolutionary victims of a racist society.” Race relations were enough of a concern that a “five-man state legislative committee” recommended “corrections of ficers work harder to relieve racial tensions, [and] that Black Muslim and black nationalist ministers be allowed to visit with inmates ‘of these faiths’” (p. 297).Google Scholar
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    Camden Police Department, Detective Division, debriefing report, “Black Mafia-Muslim relations,” August 15, 1973.Google Scholar
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    Nicholson, p. 222. Warden Richard Burke explained that an entire cellblock was Black Muslim, because inmates requested to be with other Black Muslims. The unstated inference was that because of religious concerns, inmates must be granted requests to be housed with other members of their denomination. He went on to add that Holmesburg had two other Muslim sects in its population, but they were not concentrated in any particular area because they had made no such requests.Google Scholar
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    Francis A. J. Ianni, Black Mafia: Ethnic Succession in Organized Crime (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1974), p. 158.Google Scholar
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    OCU, “debriefing report,” February 18, 1974, containing information received by OCU from informants.Google Scholar
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    See, for example, Camden Police Department, Detective Division, debriefing report, “Black Mafia-Muslim relations,” August 15, 1973.Google Scholar
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    Elmer Smith, “How Race May Taint the Sense of Justice,” Philadelphia Daily News, September 18, 1992, Local, p. 10.Google Scholar
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    OCU debriefing report, “Investigation of Roosevelt Fitzgerald,” September 3, 1974.Google Scholar
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    United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, Edward Sistrunk, a/k/a Omar Askia Ali, Appellant, v. John McCullough, Superintendent, SCI Houtzdale; Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; The District Attorney of Philadelphia County, No. 97-1538, June 11, 1998.Google Scholar
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    For more information concerning the “DuBrow” incident, see Joe O’Dowd and Frank Dougherty, “Alleged Dubrow Slayer Held in Drug Bust,” Philadelphia Daily News, May 14, 1981, Local, p. 8; and Joyce Gemperlein, “Murder Case Against 2 Men Accused of 1971 Rampage Goes to the Jury,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, Local, p. B03.Google Scholar
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    Sistrunk v. McCullough et al.Google Scholar
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    Howard Goodman, “Convict Says Prosecutor Barred Blacks from Jury,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, September 3, 1992, Local, p. B01.Google Scholar
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    W.E.B. Griffin, The Witness (New York: Jove Books, 1992).Google Scholar
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    Edward Sistrunk was later granted two retrials because the Assistant District Attorney who prosecuted the case, Barbara Christie, was found to have held African-Americans off the jury. In 1996, a U.S.Appeals Court ruled against a third retrial for Sistrunk. See Shannon P. Duffy and Hank Grezlak, “Federal Judge: Prosecutor Picked All-White Jury,” Pennsylvania Law Weekly, September 18, 1995, p. 30; and Joseph Slobodzian, “Court Denies Retrial for Man Convicted in ’71 Slaying,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, September 20, 1996, p. 1.Google Scholar
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    O’Dowd and Dougherty, p. B03. The mosque distributed the Muslim newspaper “Muhammad Speaks” (later to be renamed “Bilalian News” in November 1975 by Wallace Muhammad).Google Scholar
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    Commonwealth v. Mims. Also see Joyce Gemperlein, “Murder Case Against 2 Men Accused of 1971 Rampage Goes to the Jury,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, November 18, 1981, p. B03.Google Scholar
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    United States of America v. John W. Clark, Crim. A. No. 71-163, United States District Court for the Eastern District Court of Pennsylvania, 346 F. Supp. 428; 1972 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13011, June 28, 1972.Google Scholar
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    OCU debriefing report, “Investigation of Roosevelt Fitzgerald,” September 3, 1974.Google Scholar
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    Cited in Strike Force’s “Intelligence Summary: Black Organized Crime — Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,” n.d., p. 3.Google Scholar
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    Eric Pace, “4 Killed, 11 Injured As Narcotics Rings War in Atlantic City,” The New York Times, April 3, 1972, p. 1.Google Scholar
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    Donald Goddard, Easy Money (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1978), p. 166.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 47.Google Scholar
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    Nicholson.Google Scholar
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    Pace, p. 47.Google Scholar
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    The initial New York Times account Pace, stated the dealinvolved heroin, not cocaine. Further investigations suggest this was inaccurate. For a complete analysis of the Palmer slaying, see Nicholson, “Philadelphia’s Black Mafia”: and Goddard, Easy Money.Google Scholar
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    “Philadelphia’s Black Mafia,” Nicholson, p. 14.Google Scholar
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    “Philadelphia’s Black Mafia,” Ibid.Google Scholar
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    OCU memo, “Information re: Black Mafia,” November 7, 1973.Google Scholar

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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2003

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