The Almighty Black P Stone Nation
Written by Natalie Y. Moore and Lance Williams
Book Review by Dennis Moore
Having grown up in Chicago, and my children being born there, this book by Natalie Y. Moore and Lance Williams, The Almighty Black P Stone Nation, resonates with me for a number of reasons. In my time and era in Chicago, "The Almighty Black P Stone Nation" (Blackstone Rangers) were viewed as cult heroes, a Robin Hood type, despite their portrayal in the media and some of their more dastardly and infamous deeds.
I could not think of anyone better equipped or more capable of telling this story, than that of the authors, Moore and Williams. Williams actually has a background and particular affinity to the subject matter, in that he is the son of a former Vice Lord, at one time, a rival gang to The Almighty Black P Stone Nation, and he has been a youth advocate and activist. Moore, on the other hand, is an urban affairs reporter for Chicago Public Radio, and she is co-author of the book, "Deconstructing Tyrone: A New Look at Black Masculinity in the Hip-Hop Generation." Her work has appeared in many publications, including Essence, Bitch, In These Times, the Chicago Sun-Times, and the Chicago Tribune, making her and Williams eminently qualified to explain the nuances of this cult phenomenon.
Moore actually started this powerful expose of disturbing realities underlying enduringly misunderstood urban legends, during the course of her watching an episode of "American Gangster," a series on the BET network about black criminals and organizations. On the program, youth activist Williams was talking about the Almighty Black P Stone Nation, and Moore e-mailed him the following day asking for a list of books on contemporary black street gangs in Chicago. He replied that none existed. This started a collaboration in which Moore and Williams would demystify the gang, and bring out the quirks of its charismatic founder, Jeff Fort, in this well-researched book. Their book is the first to investigate the troubled history of one of Chicago's most notorious street gangs. The book also provides a historical case study for the earliest formation of America's War on Terror policy, while moving the critique of black street gangs beyond the lens of criminality and pathology to resilience and adaptive coping.
I actually have some personal knowledge and insight into this enthralling story and book, as I recall having the occasion to go by the "Fort," or home base of this gang, as I would attend seminars down the street from it at the Center for Inner City Studies, where the National Black United Front (NBUF) holds their meetings. One of the most symbolic anti-gang gestures was the razing of The Fort in the summer of 1990. At the ceremony the razing of this building with a six-thousand-pound wrecking ball, Mayor Daley stated: "Today we are here to rid the community of the El Rukn blight once and for all."
Moore and Williams will reveal in this fascinating account of urban history and nostalgia, that in the early 1960s, Jeff Fort and Eugene "Bull" Hairston, two poverty-stricken teens from Chicago, formed the Blackstone Rangers, which eventually became the Almighty Black P Stone Nation, a consolidation of a vast group of street gangs. Authors Moore and Williams explore Fort's struggles with identity, which led him to specifically create an organization for and by black men. The Nation became involved in Black Power and the civil rights movement, and along with a rival gang, received nearly a million dollars in federal funding to help provide youth with jobs. Fort went to prison in the early 1970s for defrauding the program. After his release, Fort officially changed the Nation's name to the El Rukns, launching the Islamic era of the gang and its involvement with Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam. In 1987, Jeff Fort and several members were convicted in a high-profile trial for conspiring to commit domestic acts of terrorism on behalf of Muammar Qaddafi and the government of Libya for $2.5 million.
The authors tell of a brawny and balding retired Chicago police detective, Richard Kolovitz, who spent his entire career chasing Jeff Fort, with the hunt revealing the frailties of law enforcement. In a particular and poignant passage in the book, Kolovitz states: "It cost me two marriages and it cost [partner Dan] Brannigan one. A couple of houses, and all this other crap, for lack of a better phrase, we sold ourselves to the devil to get the devil." While working on the organized drug task force that nailed the El Rukns, Kolovitz lost his leg and now walks with an artificial one.
This book is full of ironies. One of these ironies is a photo in the book of the Rev. Jesse Jackson posing next to next to Black P Stone Nation leader Jeff Fort, who was sitting on his throne, alongside Fort's lieutenant, Mickey Cogwell. The authors indicate in this scintillating book, that the Rev. Jesse Jackson's half-brother, Noah Robinson, would later be accused of soliciting the El Rukns to commit a murder, and paid Jeff Fort (Chief Malik) with cash and a drug connection for the kill. Robinson went to prison for life with no parole.
Another irony, is the fact that the Black P Stone Nation home base, bordered my former Church on the southside of Chicago, the Apostolic Church of God, under the leadership of the late Arthur M. Brazier. The book points out that Pastor Brazier, also as one of the Directors of The Woodlawn Organization (TWO), would have to appeal to the leadership of the rival gangs in the territory, the Blackstone Rangers and the Gangster Disciples, to curtail the violence that was jeopardizing a federally funded job-training program. The authors point out that to this day no one knows why seventeen-year-old Bernard, a Blackstone Ranger, walked into the TWO job-training center on 866 East 63rd and shot eighteen-year-old Gangster Disciple Joseph Evans in the face. Brazier and Leon Finney had earlier told the chiefs of the rival gangs that they knew it would be hard, but they had to find a way to forget past differences. The late Bishop Brazier is credited with the removal of the blight in this neighborhood, and the revitalization of the community.
Adding to the Almighty Black P Stone Nation's lore, is the fact of them being invited to the White House, and President Nixon's inauguration. This is a book full of intrigue and urban fascination, that I highly recommend.