From the Vault: Chicago gang produces musical

Here’s an ad that ran in the Herald’s June 14, 1967 issue.

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But weren’t the Blackstone Rangers a gang?

In the summer of 1967, the Rangers, one of Chicago’s most powerful gangs, had made peace—and they were producing a musical. Directed by nationally famous activist and singer Oscar Brown, the Rangers starred in “Opportunity Please Knock,” a musical revue. They filled the house at the First Presbyterian Church, 6400 Kimbark Ave., which served as headquarters for the group, and got widespread attention.

In August 1967, Ebony Magazine was reporting what they called a “gang phenomenon” on the South Side of Chicago, just at Hyde Park’s doorstep. The Rangers were trying to end a feud with longtime rival gang the Disciples (sometimes called the “Eastside Disciples”) and were working to clean up their city.  According to the Ebony article on the Rangers’ production, Brown filled his cast with local talent he found in auditions throughout the gang’s territory.

One gang member gave the Chicago Tribune a clear explanation of his decision to be in the musical, quoted in a May issue of the paper. “I’m not inferior because I’m a negro,” he told the Tribune, “but the white community won’t recognize that fact until I can earn some of its cash.”

Of course, it’s impossible to tell what the deepest motivations of the gang’s high-ranking members were in undertaking the project. Just a month after the Ebony article appeared, witnesses in a criminal case claimed Eugene Hairston, a gang leader, had commissioned a fourteen-year-old boy to kill a drug dealer. The musical also came while Ranger leaders were working out the details of a controversial scheme which would see some gang officers employed with federal dollars.