Black Power Republicans and Blackstone Rangers

A postscript to my
earlier item
about John McClaughry and the Republicans of the
1960s: I wasn’t kidding when I said the “moderate” wing of the GOP
contained multitudes. Check out this passage from Geoffrey
Kabaservice’s fascinating 2012 book
Rule and Ruin
, which comes after McClaughry and his
then-boss, Illinois Sen. Charles Percy, forged an alliance with
David R. Reed, a Chicago civil rights activist who led a group
called the
New Breed Committee
. Reed, who soon ran for Congress as a
Republican, supported local control of schools, opposed centralized
public housing plans, and wanted to replace traditional welfare
programs with something similar to Milton Friedman’s negative
income tax (in part because the Chicago Democratic machine “used
threats of welfare cutoffs to keep the poor in line”). He also put
Percy’s office in touch with some folks who wouldn’t usually turn
up in a Republican rolodex:

Young Republicanshe
introduced McClaughry and other Percy assistants to the
3,000-member Blackstone Rangers, Chicago’s most powerful and feared
black street gang. Reed’s work with young people brought him into
contact with some of the Rangers. Members of the New Breed
approached the gang to try to get them not to harm Reed’s workers
in the district, particularly white volunteers and people on loan
from the Pecy campaign. Some members of the New Breed believed that
the Rangers could provide access to voters in the housing projects,
while others hoped to channel the gang’s energies away from
violence and into political activism. Reed became a liason between
the gang and the Republicans working for his campaign, which led to
meetings with the gang’s charismatic kingpin, Jeff Fort, and
late-night basketball games with gang members. For a while,
McClaughry was optimistic about a possible Republican-Ranger
entente. “There is no doubt in my mind at all that Jeff [Fort] go
to City Council or even further, with his ability and magnetic
leadership,” he wrote to Reed. “If the Rangers get the message,
there could really be a revolution within people, as well
as within the district.” McClaughry later recalled that “The
Blackstone Rangers were at war with City Hall and the Democratic
power structure, and so were the Republicans, so there was some
interest in this group. The Republicans put out a tentative
feelers, because if these people actually voted, or if they
intimidated whole neighborhoods into voting, they could be a
powerful voting bloc. But this was risky business, since the
Rangers were criminals.”

File that idea under Paths Not Taken: “In the end, the
Republicans decided the risks of working with the Rangers
outweighed the benefits.” But the gang didn’t leave politics
behind: They soon got
some grant money
from LBJ’s Office of Economic Opportunity.
Fort eventually found a new political patron, name of
Muammar Qaddafi

from Hit & Run

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