|Founded||Late 19th century|
|Founding location||United States|
|Years active||Late 19th century-present|
|Territory||Active in most American metropolitan areas|
|Criminal activities||Drug trafficking, weapon trafficking, robbery, contract killing, fraud, money laundering, racketeering, counterfeiting, extortion, illegal gambling, murder, prostitution|
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, African-American organized crime emerged following large-scale migrations of Caribbean and African Americans to major cities of the Northeast and Midwest. In many of these newly established communities and neighborhoods, criminal activities such as illegal gambling, speakeasies and bootlegging were seen in the post-World War I and Prohibition eras. Although the majority of these businesses were operated by African Americans, it is unclear to the extent these operations were run independently of the larger criminal organizations of the time.
During the 1920s and 1930s, African American organized crime was centered in New York's Harlem where the numbers racket was largely controlled by Casper Holstein and the "Madam Queen of Policy", Stephanie St. Clair. St. Clair later testified at the Seabury Investigation that during 1923 to 1928 the NYPD continued to arrest her runners despite making payoffs. However, the Harlem numbers rackets were largely operated by independent policy bankers such as St. Clair before their eventual takeover by mobster Dutch Schultz in the late 1930s.
In Kings: The True Story of Chicago's Policy King's and Numbers Racketeers, Nathan Thompson writes:
Policy became the biggest Black-owned business in the world with combined annual sales sometimes reaching the $100 million mark and employing tens-of-thousands of people nationwide. In Bronzeville, Policy was a major catalyst by which the black economy was driven. In 1938 Time magazine reported that Bronzeville was the "Center of U.S. Negro Business", and more than a decade later, Our World magazine reported that "Windy City Negroes have more money, bigger cars and brighter clothes than any other city... . The city which has become famous for the biggest Policy wheels, the largest funerals, the flashiest cars and the prettiest women, has built that reputation on one thing, money". Those attributions, however, were largely due to Policy, a business conceived, owned, and operated by African American men known by many names including "Digit Barons", "Numbers Bankers", "Sportsmen", "Digitarians", and "the 1-2-3-4 Guys"; but more often than not they were called "Policy Kings".
In the years following the end of the World War II, African American organized crime grew along with the rise of African American social consciousness and later political, social and economic upward mobility. Many of the major drug traffickers in the United States emerged during the early-to-mid-1960s, such as Leroy "Nicky" Barnes, Guy Fisher and Frank Lucas, taking advantage of the increasing political strength during the civil rights movement. Previously dependent solely on the political and police protection of New York's Five Families, African American gangsters were more able to negotiate with outside criminal organizations and the Cosa Nostra's control over the ghettos began to wane.
By the early 1970s, the large narcotics empires created by Nicky Barnes, Frank Matthews, and Frank Lucas began expanding beyond Harlem as Lucas sought to ultimately control a large-scale drug trafficking operation by gaining control of a network from Indochina directly to the streets of ghettos across the country. Other criminal groups started smuggling marijuana and cocaine in cities including New York City, Baltimore, Washington, D.C. as well as in New Jersey, California, Florida and Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Other groups such as the Black Mafia in Philadelphia, whose members were also linked to the Nation of Islam, took over the heroin trade and extorted other groups. Later, a younger group paying homage to the Black Mafia named themselves the Junior Black Mafia and were also heavily involved in drug trafficking, specifically crack-cocaine, during the mid-1980s to early 1990s.
According to a United States Senate sub-committee on organized crime during the 1980s, one of the most sophisticated, corporate-like, structured, organized crime groups outside of the Italian mafia was The Young Boys Inc. (AKA YBI). Founded by a small group of teen-aged friends on Detroit's west side in the mid-1970s, in less than two years, YBI took over the majority of southeast Michigan's heroin trade with absolutely no interference from any other crime groups. At its peek, YBI sales were an estimated $300,000 a day. The murder of one of the founders, Dwayne Davis (AKA Wonderful Wayne), and a series of federal indictments on 2 of the remaining bosses and 40 of the top lieutenants crippled YBI in 1982. There were a few lieutenants who survived, one in particular carried on the organization in Detroit and Boston through the late 1980s until crack cocaine became the drug of choice over heroin.
Most recently, highly structured African American gangs have made headlines for their ability to pull in hundreds of millions of dollars in illegal drug profits. At their peak, the Chicago-based Gangster Disciples were reported to generate $100 million in drug revenue . The rise and fall of the Detroit-based Black Mafia Family, which made nearly $250 million through their drug trafficking ventures during the late 1990s, has been brought to light by federal investigations.