Social Clubs vs. Gangs

In my research I have come across what are known as “social athletic clubs” or S.A.C. or just plain S.C.  The name “social club” itself sounds nice.  I envision a group of kids playing some type of sport.  Some of them even had S.A.C. stitched on the back of their jacket.  Click here and scroll to the bottom of the page for a a picture of a social athletic club jacket.

The fact is, Social Athletic Clubs could be, and were used as a disguise for their real purpose as a jitterbugging gang. This is not to say all social clubs were a front for the gang, but it happened enough where a look at the evidence should be conducted to know if it is a fighting gang or a social club.  Having Social Club status could help diffuse any police activity as a social club would be ostensibly be involved in innocent things, such as throwing parties or engaging in sports.  Sometimes the guys in a gang would also be part of a social club. Some gangs even identified themselves as “groups” trying to mask their real intention. The lines between social clubs and gangs in my opinion are blurred and not always an indication of boys wanting to do innocent things like hang out or throw a party.  The following is an example of James Horton who was arrested by the police for a violent fight and who was a member of a social club from Prospect Heights, Brooklyn called the Seropians.

There are four people involved in this story and to make it as clear as possible, with no confusion, (two of the boys share the same first name) here are the names of the participants:

James Bryant – Victim
Willie Williams – Victim

Melvin Babb – Attacker
James Horton – Attacker

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The participants all knew each other before the fight took place in the summer of 1960. Or rather James Bryant knew both Melvin Babb and James Horton who were friends. Bryant knew them both through his contacts as well as through the neighborhood; all three lived quite close to each other, within a two-block radius.

Map where Babb, Horton and Bryant lived.

On August 11, 1960, at 10:00 p.m. a fight broke out between the four participants at 84 Rogers Avenue in Prospect Heights in Brooklyn that ended with James Bryant being shot in the back, the bullet lodging only two inches to the left of his spinal column, a close call from certain paralysis.

James Bryant lived at 736 Park Avenue and that evening was hanging out at the stoop of 84 Rogers Avenue, just around the corner from his home. Talking with two other boys and three girls, their attention was drawn to a commotion across the street from them. Two boys were having a boxing match or a fight across the street – it was difficult to tell. One of those boys fighting was James Horton. Bryant and his friends crossed the street, curious and watching the fight intently. As they got closer, Horton saw Bryant draw near and turned around, asking him what he wanted. Horton was irritated. When James Bryant didn’t answer, Horton lashed out, punching him in the face.  Now the attention from the boxing match was turned onto James Bryant and his friends. A fight between the two James’ ensued with James Bryant getting the better of his taller enemy James Horton. Seeing he was losing the fight, Horton called out to Babb who was watching the fight, asking for a knife he knew that Babb was carrying. Babb threw the knife to Horton as instructed, at which point Bryant, sensing real trouble ran back across the street. Horton, not wanting to leave matters be, called out to him saying he would be back.

With the fight over (for the time being), James Bryant returned to the stoop across the street with his friends to talk, not knowing what was about to unfold. True to their promise, Babb and Horton returned a few minutes later. Horton was the one who spoke saying, “I’m back — I’m ready.” Before any fists were thrown, Babb swiftly grabbed Bryant, spun him around, and yelled to Horton: “Shoot him – shoot him!” At this moment, James Bryant’s cousin Willie Williams happened to be walking by.  Seeing what was happening, he jumped into action, grabbing Babb so he couldn’t hold Bryant anymore. Bryant escaped, but Babb and Williams struggled against each other in their own fight. While they were fighting, Babb took out the knife (the one he had thrown to Horton only a few minutes before), and cut Williams on the upper arm.

84 Rogers Avenue, where Babb & Horton shot and injured James Bryant and his cousin Willie Williams

84 Rogers Avenue, where Babb & Horton shot and injured James Bryant and his cousin Willie Williams. Bryant was hanging out on the stoop of the red brick building on the right hand side of the picture, when he saw a fight take place across the street of which Horton was a participant.

While this was happening, Bryant, who had escaped from Babb’s hold, tried to make a break for safety. He ducked behind a parked car while trying to run away. As he was running, Horton brandished a sawed-off .22 caliber rifle which he had brought to the fight. Raising the gun, he aimed at the escaping Bryant and squeezed off a shot. The bullet hit Bryant in the back, only a couple of inches from his spinal column. Bryant fell to the ground but managed to pick himself up and stagger into the foyer leading to his home just around the corner. Unable to open the door, he kicked in the plate glass window and crawled to his bedroom where he lied down on his bed.

While all this was happening, someone had the presence of mind to call the ambulance and police who arrived within a few minutes of the call. A detective from the 80th Detective Squad came to Bryant’s house where he was laying on his bed and bleeding from his back. Getting information from Bryant and other witnesses, the detective was able to arrest both Babb and Horton who had went back to their respective homes. Horton even showed the detective where he had stashed the rifle in his escape: hidden in a cast-iron fence nearby.

Who exactly was James Horton?  Was this a gang fight?  The detective was quite adamant that this was not a gang fight, but with the details of this case and Bryant’s background it could very well have been.  Horton was a member of a social club called the Seropians and when questioned, denied ever partaking in any rumbles. Why he had to distinguish this when a member of a social club is not known, but perhaps his history required him to go the extra step in denying being in rumbles. Although it was not brought out that he was in a classical teenage fighting gang, Horton was well-known to police.  In fact Horton had a record already.  On November 18, 1959 he was arrested for shaking down students at the School of Industrial Art on a number of occasions.  Horton and his friends would form circles around the victim and demand nickels and dimes from them.  A month before this assault, Horton was arrested for disorderly conduct when he and ten others were being loud and boisterous on Lott and Tilden Avenue.  For their roles in this attack on Bryant, Babb and Horton were charged with Assault 1st Degree, Assault 2nd Degree and Carrying a Dangerous Weapon.  They both went to trial and on December 20, 1960 were convicted of Assault 2nd Degree and Possessing a Dangerous Weapon.

Bryant was hospitalized for 27 days at Kings County Hospital for his injuries.  As already mentioned, the bullet hit him just inches from the spine.  The bullet perforated Bryant’s lung and came close to his bowel.  A fragment of the bullet entered his blood stream and was carried to the popliteal artery and removed from the back of his knee.  Perhaps in poetic justice, Horton was later cut with a knife in a fight in November 1960, and had to be hospitalized himself.

Not much was said about the Seropians, but with this serious attack, and the fact that Horton even had a sawed-off .22 rifle at his home along with his prior record with the police, at the very minimum he did not fit the profile of someone who you would think would be in a social club.  Of course this is a very narrow example of one person in a social club, but in my research I have come up with other instances of how the lines between social clubs and gangs are hazy and can be considered one and the same.

Let’s leave the last word to Horton.  Although he had a checkered past and was involved in such a violent attack, two people wrote letters of reference, praising him.  This is a good example of how all of us have good and bad sides, and in this case the person writing the letter did not know the bad side of Horton.  The letter below is written by James Harmon, who appears to be the owner of “Jimmy’s Stationery” a store just a few houses from where Horton lived:

Letter of reference for James Horton, member of social club the "Seropians" page 1

Letter of reference for James Horton, member of social club the “Seropians” page 1

 

Letter of reference for James Horton, member of social club the "Seropians" page 2

Letter of reference for James Horton, member of social club the “Seropians” page 2