Before you get to the article…
On February 23, 2018, my book on the Mau Maus and Sand Street Angels, who were two Brooklyn youth gangs from the 1950s, has been completed. It took 15 years of research and writing to complete Brooklyn Rumble: Mau Maus, Sand Street Angels, and the End of an Era. This book is roughly 6″x9″ and has 370 pages and includes a look at the characters in the Mau Maus and the details of a gang killing that happened in February 1959 in front of the iconic Brooklyn Paramount Theater (now Long Island University). If you want to buy a copy, click here and this link will take you to an online ordering page.
On Tuesday, May 30, 1950, New Yorkers were out celebrating festivities for Memorial Day. A swarm of people on Lincoln Place between Utica Ave and Schenectady Ave were returning from a parade, oblivious to the danger they would find themselves in. This was in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and although they were about 9 blocks away from Bedford-Stuyvesant, a neighborhood notorious for gang activity, they had no idea that among them were 16 members of the Nits and Greene Avenue Stompers, two gangs who had their turf in Bed-Stuyvesant.
For two weeks the Stompers and Nits had been planning a rumble in Prospect Park on Memorial Day, a favorite date for gang wars (only three weeks prior to this James Fortunato was shot dead in a gang fight in Prospect Park). The animosity between the gangs had erupted two weeks prior to that, on April 28, when a member of the Greene Avenue Stompers was stabbed and killed in a one-hour, 6-block fight. The reason for that fight was an argument over a girl that had been “stolen.”
The police were aware of the planned Prospect Park fight on Memorial Day and had over 100 policemen waiting to intercept the fighters. So when the fight on Lincoln Place, about 2 miles from Prospect Park broke out, they were caught unawares.
With no police to stop the fight on Lincoln Place, the boys had a wild shoot out with zip guns, a notoriously unreliable weapon. Women screamed, people watched from their homes and those on the street hurled themselves to safety in doorways and gutters. The hail of fire between the two gangs managed to hit nobody, with one boy having his forehead grazed by a bullet. Thankfully for the neighborhood residents, an off-duty cop happened to be in the area. He was taking his 3-year-old daughter to church, and shielding her with his body and then shoving her into a doorway, he drew his badge and gun, breaking up the fight. He was able to arrest one boy and a nearby traffic patrolman, alerted to the gunfire, tackled another, but the other 14 got away.
But the Stompers and Nits weren’t done fighting. Later that day they continued the fight in Prospect Park, this time joined by two other gangs the “Gay Nineties,” and the “Chicos.” The Gay Nineties were allies with the Nits, and presumably the Chicos with the Greene Avenue Stompers. There were 20 gang members fighting it out with their fists, zip guns, bayonets, knives and at least two .32 caliber revolvers. As the four gangs brawled, they knocked over strollers in the park in their attack. Between the two attacks at least 40 shots were fired and amazingly in the second attack nobody was seriously hurt, with one boy’s ear being nicked by a bullet. This time the attack was quickly broken up by the police and about a dozen members were captured and arrested.
In the end, 8 of the arrested boys were sentenced to jail terms between 90 days and 6 months. Three of the boys sent to prison were Nits, two were Gay Nineties (two brothers) and the other three were Greene Avenue Stompers.