Suggested Reading

Conversations with the Capeman, by Richard Jacoby

This is the story of the Salvador Agron, the infamous Capeman. On August 29, 1959, Agron and some fellow Vampires murdered two young kids in a playground park and seriously injured another. Agron was eventually sentenced to Death Row, the youngest person in New York state history to receive this ignoble distinction. Jacoby chronicles Agron’s entire life until his death in 1979.

 

 

The Shook-Up Generation, by Harrison Salisbury

Salisbury, a Pulitzer Prize winner, and writer from the New York Times, was quite familiar with the juvenile delinquency problem and was asked to write a series of newspaper articles by the NYT. In 1958, at the height of the gang problems, Salisbury published The Shook-Up Generation, where topics such as how the typical gang operates, their rumbles, and their relations to their family, school and church were discussed.

 

 

 Run Baby Run, by Nicky Cruz with Jamie Buckingham

The book that started it all. I read Run Baby Run when I was about 12 years old. It impacted me greatly and from then on I was hooked, so to say, on the 1950’s style gang and how it operated. This book was written by Nicky Cruz who now has his own ministry at www.nickycruz.org. The book is about Nicky’s life story, a bulk of it about his role in a Puerto Rican gang from Fort Greene, Brooklyn, called the Mau Maus.

 

 

Second Chance: The Israel Narvaez Story, by Darla Milne

This book is the story of Israel Narvaez who was Nicky Cruz’s partner in crime when they both ran with the Mau Maus of Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Nicky and Israel left the Mau Maus after becoming Christians — a direct result from David Wilkerson’s work with troubled youth. Israel, however, returned to the gang after a misunderstanding and eventually ended up in jail for his part in the slaying of a Sand Street Angel.

 

 

Sonny, by Sonny Arguinzoni

This book has scant mention of New York gangs from this time period, although Sonny started off in a gang. This book describes his struggles with a heroin addiction and his triumph over the drug after he became a Christian. Even though Sonny does not talk much about gang life it does give a great description of the growing heroin problem during that time. Arguinzoni has his own ministry too called Victory Outreach.

 

 

Out of the Burning, by Ira Freeman

This book was written about the Deacons, a Black gang from the late 1940’s. The main character of this book eventually quit the gang and graduated medical school around 1960. His story was also told in Life Magazine (April 14, 1958). The gangs from the 1940’s were just like the 1950’s gangs, except not as numerous or organized.

 

 

 

The Cross and the Switchblade, by David Wilkerson with John and Elizabeth Sherrill

This book was written by David Wilkerson, who began the well-known Teen Challenge ministry that has spread all across the United States and Canada. David Wilkerson was a country pastor from Pennsylvania who felt called to minister to New York City gangs after reading a Life© Magazine about the Farmer trial. In 1957 he began his ministry and converted Nicky Cruz, who eventually wrote his own book. This was a fascinating look into Wilkerson’s work with the gangs and the ensuing despair with the rise of heroin on the streets of NY City.

Reaching the Fighting Gang, by the New York City Youth Board

A rather dry read from the perspective of street workers who were employed to reach out and change the gangs from jitterbugging kid warriors to social groups and athletic clubs. There were many little stories of gang members and how gangs acted and reacted to situations which helped break up the monotony of legalese type language (from a social perspective of course). Published in 1960, this book showed the techniques the New York City Youth Board used in reducing juvenile delinquency.

 

Vampires, Dragons and Egyptian Kings, by Eric Schneider

A scholarly look at youth gangs from post World War II to the 1970’s, with the bulk of the research on the gangs of the 1950’s. Eric Schneider shows how youth gangs began, their composition, their customs, and ethnic migrations and shifts that helped contribute to the rise of the gangs. Schneider also comments on the Farmer and Capeman murders. A treasure trove of information on New York gangs that has not been matched by any other scholar.

 

All the Way Down: The Violent Underworld of Street Gangs, by Vincent Riccio and Bill Slocum

Written by a former New York City Youth Board worker, this book talks about Riccio’s work with the Gowanus Boys and other Brooklyn gangs. Riccio eventually quit the Youth Board, disillusioned with their style and rules. A fascinating glimpse into gang life and the hopelessness of it all.

 

 

 

The Jury is Still Out, by Irwin Davidson and Richard Gehman

This book was written by the judge of the Michael Farmer murder from 1957. This case was explosive because the victim, Michael Farmer, who had once suffered from polio, was stabbed and murdered in Highbridge Park in Manhattan. The killers were Egyptian Dragons who were reacting to a turf war with the Jesters over a pool. This book was excellent because the point of view of the book was from the judge’s eyes as the trial unfolded.

 

Manchild in the Promised Land, by Claude Brown

I have not read this book yet, so I will take a part of an editorial review of this book from Amazon: This thinly fictionalized account of Claude Brown’s childhood as a hardened, streetwise criminal trying to survive the toughest streets of Harlem has been heralded as the definitive account of everyday life for the first generation of African Americans raised in the Northern ghettos of the 1940s and 1950s. When the book was first published in 1965, it was praised for its realistic portrayal of Harlem — the children, young people, hardworking parents; the hustlers, drug dealers, prostitutes, and numbers runners; the police; the violence, sex, and humor.

Brooklyn Gang:  Summer of 1959, by Bruce DavidsonVery little writing in this book. Almost all pictures except for the very end where an epilogue of “where the characters are now.” In 1959, Davidson met with a social worker who connected him with a violent gang called the Jokers. The pictures in this work are all of the Jokers at rest and play, quite intriguing as it captures the typical 1950’s Brooklyn gang in their turf. Note that the cover on Eric Schneider’s book Vampires, Dragons and Egyptian Kings is one of the pictures that Davidson took.