On April 3, 2012 a Guestbook comment from “Jocko” of the Harlem Lords was received:
I am a member of The Harlem Lords Seniors. The one that the so-called REV. Thomas Skinner claimed that he was the Leader of The Harlem Lords ‘n was saved by Jesus. He lied ‘n made Money, Fortune, ‘n Fame off of our rep.
Tom Skinner was a black evangelist from the 1960s and 1970s, well known for his book Black and Free and for his role as chaplain for the NFL Washington Redskins. Skinner started an organization called Tom Skinner Crusades and even had a comic based on his life story called “Up from Harlem.”
Intrigued, I emailed Jocko for more details specifically about Skinner and in general about the Harlem Lords. Jocko provided his phone number and on May 2, 23 and 24, I interviewed him about his time in the Harlem Lords and for his thoughts on Tom Skinner. The interviews lasted for a total of 119 minutes. I re-arranged our conversation so it is in a linear fashion and easy to follow. Below are the hi-lights of the interviews, with Jocko’s words as he spoke them.
Please note that some of the content here is for mature audiences only.
J: Jocko is my name in the Harlem Lords. I also have another name called Indio and I’m the editor in chief of Street News. I’m also the publisher, and you can use the original name John Washington.
D: Maybe we can start from the beginning?
J: I was born Jan.24, 1939. I went to Resurrection grammar school and started from Kindergarten to the 8th grade. I met the Harlem Lords when I was in the 8th grade. I’m Cherokee-Seminole Indian, black and white. I was like an oddball in Harlem where we lived. My mother and father had a glass store, called 8th Avenue Glass and Shade, so during the summer I would help my father. When I would go to measure glasses, this guy named DC would stop me and say, “Hey white boy what you doing in the neighbourhood?” I said, “I’m not white and I live in the neighbourhood.” He said, “I need 75 cents white boy. You know what the saucer said to the cup?” I said, “No, what?” [He said] “Give it up, Give it up!” I gave him 75 cents, he said, “come with me.” We went to the store and he bought some wine. Wine at that time cost 35 cents. Five stars.
D: Was that Thunderbird? (Note: Thunderbird wine was popular with teenagers from the 1950s).
J: No, this was before Thunderbird. I’m giving you the real deal. Before Thunderbird and all of that s**t. It was five stars. And what he did, he opened the wine, took a little bit and put it in the tip and dropped it for the people that was in the joint and then he put it up to his lips and he drank about ¾ of it and gave me the rest. And I drank it. Then he said, “You can go white boy.” I said [to myself], “If I let this up and keeps f**ing with me everytime I go, he will f**k me up or his gang is and will try to rob my mother and fathers store.” Next time I saw him I told him I want to join the gang. So he said, “Okay white boy what you want to be called?” I said “I don’t know.” He said, “You’ll know,” and he took me up to meet the other boys like Crazy Red, Duke, Big Count. They formed a circle and started punching the s**t out of me in my stomach and my face. And I’m trying to fight all of them. They f**ked me up. But I kept fighting back at them until DC stopped. And they said, “What do you want to be called white boy?” And I said, “Jocko.” The name Jocko came from Jocko the DJ originally from Philadelphia. So I took his name and then I became Jocko of the Harlem Lords. And they didn’t f**k with me anymore.
D: What year was this?
J: This was in about 1953.
D: What was the ages of the Harlem Lords?
J: 14-17 or 18 for the Seniors. And the Juniors would be 12-14, some eleven. Some of them were the same age or maybe a year younger and they were in the Juniors. It was DC who made the decision and Big Count. They would make the decision.
D: Did the Juniors and Seniors hang out together?
J: Yeah. A lot.
D: For you to join the Harlem Lords you had to take a beating to see if you had any heart?
J: That wasn’t always the case. Everyone had a different initiation and some was just automatically in.
D: Describe some of the other initiations.
J: Most of the time it would be fighting two or three guys or a one on one. Or sometimes you would have to fight seven in a circle. It depended on DC and Big Count. And sometimes it would be a one-on-one. It depends on the leader and the War Counsellor. A lot of times they knew your reputation. Certain people was drafted into the Harlem Lords.
D: What do you mean by drafted? They just come up to somebody and say you’re in?
J: Yeah, we went through the neighbourhood. Like you’re drafted in the army. You have to pay money for protection.
D: Would it be easy for someone to quit the Harlem Lords?
J: Yeah, depending on why they quit. David quit and he was in the Juniors. One of the guys cut a guy in the Juniors, I think that’s what made David quit the Harlem Lords.
D: What are the turf lines of the Harlem Lords?
J: It used to be from 155th street and the polo grounds all the way up to to 145th street and Bradhurst avenue all the way to Lennox Avenue. Then we went to the Bronx and we beat some gangs up there and they joined us so we had the Harlem Lords up in the Bronx. We [also] had a division in Staten Island, I had cousins that lived there.
D: What about south of you guys, so 135th.
J: I don’t know. They had a lot of small gangs and most of them just took care of their own turf, they never looked to fight. They just wanted to be left alone. I don’t know the name of their gangs. All I know is that in time everybody became dope fiends and the girls became dope fiends and prostitutes and went their way.
D: How many members were in the Harlem Lords?
J: Oh boy. There was DC, the leader of the Harlem Lords, and he’s dead, he had a brother named Rock who is dead. There was Big Count, Saint who was leader of the juniors. There was Crazy Red, Stevie. We had Tuvie, we had Donald, we had Syke, then we had Porky, we had Costello, Raymond Baker. As a matter of a fact one of our members was Primo he ended up being a cop. But we had so many Harlem Lords. Neil Griffin, he used to play ball with us, the famous boxer. He never was in the gang but he was considered a Harlem Lord, anybody in our neighbourhood that lived there they had protection. And our girls had protection.
D: 50 members?
J: 50 at least. 155th St. to around 150th street that’s where it originated because we all grew up together. We used to fight each other. You know one block would fight one block. They would take our scooters and spinning tops. Then all of a sudden the gang started and it was the Harlem Lords and then everybody joined up so they wouldn’t get their money taken or beat up.
D: Tell me about the gang way of talking.
J: It was, “hey baby, what’s up baby. Hey brother.” Brother didn’t come in too much it was mostly, “my man, how you doing my man.”
D: What about playing the dozens? Where you trash talk the guys in the gang and it would be a competition who could one-up the other guys using words.
J: That would be sounding. They would get mad sometimes and the s**t would be on if you talked about anybody’s mother or father. If you wanted to fight that particular guy you just say, “I f**ked your mother, your mother ain’t s**t.” But that wasn’t too much, that was in grammar school. That sounding part we didn’t do too much.
D: Did the Harlem Lords have a particular way of dress?
J: Most of the time it was dungarees. We had caps. There was a hat called “deep rolls,” that was the style. Sometimes we had bell bottoms. But there was no particular uniform.
D: So there was no gang jackets?
D: Where would the Harlem Lords hang out the most? Was there a candy store?
J: There was two stores. One candy store was Ruth candy store that was up on McCombs. The other one was Moses. Have you heard of Moses Powell? He taught prisoners karate when they were incarcerated. He taught the police. He’s famous but he’s dead. He had a candy store on 8th avenue between 153rd and 152nd and we used to hang in his store. He also was a Harlem Lord.
D: Did you hang out more at Moses’ candy store or the other one?
J; Moses was on 8th Avenue and Ruth was on McCombs. Most of the times we would meet at McCombs but if the candy store on 8th avenue was open we could dance in there and grind and do more. It was a bigger candy store. We could go in the back with the girls. But Ruth’s candy store was real small.
D: How would you describe the appearance of Moses’ candy store? Was it like a 7-11 store?
J: No, it was much smaller than that. Have you been in an apartment before? Moses might have been like a 3-bedroom. Both of them had the juke box that you put coins in.
D: I assume they would sell candy bars and pop?
J: Yeah and soda, stuff like that.
D: Did anybody in the Harlem Lords read so-called “horror comics”?
J: We read funny books. Captain Marvel, Superman, Batman, the Lone Ranger.
D: What about Vault of Fear, Haunt of Fear?
J: No. I read mostly magazines and funny books. I used to trade funny books. Mostly cowboy funny books and batman and superman and captain marvel and the Hulk. And they had the Classic books, I remember reading classics. I liked reading. I went to a Catholic school, so it was a lot of reading.
D: How would you describe the role of girls in the gang?
J: Most of the girls had a man that was in the gang. If one girl dug another girl’s man you know they would either sneak away or he would make them fight and the winner he would take. Or he might sneak in the back and still mess with the other girl. But most of the times everybody was cool. We had some girls in the group that loved to just be f**ked and freak, you understand? And we was the same way. We would be with the girls, that was our steady but we freaked with other girls that wasn’t our steadies. It was a time of wine, women, song and war.
D: What about so-called trains?
J: That’s what I’m telling you. We would do that with girls in our gang, our debs. Those who wanted to do it when they wanted to do it. They wasn’t forced on that. We never raped any girls or anything like that. Most of the girls that we freaked with, they wanted to freak, if they was our debs or not. We never made any girls do nothing we didn’t want them to do. They was down and crazy and wild just like us. You ever heard of grind-em up? You would dance with the girl on the wall which was called the Wall-grind. And then you could also have the Sandwich. With one guy on the front, one girl in the middle and one guy in the back. They were house parties which consisted of a lot of grind-em ups. Sometime they played a little fast music for you to bop or dance but most of them was grind-em ups. Most of the girls were just wild like we were and wanted to party and thought they was in love. And if it was freak time we would all freak in front of one another. And it wasn’t anything. Freak with our own partner, there might be three or four of us. Then we would grind we would be making love while we dancing. It was nothing scared, we didn’t had no punk girls.
D: Did the girls go into gang fights with you?
J: Oh yes, they would fight. Listen, the girls had heart and they wouldn’t take no s**t.
D: Tell me about the girls in a rumble.
J: They would carry our pieces a lot of the times because nobody would think the girls would be carrying stuff. We might tell them where to go and they would meet us there and they would be carrying our pieces. A lot of girls were just bad, they were just bad, and would be carrying their own pieces and fight. Or they would fight any girls. A lot of the times they fought each other over one of the guys in the group.
D: Would the girls ever fight any of the guys?
J: Hell no. They might be arguing or something like that. I never saw any girl go up against guy. If she spoke wrong she might get a jaw broke, or a busted lip or slapped.
D: Did the girls have a name for themselves?
J: Harlem Lords Debs
D: How many girls were in the Harlem Lords?
J: About 20.
D: Did any of the Harlem Lords get married after the gang fell apart?
J: No, not that I know of. Most of the girls in the gangs they um, they became strung out on drugs. I had two or three girls working for me selling drugs and I had a stable. When I got busted I was on page one of the Daily News called “Super Fly.” I’m not bulls**tting you. I’ve got a lot of nicknames.
D: What are some of the words you would use for weapons?
J: A piece, “you got the shank, you got the blade.”
D: Did you use the word jitterbug or bop?
J: No, the jitterbug comes from a dance that originated back in the ‘30s’ and roaring ‘20’s. Somebody might say he’s a jitterbug, the old people would call you a jitterbug mean you was wow.
D: What word did you use for gang fight?
J: “The s**t is on.”
D: What kind of weapons were used by the Harlem Lords?
J: Knives, zip guns, real guns, of course knives, sticks, baseball bats.
D: Did you have any friends in the Harlem Lords you knew personally that died in a gang fight?
J: No, no, no. None of us. We might have got cut or hurt or injured but never die, no. You just pulled out your piece and started shooting. You might aim at somebody you might see somebody fall. But most of the times we tried to fight with fists or brass knuckles, knives, clubs. Some had zip guns. But of course a lot of people got wounded and died, I don’t know who. That happened so long ago, most of the times we hurt and injured a lot of people. I saw people go down, you know, that’s the way it was.
D: What were the police like? What was the relationship like between the Harlem Lords and the police?
J: They didn’t take any s**t. Now, I’m going to tell you about the 3-2, the 32nd precinct. In the beginning when we were young we ducked the police. If they busted us we got arrested. Further down the road when we became like 17, 18, 19, they would have crap games in the summer, you know shoot dice. And they would come around and get their cut. There was one guy that was controlling the game. So if you shot 5 dollars and you made the number you would have $10. If you shot the $10, double up, instead of you having $20, they take a dollar, you have $19. You follow me? So that would be for the cut man, the guy controlling the dice. Every hour the police would come by and they would get their cut, you would have to pay them in order to keep the crap game going. Further down the road when the people started selling heroin, cocaine, reefer, if they busted you they would say, “this is mine” and give it back to you so you could sell it for them.
D: Did the police ever catch you in your gang activities?
J: No, most of the time we was too cool. We had our meetings at Moses’ candy store or Ruth’s or we would go to the park or in the tunnel where we’d sing. No, they never caught us in any activity.
D: The police wouldn’t rough you up?
J: They would rough you up, s**t yeah! They’d beat the hell out of you!
D: For what reason?
J: If they said “give me this corner, this corner is mine,” like say, five to seven guys is hanging out on the corner or in the middle of the block, talking or singing, and they wanted to make their rep, they would say, “this corner is mine, okay guys, I’ll see you later.” That meant leave. If you didn’t leave, he would take one guy out of the bunch and beat the s**t out of him. He might arrest them. But if he didn’t want to he would just beat the s**t out of him.
D: Why would the police want a certain corner?
J: To get their rep known, cause they was the man, they was the police.
J: There was a Chaplain boy that got killed up by Columbian Presbyterian hospital and Burt Lancaster, they made a movie out of it, Devil’s in the Streets. It was the Puerto Ricans against the Irish in Spanish Harlem. The real deal was that the Egyptian Kings got busted up there. We were supposed to join them to fight this white gang up there. What happened the white boy got killed was in a wheelchair or something like that. But he was holding their weapons. The paper said the gangs killed a Catholic boy that was disabled. But they played it the white boy wasn’t in the gang, it came out years later. He was in the gang. The Daily News and all of those newspapers had it a white Catholic boy being attacked by Mongols and s**t like that, whatever they called it.
D: The boy you are talking about was Michael Farmer and he was killed by the Egyptian Kings in July 1957. The papers never said he was part of the gang but my research now indicates at the very minimum he was a good friend of the Jesters and probably a gang member himself.
J: He was a gang member but they was trying to make it look he was an invalid which was very smart. He was carrying their s**t, that was very smart. And we were supposed to go up there! They went ahead of time before us, so we never got there, but Michael Farmer was part of the gang up there. And they were all white right, from Washington Heights. The Egyptian Kings were our brother gang and told us to meet them there. That’s how it jumped off. We was never part of that. We got there late.
D: So they decided to go ahead of you because they were eager to get into a rumble?
J: Right. Everybody liked to have a rep and to say, “we f**ked them up, we were there first, we didn’t back down.”
D: How would you describe a gang rumble to someone who has never been in one?
J: What would happen most of the time, each gang would meet up. Let’s say they would meet up at the Yankee Stadium. And the war counsellor, each war counsellor would talk to one another, meet one another to see if there was going to be a rumble. If there was going to be a rumble, the war counsellor would generally hit each other or try to stab one another or run back to their gangs and the whole rumble would charge one another. Everybody would run up to one another or be shooting at each other and that was a rumble. Most of the time the war counsellors started it. But it would be the President, the Vice president to say the s**t is on, or it’s on.
D: Were you afraid to be in a rumble?
J: Damn right I was scared! But I fought. We had a song. Everybody had a gang song. Our gang song used to go like this: (singing) ♪ ♫♪Our base crazy nnnnnding dongnnnningding dong ♪ ♫♪
I would come in and DC would come in and harmonize to that and were walking down the street. And then all of a sudden we would start singing:
♪ ♫♪We are the Harlem Lords, the Mighty Harlem Lords, his name is DC, the mighty DC, his name is Big Count, his name is Deuce, the Mighty Deuce, his name is Jocko, the mighty Jocko. We are the Harlem Lords, the mighty Harlem Lords. ♪ ♫♪
Click here to hear the song http://newyorkcitygangs.com/?page_id=556
We would sing that from our destination of leaving to our destination of getting to where we was going. Drinking wine most of the time or just being happy. We also had our Debs go with us a lot of times.
D: What was the difference between War Counsellor and President?
J: Just like we [the U.S.] have a President you have somebody for Defense who would declare war. He had the right to declare war on his own. Or he would go to the President DC, and then DC might call for a council and we have a meeting. And vote on it. But they had the main say, the President and the War Counsellor. They made the decision who we fight, when we fight, where we fight.
D: What happens if everybody in the Harlem Lords voted not to fight, could the President overturn that?
J: Of course.
D: And would he do that?
J: We never voted not to fight not that I remember.
D: What gangs did you fight the most?
J: In ’53, ’54 even 55 there was gang wars and we would fight different gangs like the Fordham Baldies, the Dragons, the Chaplains.
D: You are talking about the Fort Greene Chaplains?
J: Yeah. Let me tell you what happened. There was some girls that lived in our neighbourhood and they moved to Brooklyn in the projects with their mothers. Since they were from our neighbourhood we used to go to their apartment and have dances. The Chaplains would be there. (the girls) introduced me to the Fort Greene Chaplains as their cousins.
D: For protection?
J: It was for protection. If you were a stranger they could f**k you up. We met John the Bop over in Brooklyn [Fort Greene Chaplains].
J: One time there was a dance over at the Rockland palace, and a lot of the Chaplains came over there. The Rockland Palace was 155th street and it was owned by Father Devone, he had a place there that he would rent out for people to dance and everything. They got into an argument with us, we had a fist fight, we didn’t have a shoot out. Then, you know, we wasn’t as cool as we was supposed to be. But I still went to visit my cousins.
D: What gangs were you friendly with?
J: Originally the Egyptian Kings and the Chaplains. There was a little gang in between our turf. We didn’t bother because they all grew up with us.
D: Where did the Egyptian Kings have their turf?
J: Up on the hill. I say from 155th and Amsterdam to 145th and Amsterdam.
D: You are saying the turf of the Egyptian Kings and Harlem Lords was very close to each other?
J: Look, let me explain something. Harlem is called the valley. When you go up on the hill like Amsterdam Avenue it’s called the hill. So there’s the valley and the hill, all right? So the turf was divided that way.
D: What is the reason the Harlem Lords & Egyptian Kings became unfriendly?
J: I don’t know. It was between I think our leader in the Harlem Lords, DC. What happened was the Egyptian Kings had a boxer. And he could fight. They came down, I think it was July 3 or 4 and wanted their guy to fight anybody in the Harlem Lords. And so about 2 or 3 went to fight him on a one on one. And he was knocking out, he was f**king up our boys. So DC said to me, “you want him Jocko?” I said, “He’s a bad motherf**ker.” I said, “I’ll try him.” This guy Crazy Red, he’s dead now, was fighting him. And he threw a combination and Crazy Red fell against the car. Marcus came up to him with a big stick that you play stickball with and he swung and hit the guy in the head so hard that blood came out of his ear. And then the s**t was on. There was only four of them, and the boxer got f**ked up but he was able to run away and they ran up the hill. And that was it. They didn’t f**k with us no more and we didn’t f**k with them.
D: What was the reason that they came down to fight in the first place?
J: There was a disagreement or some type of argument with DC or one of the guys or Deuce or something, I don’t know. All I know is when it did happen the guys that I knew in the Egyptian Kings and I was friends with we sitting right next to one another. And they fighting a one on one and we knew that they had a winner. It wasn’t fair. This guy was a professional fighter. And our professional fighter was Neil Griffin and Raymond Baker who were both Golden Gloves. But they wasn’t around. And this guy was f**king up everybody until Marcus hit him and I had to swing on the guy next to me even though we were friends. The s**t was on. I didn’t cut him but I f**ked him up a little bit with my hands cause I was a good fighter.
D: What was the name of the Egyptian King boxer?
J: I don’t know, I don’t know. But he could fight, a little short guy. He was no more than 5’6 or 5’5. But everybody he fought that stood up, he threw 2-3 combinations. It was a knockout. It wasn’t no “I don’t want to fight no more.” It was a knockdown. So I said, “Well I’ll try him.” But before I got to go against him, Marcus knocked the s**t out of him, swung so hard like he was hitting a baseball, a rubber ball. He swung and blood shot out of his ear.
D: Was he knocked out cold?
J: No! No! He stood there and blood came out of his head. And he said, “oh okay you want to do that s**t?” And then Marcus said, “yeah, yeah.” And Marcus dropped his stick and was ready to go against him one on one. But the boxer was so f**ked up he started backing up. Then DC said, “f**k him up” and the s**t was on.
D: Was the Harlem Lords involved in any gang intervention in the terms of churches or settlement houses trying to work with the Harlem Lords to go social instead of a fighting gang?
J: No, there was somebody all the gangs had voted for to be like the peacemaker of all the gangs. So if there was something wrong he would be an arbitrator/mediator I guess you could call him. But eventually all he did is ask them to drink and eventually he disappeared.
D: What was the relationship between the Harlem Lords and adults in the neighbourhood?
J: I’m glad you asked. At that time most of the grocery stores, meat markets were owned by whites — Italians and Jewish people. The Harlem Lords started trying, making the white people pay a fee for protection. If they didn’t pay the fee they would break their windows or rob them.
D: How much would the Harlem Lords make in those fees?
J: Most of the times DC and the war counsellor would get money they might get groceries or free soda. I never collected anything.
D: How would you describe the economic conditions in 1955?
J: It was just beginning to be turned around. At that time the majority of grocery stores and buildings were owned by white people, mostly Jewish people, owned the apartments. They also had the meat stores and then you had some Italians owning cleaners and grocery stores. And they also had some buildings. But during that time when they started coming out with “Buy Black” and that was part of the beginning when Black people took over the buildings they made it worse than the originators did because of greed.
D: Describe the appearance of the buildings, the projects from the 1950s.
J: They were clean. The Harlem River Projects were very old, they were one of the first that came up in Harlem. They were only 2-3 stories, they were very small. They had basketball courts and a little chamber suite when you went through they had an echo chamber. Everybody that started singing would like to go to the echo chamber to sing. A lot of people played basketball.
D: Was Harlem in your area mainly a black neighbourhood?
J: In the beginning yes. Then around 1951-1952 a lot of Puerto Ricans migrated to the Colonial Projects and that was the projects behind the polo grounds where the New York Giants stayed. We had a lot of West Indians, a few Spanish, also a few whites, but the majority was at that time coloured.
D: Was there any friction [between blacks and Puerto Ricans]?
J: There was no problem there.
D: What about discrimination in general and racism. Did you experience that growing up?
J: I experience it with the guys a lot because I’m very light-skinned and I had wavy hair and I was out of the ordinary. It was only two or three white skinned guys in our class and the rest were brown and ebony black, you follow me? After I joined the gang it was no problem. [One time] We went down to the museum of natural history, you ever heard of it, have you been there?
D: No, I haven’t been there.
J: Okay, when you come in the summer, please go. You are going to see a statue of Teddy Roosevelt on a horse and an Indian on the side of him and a black slave on the side of him. And Teddy Roosevelt got his pistol at his side. We planned to blow that f**kin statue up. And I planned to do it on my own. Why? Because it shows Teddy Roosevelt as the white saviour and it didn’t have the black or Indian guy in the statue on a horse. So they were subservient. You follow me? So we planned to blow that up because it showed discrimination and the great white father was the king of the road. When you are white you are right, when you brown you can stick around when you yellow you mellow, when you black stand back, when you red you’re dead.
J: I am talking about Tom Skinner [now].
D: When I was a boy I read his comic book.
J: Yeah, he had a comic book and a movie and he was never in the Harlem Lords. He was a f**king liar. He’s dead now and I helped chase him out of New York. He was even endorsed by Dr. King with the bulls**t. You saw Thomas Skinner praying with the Washington Redskins. He was a f**king liar.
D: Did Thomas Skinner live in your neighbourhod?
J: He lived on 153rd street between 8th Avenue and McCombs. His father was a preacher. His brother was a member of the Harlem Lord Juniors. He’s dead now.
D: Did Thomas ever try joining the gang?
J: No, a f**king punk, he’s a punk.
D: Did he try even hanging out with the Harlem Lords like a hanger-onner?
J: He was a punk, a punk. He never tried it. Never. He took our rep and made money, fortune and fame off the Harlem Lords. What happened was he called himself the leader of the Harlem Lords and saved by Jesus. And this kid named kid Saint who’s dead now was the President of the Harlem Lord Juniors. They caught him and he [Skinner] promised to pay them $10,000. I think he gave them $5,000 and promised to give them more.
D: He paid money to some Harlem Lords?
J: He gave it to Saint, he gave $5 or $10 thousand to Saint. Saint came back and gave money to his brother and to other people and he said he was going back for more and they said, “He was in the Harlem Lord Juniors.” And I said that’s bulls**t.
D: What was the reason for him paying Saint money?
J: Because he was a liar! So for us to keep our mouth shut. Thomas Skinner left his office in Brooklyn, and moved to an office in Manhattan. He had his office around 43rd street and Fifth avenue, around there. When I caught him he took me to his office, knelt down and said “let’s pray together, I will help you write your book.” I told him “okay but I want you tell the truth that you was never in the Harlem Lords.”
J: Please make sure, Thomas Skinner was never a Harlem Lord. He’s a f**king liar and he didn’t do anything for the Harlem Lords. He made money, fortune and fame off our gang the Harlem Lords. He went to Maryland and other places and started some kind of schools or homes for unwed mothers and s**t like that. But he never, never did s**t for the Harlem Lords and my goal was to write a book and the proceeds that I got I was going to open a church or center, because I’m also an ordained minister. I’m retired now but I still marry and bury people, but the s**t is he spoke with forked tongue and he made money, fortune and fame off of the Harlem Lords.
D: That’s one of the reasons why I really wanted to speak with you.
J: Thank you very much and I’m not lying to you. And I challenge anybody. All of my life I’ve been trying to get that information out. And now, I saw that I might not be able to get that information out to the public. And Juan sent me your email and it was like a blessing in disguise because if I don’t accomplish what I want to, this f**king lie of his will live on and everybody will be saying, “Oh I want to be like Thomas Skinner.” The dirty motherf**ker. And that’s the deal. I’ve been sending emails to his wife; they don’t answer me, I think he had two wives. First he had a black wife who died and the one that’s white is still living. But every time I send an email they don’t answer. People can believe what they want, but I speak in person to anybody about it. If any of the so-called Skinner family want to call me a liar I can debate them face to face. I don’t fear anybody but God, that’s the deal.
D: When did they [Harlem Lords] disperse? 1960?
J: You know what? I would say before that because what happened was drugs came in the gang and the guys in the gang became strung out on heroin and that made the group, not just the Harlem Lords, all the main members of the group f**ked up. And the girls became strung out. And that broke up all the gangs. I graduated from high school in 1957. I went to school and got married and ended up selling cocaine and crack and went to jail and started college in Danbury. I have a master’s from Fordham and I have an honorary doctorate of divinity in theology.
D: When you got to age 20, was that when you weren’t in the gang anymore?
J: No, when I got to age 18 I wasn’t in the gang really, but I was still a Harlem Lord. The Harlem Lord Juniors and Seniors had faded out because of heroin, because of cocaine. Smoking reefer that wasn’t addicting. But the heroin came in and then the cocaine. That’s what broke up the gangs.
D: Why do you think so many gang members became addicted to drugs?
J: Easy, the Mafia brought it in. That’s elementary. And I’m talking from experience. And that f**ked up everybody. It f**ked up the gangs and they became addicted and it f**ked up at least three generations, maybe four. It’s sad but it’s true. If you want to destroy and stay on top that’ what you do.
D: How many Harlem Lords are still around now?
J: About five or six original Harlem Lords and about two or three Harlem Lord Juniors.
D: Do you stay in contact with any Harlem Lords?
J: I stay in contact with one, I don’t know where the others are. We have a reunion in July. Everybody from the neighbourhood, 154th, 155th, 153rd, 152nd, Bradhurst all the way over to McCombs.