Most of the pages on this website on my research on NYC youth gangs is from the 1950s. However, my research has also taken me to the late 1940s which is when gangs really started to get everybody’s attention in New York City.
For this page I want to focus on the Socialistic Gents gang from Brownsville, not to be confused with the Socialistic Dukes from Harlem. The Socialistic Gents were most active in the mid to late 1940s, although it appears they were still around in 1953, but I’m not sure to what extent.
The Socialistic Gents were an aggressive and violent gang. In 1947, a member of the Gents shot and killed a rival from within the gang. The history between the killer and the victim began in Warwick, a juvenile reformatory in upstate New York. The bigger and stronger boy picked on the smaller boy by kicking out four of his teeth. The victim never forgot the mouth bashing and seething and fuming and holding his grudge in until they were both done at the reformatory a year later, he lured his victim into the basement clubhouse where the Socialistic Gents held parties. He tricked him into the clubhouse with a promise of clothing, but instead of giving him clothing, he gave him a bullet, shooting him in the head with a .38 caliber gun. After he shot him in the head, he stayed with the body in the cellar for an hour and a half “to be sure he was really dead.”
The police arrested 17 members of the Socialistic Gents not just for this murder but also for 20 holdups and robberies in Brownsville, East New York and Bed-Stuy from the previous six months. The robberies netted the gang a cool $8,000. When the police searched their homes, they found five pistols and a home-made rifle. One of the Socialistic Gents was charged with murder and the rest for assault and robbery.
Another notable instance of their penchant for violence happened in 1949 when members of the “Saints,” a rival gang, stole a car and rolled into Socialistic Gents turf. At 164 Thatford Avenue they let loose at some boys standing on the street with a .22 caliber rifle, shooting at them seven times. Three boys were hit, one whom was seriously wounded.
The Socialistic Gents quickly retaliated and went on their own foray into Saints territory where they started a street fight. After an all-night investigation, the police arrested 18 boys in a mass roundup. Luckily, we have a photo of this with 11 of the 18 arrested boys pictured in this image below. Most likely it is a mix of Saints and Socialistic Gents:
In the course of my research, I came across a fascinating case of a member of the Socialistic Gents from this time period. His street nickname was “Doc,” and the information I found on him is sufficient enough to report here, as sort of the inside to the bookends of the murder from 1947 and the shooting in 1949.
Born in Brooklyn in 1930, and living at 99 Thatford Avenue, “Doc,” was one of five children born to parents who had moved from South Carolina to New York City in 1927. His Dad was a heavy drinker who did not provide support to his family, forcing them to become welfare recipients. Doc’s father was a violent man; arrested for felonious assault, he was sentenced to Eastern Correctional Facility. His prison sentence all but killed the marriage, and Doc’s parents separated. His mother either became or continued to be a promiscuous woman (it isn’t quite clear) who lived with several men.
Beginning with elementary school, Doc’s school record was in shambles from beginning to end. When it came time to attend high school at Alexander Hamilton Vocational High School in 1945, he skipped so much that he was suspended for a week (one wonders if that was much of a punishment for the lad. Making him not attend school for not attending school seems like an odd punishment – but I digress). When he returned, he lasted seven months before he was discharged. High school just wasn’t for Doc, even though his IQ was 100, which would have been good enough for him to make something of himself (100 might sound low, but it is actually quite high among most gang members I have studied who had their IQ’s tested).
When he was a young teenager, Doc began associating with gangs in Brownsville – the Royal Counts and the Socialistic Gents – and joined in their fights. Doc enjoyed playing basketball and handball at recreational centers in public high schools. In the summer, he enjoyed swimming at the Betsy Head Swimming Pool, gambling and visiting pool rooms twice a week (one of them was on Pitkin & Thatford Avenues).
But it was the gang life that brought Doc down. The first time he was caught by the police was when he was 14 years old. He was arrested on Nov.25, 1944 at 9:30 a.m. when a .32 calibre Johnson pistol that contained one cartridge was found in the pocket of his jacket that was hanging in a closet in his home. He said he found the revolver on the street. Doc was placed on probation and discharged on Jun.1, 1946.
His next arrest came a year later on Jul.7, 1947. At around 9:45 p.m. a 16-year-old boy was taken to St. John’s Hospital in Brooklyn because of a bullet wound in his right leg. A police investigation revealed that Walter Belmar had shot him at Dean St. and Ralph Avenue with a 6mm gun. After the shooting, Belmar went to a candy store located at Glenmore Avenue and Watkins Street, which was a meeting place for the Socialistic Gents and Royal Counts. He hung out there for awhile, and when he left, Doc accompanied him. When they got close to Doc’s house, Belmar asked him to carry the weapon because he was afraid of holding it. He didn’t bother telling Doc that the gun was used in shooting the 16-year-old. Foolishly, Doc agreed to hold onto the gun.
The police questioned Doc about his possession of the 6 mm automatic Belgian pistol, which of course they found in the hallway of the building he lived in.
While Doc waited for a hearing before the judge to see if he could get “youthful offender” status, he got tangled up in another incident, this one the most serious of all. On Oct. 2, 1947, while he was hanging out on the corner of Watkins Street and Glenmore Avenue in Brownsville, a soldier passed by Doc and some of his friends. They chased the soldier down, fell upon him and attacked him. Doc later said it was because the soldier shot at or near them and that was what had precipitated their attack on him.
And what did they do to the soldier exactly? After they seized him, Doc knocked him to the ground. The group then beat the soldier and stabbed him four times, with one of the stab wounds puncturing his lung. Later, the Judge took the soldier’s initial aggression into consideration when sentencing Doc, so it appears that perhaps the soldier did fire his gun in their direction for some reason or another.
Doc was found guilty of his original crime of possession of a pistol and was sentenced to a three-year term in an upstate New York reformatory.
Doc’s story doesn’t end there because he ended up having an eventful time in the reformatory, which I won’t go into here. What I will outline however, is another surprising picture I found. Going back to the 1947 murder, in the group of 17 Socialistic Gents who were rounded up by the police for the gang slaying and the 20 neighborhood robberies, Doc was in the list of those reeled in. Surprisingly, this was not mentioned in his personal report, so likely he was released because of lack of evidence which allowed him to continue his life of crime. Here is the picture of the 17 Socialistic Gents arrested in 1947 for the murder and holdups with Doc seated, second from the right: