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Film Shows When Vice Lords Gang Tried To Go Legit And Failed

By Sam Cholke | October 4, 2016 5:15am | Updated on October 4, 2016 5:22am
"Lord Thing" shows a period where the Vice Lords leaders tried to reform the gang to help the community and why the effort failed when the leadership left.
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Courtesy of the Chicago Film Archives

WASHINGTON PARK — The Washington Park Arts Incubator is screening on Oct. 18 a rarely seen documentary about what happened when Chicago’s most violent gang tried to go legit in the 1960s.

“Lord Thing” is an inside view of the Conservative Vice Lords, a sect of the Vice Lords gang in North Lawndale that tried to transform itself into a force to help the community.

Documentary filmmaker DeWitt Beall’s portrait of the gang was screened in Europe, but went largely unseen in the United States and Chicago until the Chicago Film Archives restored the film in 2014.

Sma Cholke shares more details on "Lord Thing."

“Lord Thing” chronicles the efforts of a handful of leaders of the Vice Lords to shift the power of their organization toward helping the community. In the late ‘60s, the gang organized job training programs, youth centers and opened several businesses, including two ice cream parlors, in an effort to improve North Lawndale.

The film shows many of the successes, including a $275,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation and alliances with other gangs like the Blackstone Rangers and Gangster Disciples to push for political reform like changes to the city’s racially charged hiring practices.

The film ends in 1969-70 when Mayor Richard J. Daley started a new crackdown on gangs and many of the leaders of the Conservative Vice Lords either left for college, faced criminal charges or suffered medial issues that left the group leaderless.

The screening starts at 7 p.m. Oct. 18 at the Washington Park Arts Incubator, 301 E. Garfield Blvd.

Benneth Lee, a former Vice Lords chief in the 1970s and now a professor at Northeastern Illinois University, will talk about the film afterwards with University of Chicago professor Jaqueline Stewart, an advocate for the preservation of African-American films, Sam Darrigrand of the Rebuild Foundation and Isis Fergusun of Place Lab.

The film is free and open to the public.

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