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February 23, 2016

Vintage Photographs Capture Daily Life of a Teenage Street Gang of New York City in 1955

New York City is divided into ‘boroughs’ or sections, each with their own special history and characteristics. These teenage “bopping” gangs, or “clubs,” roamed the three main boroughs – Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx (see map above). Over time, Queens succumbed to the gang problem as well.

The gangs from that time period were different from the gangs we see today in some unique ways. For instance, in the 1950s gangs didn’t fight over drugs. Drive by shootings were rare, and the gangs were mostly comprised of teenagers aged 12-19.

Although drugs were prevalent in New York City, particularly with the rise of heroin in the late 1950s and into the 60s, the gang wars were mostly fought over “turf” and girls.

In the end, drugs helped contribute towards the demise of the fighting gang. Gang members would get hooked on heroin which would change their emphasis and world from the gang to their next fix. Junkies were notoriously unreliable in rumbles and would often be teased mercilessly or ostracized by the gang in the hope they would kick their habit and be a “productive” member of the gang.

Gangs were more or less divided into ethnic groups, although many had a mixture of ethnic backgrounds. Blacks, Italians, Irish and Puerto Ricans all contributed to the estimated 6,000 gang members and hundreds of gangs throughout the city.

A teenage street gang carry out a mugging in a deserted alley in New York City.

A teenage street gang brag about their exploits to a potential new recruit in New York City.

A gang of teenagers hang out on the street of New York City.

A teenage street gang under a bridge in New York City.

A teenage street gang notice a potential recruit as they walk by a New York tenement building.

Two members of a teenage New York street gang threaten another member who wants to leave.

Two members of a teenage street gang chat outside a New York cinema showing 'Not Of This Earth'.

A teenage street gang hanging out in their local candy store in New York City.

An ex-member of a teenage gang is welcomed into his local settlement house, the Boys Brotherhood Republic in New York City.

A teenage street gang ‘hanging out’ on a street corner in New York City.

A teenage street gang in New York City check their weapons, including zip guns and knives.

Two members of a teenage street gang are taken into the 9th Precinct police station after their arrest in New York City.

(Photos by Carl Purcell/Three Lions/Getty Images)


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