White on Arrival: Italians, Race, Color, and Power in Chicago, 1890-1945

By Thomas A. Guglielmo | Go to book overview

4
RACE, COLOR, AND CRIME

On the night of February 22, 1926 and then again several nights later, agents from the Commissioner General of Immigration's office, the U. S. Department of Justice, the Chicago Police Department, and the Cook County Sheriff's and State's Attorney's offices raided—often without warrant—restaurants, coffeehouses, barber shops, pool rooms, soft drink parlors, club headquarters, and homes. In search of deportable “alien gangsters, ” agents seem to have found what they were looking for. Over two hundred people were apprehended, some of whom were detained for days without adequate food, sleeping accommodations, or heat. Of those people apprehended and detained, a few were Mexicans and Greeks, but the majority were Italians. 1

If federal and local agents sought “alien gangsters, ” it was really Sicilians whom they wanted most. After all, the raids came in the midst of what the Chicago Tribune called “the reign of terror in Chicago produced by gangs of Sicilian gunmen. ” Newspapers printed bold, sensationalistic headlines like “Sicilian Gang Kills Again, ” “Shotguns Kill Wrong Man in Sicilian Feud, ” “Sicilian Slain, Two Shot in Feudists' War, ” and “Feudists Slay Sicilian Ally of Genna Gang. ” A week before the deportation drive, the Chicago Tribune predicted prophetically that “there will be something doing when Uncle Sam reaches his long arm into the Melting Pot and begins fishing out the Italian gangsters for scrutiny. ” 2

In the end, only a handful of Italians were deported, but this entire episode dramatizes the extent to which many Chicagoans had come to see Italians as a major menace. Indeed, it was in these Prohibition years (1920–1933) of Al Capone, Johnny Torrio, the Aiello and Genna Brothers, and many others, that in the words of Horace Cayton and St. Clair Drake, “gangsters replaced Negroes in the civic consciousness as Social Problem No. 1. ” It was in these years that the vice president of the United States, Charles Dawes (a native of Evanston, a Chicago suburb), pleaded with the

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White on Arrival: Italians, Race, Color, and Power in Chicago, 1890-1945
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Contents *
  • White on Arrival *
  • Introduction 3
  • 1 - Early Italian Chicago 14
  • 2 - Riot and Relations 39
  • 3 - The White Peril of Europe 59
  • 4 - Race, Color, and Crime 76
  • 5 - Mayoral Races, Mayoral Colors 93
  • 6 - Fascism, Empire, and War 113
  • 7 - Radicalism, Unionism, and the Depression 129
  • 8 - The Color of Housing 146
  • Conclusion 172
  • Notes 177
  • Bibliography 241
  • Index 273
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