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The Neighborhood Outfit

The Neighborhood Outfit: Organized Crime in Chicago Heights

Louis Corsino
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 184
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  • Book Info
    The Neighborhood Outfit
    Book Description:

    From the slot machine trust of the early 1900s to the prolific Prohibition era bootleggers allied with Al Capone, and for decades beyond, organized crime in Chicago Heights, Illinois, represented a vital component of the Chicago Outfit. Louis Corsino taps interviews, archives, government documents, and his own family's history to tell the story of the Chicago Heights "boys" and their place in the city's Italian American community throughout the twentieth century. Exploring the role of community context in the generation of criminal enterprises, Corsino delves into the social and cultural forces that created a vibrant Italian enclave while simultaneously contributing to illicit activities so pervasive the city's name became synonymous with vice. As Corsino shows, organized crime had its roots in discrimination that blocked opportunities for Italians' social mobility. The close-knit Italian communities that arose in response to such limits produced a rich supply of social capital Italians used to pursue alternative routes to success that ranged from Italian grocery stores to union organizing to, on occasion, crime. In particular he offers invaluable insights into the ways established Outfit figures brought in new recruits and how social forces worked to guarantee a pool of potential soldiers. Learned and readable, The Neighborhood Outfit throws light on a little-known corner of the history of Chicagoland organized crime.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09666-2
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xvi)
    (pp. 1-16)

    You can’t shoot everyone. At times, they tried. The Italians who dominated organized crime in Chicago have been variously portrayed as barbarians, thugs, and goons for the violent path they carved on the way to their notorious reign atop the vaunted criminal empire in the city. These labels were well earned. The Chicago Outfit and the Italians who were members did not shy away from viciousness. However, these “Stone Age”¹ characterizations fail to tell the whole, or even the most important, story of how Italians achieved such outstanding, though nefarious, success in this field. This success rested upon a set...

    (pp. 17-41)

    Chicago Heights was a twentieth-century city. The defining movements of the century—urbanization, industrialization, and immigration—tell much of the city’s history and provide an understanding of the social conditions leading to the emergence of organized crime. With this in mind, we take a brief look back at these historical developments as they played themselves out in the Chicago Heights context. Following this, we trace the history of the vice operations in Chicago Heights from their beginning in the early 1900s, to their union with the Chicago Outfit in the 1920s, to their ascendance and decline throughout the remainder of...

  6. CHAPTER 2 WERE THEY PUSHED? Cultural, Political, and Economic Discrimination
    (pp. 42-62)

    Diego Gambetta, author of the widely praisedThe Sicilian Mafia, once asked in another work, “Were they pushed or did they jump?”¹ Gambetta was struggling with the general human predicament regarding social forces and individual choice. Are people pushed into behavior by the structure of opportunities available (or not available) or do they make rational choices based on perceived costs and benefits? No doubt both processes are at work and no doubt situations vary in terms of the degree of human agency. With these general questions in mind, this chapter begins with an examination of the larger cultural, political, and...

  7. CHAPTER 3 DID THEY JUMP? Labor Organizations, Mutual-Aid Societies, and Ethnic Businesses
    (pp. 63-82)

    For the greater part of the last century, Chicago Heights Italians found themselves on the wrong end of the cultural, political, and economic hierarchy in the city. This position made it extremely difficult for Italians to make recognizable gains in social mobility for themselves or their families. A wide-ranging institutional discrimination, the boom and bust character of the economy, and the cultural preferences of the Italian population conspired to place the majority of Italians on an uncertain path toward a better life. In the face of such challenges, Chicago Heights Italians gathered together their local social capital resources. They built...

    (pp. 83-112)

    The Italians of Chicago Heights, then, were a practical lot. Faced with the struggle to survive in a disparaging cultural, political, and economic environment, this population drew heavily on their social capital resources to maintain or enhance their social standing. As such, Italians became union organizers, club politicians, and entrepreneurs. And several local Italians took different routes and parlayed their unique individual skills in the fields of sports, entertainment, and medicine.¹ However, a most wide-ranging, albeit notorious, response was an association with organized crime. To be sure, this foray into illegal activity did not involve all Chicago Heights Italians in...

    (pp. 113-128)

    The comedian Tom Dressen once joked that Chicago Heights was a town of thirty-five thousand people and five families. Everybody was related to everybody else, at least among the city’s Italian residents. Even today, the dizzying connection and folk knowledge of who was married to whom or who was “actually” a Fidanzzi, a Longo, or a Narcissi before being married speaks to the rich, intimate connections that have long been a feature of the Italian community in Chicago Heights. While these ties, or at least knowledge of these ties, are fading, they nevertheless stood as a most valuable resource as...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 129-154)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 155-158)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 159-160)