History of Postwar NYC Street Gangs Lives in Musicals, Books and Memories

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There were the Dukes and the Scorpions, the Hellbenders, Baby Beacons, Baldies and Green Lanterns. Among the most notorious were the Egyptian Kings. In El Barrio, in northern Manhattan, the Dragons and the Viceroys reigned.

Teenage members of the "Dragon" gang were brought to New York police headquarters in 1957 for questioning.

It was post-World War II New York and the children of Latino immigrants were flooding into neighborhoods that whites and African-Americans had long fought over. In this ethnic Petri dish, teenagers formed ranks, wearing exclusive clothing, marking their area with graffiti and making alliances for protection, camaraderie or just to sip cheap wine, play stickball or meet at dances.

They chose colorful names. Their doings have been recorded in music and books, presented in musicals like “West Side Story” and “The Capeman,” even as the violence they committed has been retold in five decades of city history.

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