By Clarence Walker

Those who try to lead the people can only do so by following the mob” – Oscar Wilde.

As people our lives’ value lies in our contribution to a greater good by taking a stand to become part of something on this earth much greater than ourselves. With passion and intelligent risk-taking, we as people can help make the world a better place for those in pursuit of equal opportunities, happiness and freedom of expression to enjoy life to its fullest. Which brings to mind the rebels in our society such as the mafia. The mob’s dark underworld conjures up murder, brutality, assassins, and all sorts of evil deeds these men have carried out.

babBut if the mafia’s money was the root of all their evil deeds, apparently there’s good within the evilness of the blood money they made. According to Thaddeus Russell’s newly released book: “A Renegade History of the United States: 7 Ways the Mafia made the United States a Better Place”; had it not been for the mafia, our American society of today might be a different place in which to live without nearly the freedoms and tolerant attitude that characterize our modern pluralistic society.

Russell writes, “Imagine America with no racial integration or freedom to be gay in public. In my book, I show that all you have to do is imagine American history without organized crime.” Russell’s splendidly written book tells compelling stories of the unsung heroes who were big-time gangsters, while simultaneously illuminating historical struggles between the struggle for social control, the specter of racism, and the grab for power to monopolize the flow of money flow into mainstream economy. Money was the great equalizer combating everything that was wrong in America.

“A Renegade History of the United States” takes its reader into America’s past all the way into the “belly of the beast” showing how the downtrodden, arguably immoral citizens using illegal mob money, rose from the ashes to accomplish more for civil rights and personal freedom than anyone could imagine.

The following stories from Russell’s book shows how gangsters made America a better place:


New Orleans

Had it not been for the mob, Louis Armstrong, the legendary Jazz singer, may have never gotten the opportunity to make history by becoming a world-renowned singer and jazz musician.

bab3During the 1900s, hundreds of Sicilian mafiosi controlled the New Orleans economy, particularly the brothels, saloons and  popular speakeasies that defined New Orleans as the bastion of pleasure of the south. When “respectable” Americans ridiculed the music called “Jass” as black and criminal jungle music — many others were receptive to pay cash money to hear and dance to this new form of music.

New Orleans Sicilian Henry Matranga, head of the Matranga family, exploited the opportunity by opening up buildings in the Storyville district near the French Quarter. It was in the Storyville district in 1917 where teenager Louis Armstrong earned his first pay for playing the trumpet to huge crowds in brothels owned by the Sicilian-Matranga mob family.

bab2The book details how in Chicago and New York,  Italian and Jewish gangsters owned numerous jazz clubs — one notable gangster was Al Capone. Mob-owned clubs on State street in Chicago frequently used musicians like Armstrong, King Oliver, Fletcher Henderson and Benny Goodman, who with the help of many others, turned jazz into a national phenomenon.

According to scholar Jerome Charyn, “There would have been no “Jazz Age” and very little jazz, without the white gangsters taking black and white jazz musicians under their wing.”



bab4Organized crime is the credited source for making prohibition the most unsuccessful moral reform movement in American history. When the U.S. government passed the Eighteenth Amendment prohibiting the sale of alcohol, Italian and Jewish organized crime syndicates transported liquor throughout the Pacific Coast, the Atlantic seaboard, and the Gulf of Mexico. During prohibition, organized crime made untold millions selling liquor in thousands of speakeasies, saloons and sex brothels.

Unable to control humanity’s thirst for the mind-altering drink, the government finally legalized alcoholic beverages but not without getting in on the action by making huge sums of money through the liquor sales tax.


Broadway, New York City

bab5Arnold “The Brain” Rothstein became filthy rich investing in speakeasies, underground casinos and horse racing tracks. He is also known as the man who fixed the 1919 World’s Baseball Series (the infamous Black Sox scandal). Rothstein financed the opening of several renowned businesses including the famous Selwyn Theater on 42nd street that attracted millions of patrons to Broadway. It’s popularity rose to staggering heights and Broadway became the first entertainment capital in America.


Las Vegas Strip

bab6There’s no argument when people call Las Vegas the most visited tourist destination in the United States. Russell’s book explains that the Las Vegas strip would be just another street in the desert were it not for the gangsters. In the 1930s Meyer Lansky, leader of a Jewish crime organization known as the Syndicate, controlled the majority of the gambling operations in the Western hemisphere. He owned top-notch casinos in Miami, Saratoga Springs, New York and Havana, Cuba.

Around 1945, Lansky built the Flamingo Hotel and Casino. Eventually he turned the operation over to Bugsy Siegel, a rising star in Lansky’s syndicate who ran the mob’s operations in Los Angeles. With the Flamingo’s smashing success, the strip was flooded with mob-owned hotel-casinos thus making Las Vegas a worldwide attraction. Organized crime in Las Vegas is such a part of its history that a popular mob museum was built two years ago to showcase mob history.



free2When Thomas Edison invented the motion picture camera and projector, he created the Motion Picture Patents Company called the ‘Trust’ to make movies based on Christian-American values. But on the Lower East Side of New York, Jewish entrepreneurs used Edison’s invention to make their own films which were shown in thousands of five-cent Nickelodeans all across the United States.

These Jewish outlaw filmmakers made movies with violent, sexy content, which were far more entertaining than Edison’s wholesome, purified movies. Furious over the rip-off, Edison, with help from police acting on a city ordinance in Chicago, ordered the Jewish theaters closed down; fire and bloodshed followed.

A goon squad hired by Edison beat up directors and actors, forcing movie-goers out of the theaters and set fire to city blocks where the so-called immoral movies were playing. Apparently Edison underestimated his competition. Gangsters “Big” Jack Zelig, “Lefty Louie” Rosenberg, “Gyp the Blood” Horowitz, and leaders of the notorious Yiddish Black Hand stepped in to eliminate Edison and the city enforcement attempt to censor what could be shown in these independently-owned movie theaters.

The war continued. Gangsters stole expensive film equipment out of Edison’s warehouses in the Bronx, Philadelphia and Chicago and then ignited a fire that grew into a raging inferno that destroyed the properties.

By 1915, the Edison ‘Trust’ group disbanded and the Jewish outlaw filmmakers moved west, where they made bigger and better movies. The outlaws, with the help of their friends, were assisted by another group of Jewish gangsters that helped them to dismantle Thomas Edison and the city laws of Chicago, and in the end, they won the battle.

Who were these mighty men? Do these names ring a bell in today’s motion picture industry? Here they are:

bab7(1) Marcus Loews of Loews Theatres and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

(2) Carl Laemmle of Universal Pictures

(3) Adolph Zukor of Paramount Pictures

(4) William Fox of Twentieth-Century Fox

(5) The Warner brothers, Harry, Albert, Sam and Jack.


Slavery, Racism, Interracial Sex, and the Mafia

During mid-19th century, concert saloons gained popularity in U.S. cities. These breezy places with swinging doors offered liquor, music, lewd dancing, and sex for sale. High on the list was sex between blacks and whites. Several salons in larger northern cities was owned by crime syndicates. Blacks with mob front money and Italian and Jewish immigrants were affiliated with the mob.

bab8Even during Jim Crow era, when the lynching of blacks was a weekly event, thousands of black men had sex with white women in brothels. It is reasonable to conclude that organized crime fronted these places with ‘dirty’ money.

The mixing of races in dance halls owned by Jewish and Italian crime syndicates was so prevalent the Ku Klux Klan waged fierce opposition to close these lurid places down. If owners failed to comply with local government regulations, the KKK burned down these establishments. But nothing could stop the syndicates’ desire to make a buck through enabling inter-racial sex. Unphased, organized crime re-grouped and started all over again.


Gay Freedom

free4Although under-reported by mainstream media, gangsters were instrumental in fostering and protecting the gay subculture during World War Two and the 1950s. Vito Genovese and Carlo Gambino (right), heads of the largest and most powerful New York crime families, invested in gay bars during the early 1930s.

Most New York gay bars was owned by the mob. One place called The Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village had been a non-gay business for many years until members of the Genovese family purchased the spot and converted it into a gay bar.

The Stonewall manager, Ed “The Skull” Murphy, was a homosexual and ex-convict.

Protected from police harassment and potential assaults, white gay customers’ preference for sex with blacks and Latinos gave the Stonewall a reputation as the most racially diverse club — gay or straight—in New York city.

Russell’s book reveals a little known piece of compelling history about America’s gay revolution. “The famous raid on the Stonewall in 1969 that gave rise to the Gay Liberation movement was a federal sting operation directed at the mob.”

bab9Over the next decade, Ed Murphy, the Stonewall gay manager, and the Genovese family funded the Gay Pride marches that became annual, international demonstrations of sexual freedom across the United States and foreign countries. Murphy rode the route every year in New York in an open-top car wearing a crown and a sash that declared him “The Mayor of Christopher Street.”

America have had endless heroes and even more unsung heroes when it comes to the mob.

Remember this important piece of history. When the CIA needed someone to kill Cuban president Fidel Castro, who did they call on? You guessed it, it was the mob. (This particular endeavor was, of course, unsuccessful and Castro is still alive today.)

When presidential contender John F. Kennedy needed help to win the primary in West Virginia when running against Hubert Humphrey in the 1960 Democratic primaries, mafioso Sam Giancana struck a deal with Frank Sinatra for Giancana to sway mob-infested unions to vote for Kennedy. With the help of mob influence, Kennedy ultimately won the U.S. presidential election.

The late Gambino crime boss John Gotti once said, “the mob is American as ‘apple pie’. And like it or not, that’s no lie.

Any comments? Contact journalist Clarence Walker at:[email protected] P.S.


Click here to view Clarence Walker’s previous post on the O.J. Simpson case and modern forensic techniques:

O.J. Simpson Trial 20 Years Later: Advanced Forensic Science Might Leave Little Doubt as to Simpson’s Guilt

Clarence Walker is a veteran news writer and freelance investigative journalist for online internet news publishers and offline hard copy publishers. He has written previously for New York-based True Crime Magazines, National Law Journal, Houston Chronicle, and Houston Forward Times Weekly Community Newspaper. He has also appeared in John Walsh’s America’s Most Wanted Crime Magazine & TV Show. Mr. Walker has served as a crime historian for Houston, Texas-based Channel 11 TV’s Cold Case Murder Series, hosted by reporter Jeff Mcshan. Mr. Walker currently divides his time between Houston and Southeast Arkansas, and is working on a series of crime books and as a story research producer for cable TV true crime drama shows.


7 Responses to Did Mafia Greed Transform the U.S. into a Freer and More Open Society?

  1. liselasalle says:

    The mob was American as mud pie. I have enjoyed the article but I doubt that the new criminal clans will produce many unsung heroes. It is a new era.

  2. Darcia Helle says:

    Interesting article, though I can’t say I agree with Russell’s very broad conclusions. Take prohibition, for example. While the mafia did keep liquor coming, we also had private moonshiners all over the country. People simply refused to give up their alcohol, and the mob capitalized on that financially. With the imported liquor, they also brought incredible violence. The failure of prohibition was not just about the mafia providing a steady supply. In fact, I’d say that was a far lesser reason. Failure was about economics. Businesses were falling apart. People were not going to theaters or restaurants, because alcohol was no longer available in those places. Then we get into taxes. About 75% of New York’s state tax revenue had come from liquor sales. Billions of dollars were lost when the country went dry. The government was hemorrhaging. The truth is actually that the mafia fought against the end of prohibition. They were making far too much money with the product being illegal. They had everything to lose and nothing to gain with the end of prohibition.

    We could take this one step further with our current drug situation. The mafia has had their hand in drug sales for decades, but they have absolutely no incentive to push for legalization. They are, in fact, behind campaigns to keep drugs illegal.

    • PatrickHMoore says:

      Very good points, Darcia! I’ve also heard the argument that American communists in the 1940′s were instrumental in spearheading the civil rights movement. No doubt social change results from a combination of factors.

    • liselasalle says:

      I personally think that the world would not have missed a lot without Vegas…

  3. Claire Phillips says:

    interesting article.

  4. […] Did Mafia Greed Transform the U.S. into a Freer and More Open Society? […]

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