The Popes started out as a typical ‘greaser gang’ in the 60’s after years of constant attacks by Spanish gangs like the Latin Kings. Beginning on the corner of Lawrence & Rockwell, a bunch of White kids, mostly Greek and some Italian, organized themselves into an unnamed gang to fight back. It didn’t take long for the White gang in the next neighborhood over, the Simon City Royals, to take notice. The Royals found themselves in the perfect position.
They could help out fellow White kids and save them from certain slaughter by the Latin Kings. And at the same time, they could add a couple dozen more scrappy fighters to their side when fighting their most hated enemy, none other than the very same Latin Kings. It was a win/win for the Royals. The Greek and Italian kids however, had no interest in joining the Simon City Royals and falling under their unconditional control. Instead, they decided to start their own gang. They called themselves the Popes – ‘Protect Our People Eliminate Spics’.
At one time, they were one of the largest gangs in Chicago. Now, they were lucky if they had 250 hard core members throughout the whole north side. The only branches I knew of that they still held were Mayfair Park, Keeler & Argyle, Mather Park and Avondale & Olympia. They’re numbers peaked at about 1,000 in 1976 and they had a number of large branches on the north side like Jefferson Park, Independence Park, Mayfair Park, Mather Park, Gompers Park, Kolmar Park and Lawrence & Rockwell.
That all came to an end in 1976 when their 19 year-old President, a guy named Larkin, was shot and killed by the Gaylords. After that, the Popes fell into disarray and their numbers have been dropping ever since. First, they lost the war for Jefferson Park to the C-Notes. And then they lost the war for Harlem Avenue to the Gaylords and C-Notes. The thing I never understood about the Popes was, how can they be both People and Folks? In 1978, the 64 gangs in Chicago divided up into two alliances - the People Alliance and the Folks Alliance. Somehow, the Insane Popes were officially recognized by the whole city as both.
How is it that the Popes are in both alliances? As the story goes, in 1974, a carload of Popes led by their leader Larkin was driving to a party on the south side. When they got there, they were confronted by the gang that controlled that area - the LA Boys. L and A were the initials of the cross streets they stood on and like many gangs, they named the whole gang after the intersection. The Popes were boisterous and flamboyantly representing their nation. At the time, they were famous and had numerous branches. Not many people ever heard of the LA Boys. But that didn’t stop them from telling the Popes they weren’t welcome. So, Larkin challenged all the LA Boys present to a fight. The only condition was that they had to fight him one on one, one at a time.
As Larkin proceeded to beat the hell out of the first three challengers, it was apparent he was exhausted and probably not going to take the fourth guy. He was also bloodied and bruised from the first three fights. At the onset of the fourth fight, Larkin informed his giant challenger that he may get his ass beat in the end, but he’s going to make sure he hurts this guy in the process. The last LA Boy was impressed and apparently a stand-up guy. He refused to fight Larkin, who was completely worn out by now and a fairly easy target. The LA Boys were no punks and they had given Larkin a pretty good beating. Instead, they shook hands and started hanging out together on a regular basis.
Before long, the LA Boys decided they liked the idea of becoming Popes. However, they insisted on keeping their colors of black and white as well as their own leadership. That’s how the two Pope Nations were created. Three years later, the union would be fractured when the North Side Popes followed their twin brothers, the Simon City Royals, into the Folks Alliance.
The South Side Popes refused to become Folks because all their arch enemies were Folks, like the Satan Disciples, Two Six Boys, Ambrose and the Two Two Boys. The South Side Popes had developed their own alliances. There weren’t any Royals on the south side, so the Popes allied with other White gangs and even some of the Latin Kings. In 1980, the South Side Popes made it official and followed their closest ally, the Twelfth Street Players, into the People Alliance.
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