Hull-House Museum Opens Off-Site Exhibits on Conservative Vice Lords

A new exhibition organized by the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum asks, “Can gang members become forces for positive social change?”

The museum, part of the University of Illinois at Chicago, collaborated on the exhibition with former members of the 1960s-era Conservative Vice Lords, or CVL, led by Bobby Gore, the gang’s former spokesman; and Benneth Lee, co-founder of the National Alliance for the Empowerment of the Formerly Incarcerated and former “violence interrupter” for the UIC-based CeaseFire violence prevention program.

“Report to the Public: An Untold History of the Conservative Vice Lords,” will open June 22, 5:30 – 8 p.m., at Art In These Times, 2040 N. Milwaukee Ave. Additional display panels will be mounted throughout the North Lawndale neighborhood in businesses, vacant lots and other spaces.

Lisa Junkin, museum education coordinator, said the CVL has a surprising history, given that its forerunner, the Vice Lords, was known as a notorious street gang responsible for violence in North Lawndale and beyond.

“There was a moment when things were different. The Conservative Vice Lords were incorporated as a not-for-profit organization during the late 1960s by Vice Lords members who decided to enter the civic realm,” Junkin said.

With funding from major foundations, they organized local youths, protested unfair housing policies and discriminatory working conditions, and opened small businesses like Teen Town, an ice cream parlor.

By 1970, during Mayor Richard J. Daley’s “War on Gangs,” CVL leaders were imprisoned and the organization foundered.

“This exhibition doesn’t glorify or demonize gangs,” Junkin said. “Rather, it challenges widely held views of gang members as unredeemable thugs through an untold story of the Conservative Vice Lords fighting for the life of their community.”

Visitors at the exhibition opening will be invited to meet former CVL members, listen to intimate audio interviews, and view an evolving selection of photos and artifacts, including:

  • “Report to the Public,” CVL’s photo-illustrated 1968-69 annual report distributed as a show of transparency.
  • An opening invitation to Art & Soul, the community art center that CVL opened in partnership with the Museum of Contemporary Art.
  • Correspondence detailing CVL’s complex relationship with the Rockefeller Foundation.
  • CVL’s certificate of incorporation.
  • A Conservative Vice Ladies calling card.

“Many people doubted CVL’s intentions,” said Lee, a former Vice Lords chief. “Some people believed they were a front for drug dealing or other illegal activity. Others feared the political power that street organizations were gaining at that time.

“The question is, what would it take for today’s gang members to bring peace to the neighborhood? I hope young people will see this exhibit in Lawndale and recognize that they have the power to influence their communities in a positive way, just like CVL did in the 1960s.”

The exhibition is made possible in part by grants from the Illinois Humanities Council, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Illinois General Assembly, and UIC’s Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy, with support from the independent news magazine In These Times.

Admission to the exhibition is free. More information is available online or call (312) 413-5353.

[Note: Photos for download at]

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