|Founding location Point Breeze, Philadelphia|
Years active late 1960s to early 1980s before being split into fractions, reformed in mid 80's as Junior Black Mafia
Territory African American neighborhoods in South Philadelphia such as Point Breeze, Grays Ferry; neighborhoods in West Philadelphia, Southwest Philadelphia, North Philadelphia, Northwest Philadelphia, and Northeast Philadelphia; Chester, Pennsylvania; turf in South Jersey, including Camden and Atlantic City
Ethnicity African American, mostly African-American Muslims and Nation of Islam members.
Criminal activities Drug trafficking, extortion, murder, armed robbery, burglary, illegal gambling, numbers racket, prostitution
Allies Philadelphia crime familyWarlocks Motorcycle ClubThe CouncilNation of Islam and associated gangs20th and Carpenter Gang
The Black Mafia, also known as the Muslim Mafia or Muslim Mob, is a Philadelphia-based African-American organized crime syndicate. The organization began as a small criminal collective, known for holding up neighborhood crap games and dealing in the illegal drug business, but at its height of operation until about 1975, it managed to consolidate power and control a large portion of criminal activity in various African-American neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia, the Delaware Valley, and South Jersey, including Atlantic City. In addition to drug trafficking, burglary, and armed robbery, the Black Mafia was also engaged in traditional organized crime activities such as extortion, racketeering, number running, illegal gambling, and prostitution.
Allegedly formed in September 1968 by Samuel Christian, who later adopted the name Suleiman Bey under the Nation of Islam, the Black Mafia was heavily involved in a large part of drug trafficking in Philadelphia during the 1970s, with heroin being the most trafficked drug. Christian, a former Black Panther with an extensive arrest record, was an imposing man: 5'10' tall and described as a "thick-necked, powerfully-built, 215-pound bully." Additional founding members included Ronald Harvey, Henry Dabney, Richard "Pork Chops" James, Donald "Donnie" Day, Clyde "Apples" Ross, Robert "Bop Daddy" Fairbanks, Craig "Heist" Jones, Walter Hudgins, Robert "Nudie" Mims amongst others. Nearly all of the original members eventually became Nation of Islam members or converted to Islam, giving the organization the nickname of "the Muslim Mafia" or "the Muslim Mob."
The Black Mafia gained power in local neighborhoods by intimidating people to prevent anyone from reporting the group's activities to the police. Because of this, police had incredible difficulty taking any action on the gang or any of its members for years after their conception. Members participated in holding up crap games and extorting drug dealers, working as numbers men and illegitimate businessmen. Over the course of their control, the Black Mafia was responsible for over 40 murders and countless other crimes. Each founder had extensive arrest records, with most cases involving violence. Law enforcement officials had difficulties prosecuting members of the group, however, because witnesses would rarely cooperate, fearing retaliation, and cases were dropped more often than not. This not only permitted the offenders to continue their criminal activities, but also allowed their reputations of being "untouchable" to flourish, thus enhancing their influence on the street.
The "Black Mafia," was formed to coordinate and consolidate historic black crime in numbers, prostitution, and extortion of legitimate businesses, while combining with the rising drug demand in Philadelphia. It can be argued that their success drove legitimate black business and capital, such as the numerous successful African American owned banks, medical practices, stores, landlords, and other African American businesses to escape the city as segregation pressures faded. Angelo Bruno, the don of the Philadelphia crime family, discouraged drug dealing in South Philadelphia, but could not prevent deals being made by the New York mafia families such as the Gambino Crime Family, which were doing business with the growing black organized crime that became the Black Mafia until black New York drug lord Frank Mathews became their supplier. Bruno turned a blind eye to many of the renegade Italian gangsters who "did business" with, or supplied, the black drug lords, so long as they met their financial obligations to him and to the New York families. In fact, a rough outline of Italian organized crime (OC) east of Broad Street, with Black OC west of Broad Street, became a shorthand to describe South Philadelphia's hidden forces for decades, damning efforts at urban renewal.
The earliest documented act committed by the Black Mafia was the April 19, 1969 murder of one of the group's founders, Nathaniel "Rock and Roll" Williams. Williams arranged a crap game above a barbershop at Broad (14th) and South street. As usual, several Black Mafia leaders participated in the game. Curiously, Williams was absent from his own crap game. Thus, when two gunmen busted into the room and robbed the pot and the players, suspicions arose.The Black Mafia leadership almost immediately heard in the street what they already suspected, that Williams had engineered the stick-up, using neighborhood gang members, and that Williams had driven the getaway car himself. An hour and a half after the robbery, witnesses saw two men marching Williams out of a bar at 15th and South street at gunpoint. Williams' corpse was found in an isolated area near the Naval Base in South Philadelphia. Four bullets had been pumped into his back. Police would later characterize the homicide as a "Black Mafia execution." Jerome Barnes was arrested for Williams murder on August 12, 1969. In a trend that would be repeated numerous times throughout the Black Mafia's tenure, charges against Barnes were dropped when police were unable to line up witnesses who could identify him.
Jeremiah Shabazz owned bakeries and food stores through the first Philadelphia NOI mosque or masjid. This masjid would later be publicly criticized by NOI leadership in Chicago for drawing too much attention to itself as a "gangster" mosque. Recent academic works in criminal justice are filling in the gaps using FBI, court, and police records to substantiate the long association of Shabazz (aka Jeremiah Pugh) with the growth of organized black crime in Philadelphia.
Shabazz's west Philadelphia mosque boasted of the most prominent members of organized black crime in Philadelphia, members who were also high-ranking members of the mosque. The difficulty this precedent created would play out dramatically when the FBI overheard two high-level heroin dealers complain that they were being overly extorted by Shamsud-din Ali aka Clarence Fowler, the imam who had replaced Shabazz. That probe would land the drug investigation on the desk of then-mayor John F. Street, as Dawud Bey complained that the dealers "were out here hustling" while Shamsud-din Ali requested $5,000 to be delivered to Connie Little, former Democratic Ward leader, and John Street's Executive Secretary. "Cutty (Shamsud-din Ali's nickname, short for "cutthroat" for beating a murder rap of a well-known Reverend) ...be walking with kings," the dealers lamented. John Street escaped prosecution, but several of his key people drew successful federal prosecutions, ending their careers.
The Black Mafia used formalized meetings, and legal incorporated nonprofits as cover, and imposed a hierarchy on its members in an attempt to create discipline among members. The command structure in 1968 consisted of fourteen individuals with a mean age of 29. Members and associates were called "Part I" and low-ranking members were named "The Little Brothers." Members could move up in the chain of command according to certain established criteria. The meetings were organized at different locations between 1969 and 1975 based on this hierarchy, while later iterations of leadership did not wish to record activities on paper. As the gang gained local control, separate meetings were held for those holding positions of power and those that were general members. The average number of attendees ranged from 40-60 and minutes were taken during the course of the meetings. Many members were transported to and from meetings while blindfolded by more powerful members to avoid compromising the secrecy of the location.
As demonstrated by the manner in which meetings were run, oaths and rules were prevalent so that the group could avoid exposure. A secrecy oath was required to be taken by the members to ensure secrecy and that members would not disclose important information. The oath also swore to report any violations of the oath under risk to family and other members. A strict set of written rules were created to govern these meetings, as well. For example, each member upon entry to meetings was required to be searched by authorized members. Only the presiding member at the meeting was allowed to appoint who could carry weapons.
The mafia organized three different community service projects as a front to their criminal activity during their control. Other gangs posed a threat to the power of the Black Mafia, so organizations were created to combat gang violence, though mafia violence was still encouraged. One organization included Black B. Inc. Their aim was to put an end to gang activity in the African-American community. City residents and local law enforcement who saw the gang war unfolding in the streets, though, knew that the Black Mafia was behind the Council.
One of the first incidents to be attributed explicitly to the Black Mafia by law enforcement officials was the severe beating of Pennsylvania Deputy Insurance commissioner David Trulli in May 1969. Trulli, then investigating an insurance fraud case, was beaten with a lead pipe by Richard "Pork Chops" James apparently at the request of a third party. Trulli lost three teeth and required 26 stitches to close his wounds. Before James could be brought back from jail in New York City, where he had been arrested for murder on November 23, 1969, he died of a drug overdose. At the time of his death, James had a history of 32 arrests. Camden Police Department intelligence files state that James was sent to New York at the orders of Eugene "Bo" Baynes to fulfill a murder contract. While staying in New York, he had murdered a woman and a child and had wounded the man he was supposed to murder. The files state that James's subsequent overdose in jail was in fact, a "hot shot" administered to him by other Black Mafia members. The Strike Force concluded the overdose was arranged to "ensure his silence in a Black Mafia related assault case".
One of the Black Mafia's most brutal, inexplicable crimes included the Dubrow Furniture Store robbery. On January 4, 1971, eight Black Mafia members robbed DuBrow's on South Street in Philadelphia. They entered the store one by one posing as customers. Once all were inside, they pulled guns on the twenty employees present and forced them to lie on the floor in the back of the store where they bound them with tape and electrical cord. Thirteen employees were beaten while two others were shot. A janitor who walked in on the robbery while doing his job was shot and killed. One employee was doused with gasoline and set on fire. After their vicious treatment of the employees, they looted the offices in the store and set more fires to destroy evidence of the robbery. The eight criminals fled the scene as soon as the fire alarm went off, purposefully trampling on one of the victim's bodies as they left. This crime was so brutal that W.E.B. Griffin wrote a novel based on it, The Witness, and Philadelphia Police Commissioner Frank Rizzo was quoted as saying that the DuBrow crime was "the most vicious crime I have ever come across.
The Black Mafia also had their sights on high-up drug dealers and crime leaders. Tyrone Palmer, known as "Mr. Millionaire", was assassinated on Easter Sunday 1972 in Atlantic City, New Jersey by associates of the Black Mafia. Palmer, a big-time cocaine and heroin dealer and the primary Philadelphia area contact for New York City drug dealers, was shot in the face in plain view of 600-900 people at the Club Harlem, by Black Mafia founding member, Sam Christian. Before Palmer's bodyguards could defend themselves, the mafia opened fire in the club, wounding 20 people. In addition to Palmer, three women and one of Palmer's bodyguards were killed.
By far the most well-known act of crime that the Black Mafia carried out, the Hanafi Murders was what gained them national media attention. The site of this crime was Los Angeles Lakers basketball player, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's, house in Washington D.C. On January 18, 1973, the mafia murdered 7 Hanafi Muslims. Two adults and five children, aged 9 days to 10 years, were murdered. The adults and one child were shot while the other children were drowned. The intended target of this crime was Hamaas Abdul Khaalis, of the Hanafi Muslims, for a letter he had written to the Black Muslims claiming that Elijah Muhammad was a false prophet and that certain members of Elijah Muhammad's NOI were merely gangsters who were harming the name of Islam. The difficulty in obtaining evidence to successfully prosecute the crime fomented a breakdown by Khaalis as he sought to draw attention to the case of his murdered family.
By 1973, the Mafia were beginning to lose anonymity due to the increasing scale of their crimes and the increased law enforcement and media attention. The Philadelphia Inquirer, as cited in Sean Griffin's "Philadelphia's Black Mafia: a Social and Political History," reported, "The Black Mafia is real. It is not a cop fantasy, newspaperman's pipe dream or movie myth. It is a black crime syndicate that has been growing unchecked in Philadelphia for the past five years. It has expanded and evolved into a powerful crime cartel with chains of command, enforcers, soldiers, financiers, regular business meetings and assigned territories. It specializes in narcotics, extortion and murder, with minor interests in loan sharking, numbers and prostitution. It has a war chest that bankrolls drugs and gambling and buys the best lawyers.
The original Black Mafia's power was beginning to fracture, though, by 1974. In September 1974, 21 members and group affiliates were arrested in an early morning raid by federal drug agents and the Justice Department's crime strike force. The Black Mafia would fracture and reform several more times, each generation remaking itself more light, agile, and deadly, with growing political influence.
One rumored source of information that led to a bust was community activist Charles Robinson, a member of a community group that became heavily dominated by Black Mafia members while taking government grants. Robinson, as informant, states that he feared for his family as Black Mafia influence grew. He likely also wisely feared the inevitable investigation into the use of the funds.. Robinson was a brother-in-law to mafia member James Fox. Fox allegedly had been intimidating Robinson's family, specifically his mother. Evidence was gained from 21 days of wiretapping mafia member's phone lines. Members were charged with different crimes including but not limited to heroin and cocaine distribution, rape, and murder.
This hardly ended the reign of terror. Philly's "stop snitchin'" culture can be attributed to the success of the BM in silencing whole communities so effectively that wiretapping would be the modus operandi of successful prosecutions.
Black Mafia victims
These are the names of the identified victims who were murdered by the Black Mafia. This list is in chronological order.
Junior Black Mafia
In the 1980s, younger relatives of the group created the "Junior Black Mafia" (JBM). The JBM formed to counter a wave of Jamaican gangsters who sought to control crack cocaine trafficking in Philadelphia. The JBM cooperates with associates of the Italian-American Bruno-Scarfo Mafia crime family in the distribution of cocaine and appears to have modeled its criminal methods after that organization, relying heavily on violence and extortion to further its drug enterprise. Original members of the 1970s-era Black Mafia organized African American youths into the JBM to thwart the Jamaicans' control of drug distribution in the affected areas in Philadelphia. The JBM is estimated to have approximately 100 members and about 300 street-level associates. Its members drive expensive cars and often wear gold jewelry and rings with the JBM initials encrusted in diamonds. Originally, admission into the group required a $1,000 initiation fee, lack of a criminal record, and the operation of an established illegal activity. In Philadelphia the JBM has sought to expand its drug trafficking profits by offering independent narcotic dealers membership in the JBM. The Pennsylvania Crime Commission documented two 1989 incidents in which the JBM targeted for death dealers who turned down such offers. Like most local gangs, the JBM supplied sales and distribution services in the United States' fifth largest city to major international drug cartels, enabling these cartels to grow. The leader of the JBM, Aaron Jones, is currently on death row in Pennsylvania. The remaining Black Mafia members often associate and work with the Philadelphia Italian Mafia. In 2010, officials reported that a relative of Russell Barnes, who frequents Philadelphia and New York City, is poised to take control because of his close ties to Philadelphia's Black Mafia underworld and his ability to network and organize.