Event—Public Programming

A Contest of Virtues: The First Presbyterian Church, the Blackstone Rangers, and the War on Poverty


In the middle 1960s, the First Presbyterian Church in Chicago's Woodlawn neighborhood entered close collaboration with a local gang organization, the Blackstone Rangers, and secured War on Poverty funds to operate a variety of programs with the gang. Church leadership presented the gang as virtuous, and therefore worthy of government support. Gang membership had its own complex notions of virtue, and controversy over the Rangers' alleged mischief under War on Poverty auspices would roil city politics and even give cause for Congressional hearings. Omar McRoberts will explore the significance of this history for U.S. social welfare politics, which are often concerned with the designation, or creation, of a "deserving poor" embodying personal and civic virtues.