Old School White Gangs of 1950s and 1960s
Any American who was around back in the 1950s and 1960s will remember the iconic greaser gangs. They were basically a subculture of male teenagers and youths in the United States who could be identified by their greasy hair, black or white fitted T-shirts, leather jacket, denim jeans, and black boots. They were not hard to miss when you saw them go by.
Before breaking down the history of early white gangs, also known as greasers, who were very prevalent in communities within cities like Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles, people should know that their existence help facilitate the creation of other races gangs. During a time were racism was the normal way of society, African Americans and Hispanics began to move into predominantly white communities around the 1950s and 1960s.
As newcomers into unwelcome neighborhoods, many youth, as well at times adults, would often be attacked and harassed by the local greaser gangs, which would become one of the main causes that some African American and Hispanic gangs were originally created, a way to protect themselves from the local greaser gangs.
The Start and History of Greaser Gangs
The greaser subculture is believed to have started in the eastern and southern regions of the United States back in the early 1950s. It was an indirect response to the aftermath of World War II. During the war, the men were overseas fighting the Germans while the women worked in factories making weapons and ammunition. In fact, there were even professional female baseball teams because of the shortage of men in the United States. Women did everything that men used to do before the war.
But once the war ended and the men came back home, American culture had shifted toward a different direction. American society had promoted the idea of conformity where women stayed in the house and took care of the children. As for the men, they wore suits and ties and worked in an office or some other professional setting. This was the picturesque image and the standard in which society encouraged youths to embrace at the time.
However, there were certain groups of American youths who were not ready to embrace this shift in culture. Even though the aftermath of World War II resulted in an economic boom for the United States, many American youths didn’t seem to benefit from those economic opportunities. It prompted them to strive away from the homogeneous attitude that domestic society wanted for youths at that time.
To display their rebellious attitude, some groups of teens wore attire that was in deep contrast to the “suit and tie” appearance. They ditched the blazers and dress pants for leather jackets and denim jeans. Soon there was an increase in motorcycle gangs and clubs as more youths felt rebellious against society. The trend continued until greaser gangs were a regular occurrence in the eastern and southern states of the country.
The “greasers” were primarily from lower class or working-class families in urban areas, but they did exist in small towns too. The typical ethnic groups associated with the greaser gangs were Italian Americans as well as Hispanic Americans. Their favorite activities were to listen to rock n’ roll music and ride motorcycles. If you saw a guy with slick, greasy hair who was riding on a motorcycle and wearing a leather jacket, then chances are he was a greaser.
When modern people learn about the greaser subculture, they wrongfully associate greasers with motorcyclists. Despite the greasers belonging to motorcycle clubs, they were not considered motorcyclists because businesses and news publications did not target the greasers. In fact, most mainstream sources looked down upon the greasers, along with everyone else who was privileged. That was what made the greasers such a close-knit group because no one else would accept them except for each other.
If you were not around in the 1950s and 1960s, then you’ve probably seen greaser gangs portrayed in several iconic movies. Some of the most iconic “greaser” movies include The Outsiders, The Wild One, Grease, Grease 2, The Lords of Flatbush, and Cry Baby. In many of these movies, the greasers were the enemies of the upper-class youths at their high schools. This would often lead to fights between the two rival gangs.
The so-called “jocks” or football players were the overachievers from wealthier families, and they didn’t like the greasers because they were poor outcasts who were often rebellious against society and the “system.” The greasers only had motorcycles and old used cars to ride, while the overachieving youths got to drive expensive cars like BMWs and Jaguars. The latter didn’t have trouble getting dates with the popular girls in school because of their money and social status.
Greasers certainly did not subscribe to the consumeristic culture of the United States, like so many others had embraced after World War II. They weren’t about buying expensive motorcycles and trying to impress other people with their luxurious possessions. Instead, they worked on their own cars and motorcycles by restoring and building them. This fed into the stereotype that all greasers were mechanics because they often had jobs working on cars and motorcycles.
To some extent, the stereotype was true because they were more like urban survivalists who had to survive on their own. They didn’t have parents who could buy them cars and motorcycles of their own. Young greasers were forced to get jobs and help their families survive. Meanwhile, the upper-class youths didn’t have to work and were fortunate to have parents who could buy them anything they wanted. That was the real big distinction between the upper-class and the middle and lower classes.
The mainstream public continued to look down upon greasers because of their differences in attire and ethnicity. Olive-skinned people were regularly slapped with the greaser label, which signified someone who was an ethnic delinquent from a lower-class background. In many instances, people believed greasers were prone to committing sexual violence and other criminal acts. This might have attracted some middle-class females to them, but the mainstream public despised the greasers.
All the way up until the mid-1960s, the greasers were looked down upon by the public. But then, American culture was shifting in a new direction where civil rights and sexual promiscuity were glorified rather than loathed. The greaser image had gone away at the exact time when it finally became respected and embraced.
By the mid-1970s, society had a new respect for the greasers it once condemned. The greaser image became the iconic symbol of the 1950s and early 1960s. That is why so many new generations are familiar with the greasers and who they were. Hollywood has done a good job of keeping them alive because films continue to be made about them to this day.