Remembering the co-founder of the Conservative Vice Lords

Fred “Bobby” Gore straddled worlds of street organization, activism

February 19, 2013


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Fred “Bobby” Gore, community activist and a co-founder of the Conservative Vice Lords who spent most of his life bettering Chicago’s West Side, has died. He was 76.

Inspired by the civil rights movement and Black Power era, Gore fought slumlords and created safe spaces for teens to hang out in the rough, ignored Lawndale area. Gore marched with Martin Luther King Jr. and brokered peace between rival gangs.

He moved away from the Vice Lords because of that group's street reputation with crime, and he assumed leadership of the CVLs, which received funding from major foundations to organize youth and fight racial inequality.

Gore spent most of the 1970s in state prison for a murder, and until his deathbed he claimed his innocence. He had said he was framed because law enforcement sought to squelch his power. At the time of his arrest in 1969, Chicago police and the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office were waging a war on Chicago gangs. Many of the street organizations were involved in activism work. And that same year a police raid on the West Side led to the brutal deaths of unarmed Black Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark.

While in prison Gore earned two bachelor’s degrees.

Earl Evans briefly served prison time with Gore.

“When I first heard him speak, he spoke with a power that grasped me because I had never heard a black man talk like this. He taught me how to think. He taught me how to read a book,” Evans said. He listened as Gore told him they shouldn’t throw their youth away. Gore gave him Malcolm X’s autobiography.

“Bobby was never a gangbanger,” said Gore’s wife, Etheal. “He was an activist. He has always been involved in what the community needed.” Post-prison, Gore worked for the Safer Foundation, which helps former inmates gain employment.

In 1995 Gore told Chicago Tribune Magazine: “‘Sometimes, it makes you want to cry,’ Gore says during a tour of the neighborhood, with its empty lots, outdoor drug markets, shuttered businesses and pervasive air of desperation.”

As he fought chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Gore made time to work with longtime friend Bennie Lee on a Conservative Vice Lords exhibit at the Hull House Museum.

“He wanted to control the narrative about what really happens in urban America, preferably with the legacy of what they did in the ‘60s with the Vice Lords,” Lee said. “His legacy was to use that museum as a teaching tool.”

Controlling that narrative meant “Conservative Vice Lords was not a street gang,” Lee said. “Now you had 26 different sets of Vice Lords and some Vice Lords that were truly involved in crime. But Conservative Vice Lords, Inc. was a legitimate nonprofit organization that was doing a lot of community work.”

Hundreds of mourners Tuesday evening paid respects at Gore’s wake, held at Stone Temple Baptist Church on the city’s West Side. Before the casket was brought into the sanctuary, it was held in a limo that led a procession around around 16th Street, paying a final tribute to Gore.