San Francisco: The James Gang Rides Again

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For most of his life, lean, lobo-eyed Jesse James, now 39, seemed well on the way to paralleling the career of his notorious namesake, though less successfully. A hard-bitten Harlem Negro, he spent a dozen years in Comstock, the Elmira Reformatory and Sing Sing for crimes ranging from narcotics addiction to armed robbery. Out on parole in 1961, Jesse went West and straight —even to the extent of becoming a lay minister in the All Nations Church of God in San Francisco. Last week, in the city's crime-rife Mission district, a new James gang was riding high—training school dropouts, finding jobs for the unemployed, and putting money in the bank rather than making withdrawals at gunpoint.

Known as the "Mission Rebels in Action," the new James boys are currently 600 strong and reflect the district's ethnic mixture of Negroes, Filipinos, Samoans, Maltese, Indians and Spanish Americans. Before Jesse came on the scene, most of the whilom rebels were headed for the standard non-careers of the neighborhood—petty crime, gang fights or debilitating welfare living.

Hang-Up Manifesto. Then, almost two years ago, a band of young Mission hoods braced Jesse on the street and asked him to buy wine for them. He refused, but later took them to his pad and got them talking about their problems. Perhaps because of his own familiarity with the savagery of the streets and because he avoided any adults-know-best sanctimony, the meetings became a regular thing. James let the kids run their new organization. Soon they were meeting in a Mission district church; then they moved to a three-story warehouse donated by Woodrow Klopstock, a San Francisco real estate investor. The electricians' union rewired the building; neighborhood residents contributed desks, tables and chairs. Marines and Air Force men donated punching bags, while the Rebels themselves decorated the walls with stark drawings and slogans.

Somewhere along the line, the Mission Rebels drafted an eleven-point manifesto for their generation's hangups. They declared war on "an image that does not give a true picture of youth"; a community that does not give youth a voice in planning; and an environment marred by substandard education, limited training programs, jobs with no future, adult lack of interest and discrimination. Since then, unlike many a youth group elsewhere, they have won most battles in their generational war—plus $82,000 from the Office of Economic Opportunity.

Last week Poverty Director Sargent Shriver dropped in on the James gang to see how the money was being spent. Accompanied by Jesse, he looked in on a highly informal catch-up class for high school dropouts, tuned an ear to an aspiring musical group practicing on bongos and guitars, watched a workout in the boxing ring, inspected the carpentry shop where Rebels were hard at work sharpening their skills for union apprenticeship exams, and came away impressed. "This is of the people and for the people," Shriver said. "I believe we should have thousands of groups like it, where the people run it themselves and it's not some big new building somewhere but is really part of the community."

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