Smugglers, speakeasies and syndicates: The rise of organized crime and the era of Prohibition

– Wednesday, February 26, 2014 12:00AM


Lorenzo Cultural Center events reveal the impact of the 18th Amendment 


The 1920s was a prosperous, truly roaring time for a lot of Americans. But much of the fun had a dark side. The Detroit area, thanks to its proximity to Canada, became the gateway to 75 percent of the illegal liquor entering the country during Prohibition. The flow of all that booze was controlled by some of the most ruthless gangsters of all time – including those of Detroit’s infamous Purple Gang.

A series of free presentations at the Lorenzo Cultural Center in Clinton Township will tell the story of how the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution – which banned intoxicating liquors from 1920 until its repeal in 1933 – changed our region and led to the rise of organized crime across America:

  • The Silent Syndicate: The History of the Mafia in Detroit, March 1, 1 p.m.:  Scott M. Burnstein, journalist and author of the book “Motor City Mafia: A Century of Organized Crime in Detroit,” tracks the bloodshed, exploits and leadership of crime syndicates in southeast Michigan.
  • Prohibition in Detroit, March 12, 11 a.m.:  Author Armando Delicato profiles the dramatic and fascinating period in Detroit history when, as an international border town with a waterway boundary and low support for Prohibition, the city became an epicenter for liquor smuggling.
  • Detroit’s Infamous Purple Gang, April 4, 11 a.m.:  Paul R. Kavieff, a recognized authority on the Detroit underworld and organized crime, traces the evolution of the Purples from their days as a juvenile street gang through their rise to power and eventual self-destruction.
  •  Prohibition: How did THAT Happen? April 26, 1 p.m.:  Daniel Okrent, historian and author of the national bestselling book “Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition,” covers the rise and fall of that “Noble Experiment.” Okrent describes the era from start to finish, including the reasons Prohibition was passed and its impact even after its repeal. Okrent’s book was used as the basis for Ken Burns’ documentary, “Prohibition,” which aired on PBS.

The presentations are part of the Lorenzo Cultural Center’s program series, The Roaring Twenties: From Riches to Rags, which continues through May 4. The program series offers nearly 40 free events, including presentations from local and national experts and authors, as well as exhibits and video showings.  A speakeasy room will include artifacts loaned from several area museums such as a poker table used in a gambling hall in Mount Clemens, speakeasy membership cards, flasks, bottles and poker chips. A complete schedule of events is available here.

All presentations are free but require preregistration at www.LorenzoCulturalCenter.com or by calling 586.445.7348. The Lorenzo Cultural Center is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Wednesday -Saturday and 1- 4 p.m. Sundays. School and group tours are available.  

About The Lorenzo Cultural Center

The Lorenzo Cultural Center (www.lorenzoculturalcenter.com) explores the influences and experiences that shape our community's heritage, examining topics from a variety of perspectives and creating interactive opportunities for learning, celebration and entertainment. Located on Macomb Community College's Center Campus, Hall and Garfield roads in Clinton Township, the cultural center is adjacent to the Macomb Center for Performing Arts.

About Macomb Community College

Macomb Community College (www.macomb.edu) is one of the nation’s leading community colleges, providing learning experiences to nearly 48,000 students annually. Macomb nationally ranks in the top two percent in the number of associate degrees awarded by community colleges and as the largest grantor of associate degrees in Michigan. The college’s comprehensive educational programming includes pre-collegiate experiences, university transfer and career preparation programs, bachelor degree completion and graduate degree programs, workforce training, professional education and certification, and continuing education and enrichment opportunities.

Media Contact: James Melton, 586.445.7271; meltonj@macomb.edu

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