African American Studies
When he was young in the Bronx he says it was a lovely area. There was a good mix of groups, but “everyone got along.” After junior high, he attended Art and Design in Manhattan, but he experienced prejudice there Latinos or African-Americans were in the minority there, so he transferred to Manhattan Vocational Tech. He stayed there a year but left because there was a lot of gang activity. He then attended DeWitt Clinton. He lived in the Bronx and the area had become very dilapidated - “it looked like if someone ran through there and just bombed it up.” They discuss the landlords burning down the buildings for insurance.
Mercado discusses the Hip Hop scene and the famous nightclubs. He became involved with the gang the Black Spades in 1969, but he had initially been a member of the Reapers. He is Puerto Rican but also identified as African-American, as his family is mixed. The Reapers gave him his first tag name “Straight Man”, but he soon left to join the Black Spades, as his two brothers were in that gang. The Spades were huge in New York and well organized with chapters and divisions through Harlem, Spanish Harlem, Lower and Upper East Side and the Bronx. He became a leader at a council meeting in charge of Harlem. Many people, himself included, joined gangs for “protection.” He managed the gang really until after high school, and then he worked as a maintenance man in a municipal building. The gang started tagging their area and the buses etc. – his tag was “Straight Man” or “SM 1.” To begin with, he just did it to mark the territory – later he became interested in it from an artistic point of view. There was also religious graffiti and some political messages from the Black Panthers and the Young Lords from 1969 on. “Cool Breeze” was separate from the gang and was seeking fame – he inspired Mercado and introduced him to tagging the subways. Society labeled it negatively as “graffiti” but he saw it as art and really began expressing himself artistically, outside of the gang, in 1971. He went to the yards to paint on the trains, or just tagged them as they passed through a station. He met other artists, and people improved their look and got to know each other's style.
They discuss the fusion between the art and the hip-hop scene through people like Phase and Hurk. Big Ray Chandler was the first to ask Mercado to design a flyer for him. The gang did not make problems for him when he left, as there were many members who were also artists. They discuss the tags and how people changed their names and their styles. They patrolled the area to make sure that other kids did not paint over the artwork already there and he and his brothers had a reputation in the neighborhood. They did not tolerate people “disrespecting other writers.” Groups like the Vanguards and the Ex Vandals were writing crews. They discuss violence and guns in the gangs. Members of the Black Spades were hired by Chandler as security for the Hip-Hop artists.
The text of the prayer of the Black Spades is read and Mercado explains that the “whose original purpose was to be a contributing force in our community, but was unconsciously diminished down to the level of nothing but a so-called ‘street gang.’” Mercado and some other people re-established the Black Spades about five years ago as a community organization. It is very well organized and they are trying to expand it. They are especially interested in meeting with school kids and explaining that gangs are not the answer. They are involved in marching and protesting police brutality but they want to end gang violence. He shows Dr. Naison some old photos and they discuss some old members. He wants young people to understand that they can overcome adversity and prejudice and not react violently. He says it took him a long time to “grow up” and he urges young people to think for themselves and not be pressured into doing stuff they don't want to do.
Mercado, Albert. 5 November 2005. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. BAAHP Digital Archive at Fordham.
Click below to download supplemental content.Mercado, Albert Part 1.mp3 (84456 kB)
Mercado, Albert Part 2.mp3 (63975 kB)