December 5, 2009 by Amy Elliott Bragg
Welcome to the best holiday ever! OKAY, maybe just the best holiday commemorating the withdrawal of constitutional legislation that shouldn’t have happened in the first place.
It’s REPEAL DAY, the anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition on December 5, 1933.
Prohibition in Detroit meant the rise of the Purple Gang, a coalition of mostly Jewish gangsters, bootleggers, rum runners and hijackers that controlled the passage across the Detroit river to Canada.
(1929: A Detroit News photographer hiding in a coal elevator took this photo of bootleggers loading their cars. From a 1999 Detroit News Michigan History special, which is a nice primer on the rise and fall of the Purple Gang.)
My grandfather, who immigrated to Detroit from what is now Belarus when he was 20 years old, associated with members of the Oakland Sugar House Gang — and why wouldn’t he? A small-time scrapper, rag shop worker and flop-house builder, my grandfather probably needed work wherever he could get it, and they were his people. He was arrested running corn sugar to blind pigs and bathtub distillers, but the judge, who knew he wasn’t a gangster, didn’t send him to jail.
The Sugar House Gang merged with another gang of East Side Jewish extortionists to form the Purple Gang in the early 1920s. Most of my grandfather’s friends — Harry Shorr, Eddie Fletcher — had been wiped out during the gang’s post-Prohibition implosion. My grandfather lived to see his 80s.
I raise a mimosa to him today. Celebrate the freedom to celebrate!