Italian-American National Union

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The Unione Siciliana (often incorrectly called Unione Siciliane), later renamed as Italian-American National Union, was a Sicilian-American (and later generally Italian-American) fraternal organization which eventually was rumored to have controlled much of the Italian American vote within the United States during the early twentieth century. During Prohibition the organization was a major source of conflict as underworld figures fought to control the highly influential organization through a series of puppet presidents largely controlled by the Chicago Outfit.

History[edit]

The organization was founded in 1895 by Sicilian immigrants in Chicago. The name was changed to the Italian-American National Union in 1925 in order to attract Italian-Americans from other regions.[1] While the Union was paying out sick and death benefits and had deposited $100,000 with the Illinois Department of Insurance,[2] the Union was restructured as a fraternal life insurance group in 1937.[3]

The Union was absorbed by the Italian Sons and Daughters of America Fraternal Association in 1991.[4]

Organization and activities[edit]

Lodges called "Subordinate Lodges" and the highest authority was the "Supreme Council", according to the 1930 constitution which was apparently still in force as late as 1979.[5] In 1928 there was also a Board of Directors.[6] There was Juvenile Department in the 1920s that organized basketball and football teams, among other sporting activities.[7] The Juvenile Department wasn't mentioned in a late 1970s report on the organization, though its fraternal activities included athletic events for youth, as well as marching in Columbus Day parades, providing aid to handicapped children, scholarships for youth and maintaining an Italian Old Peoples Home.[8]

Membership[edit]

According to the 1930 constitution membership was open to "white men of Italian origin", who believed in a Supreme Being, were of good moral character, of sound health and competent to make a living. Membership decided by blackball.[9]

The Union had 39 lodges with 4,000 adult members and over 1,000 in the Juvenile Department.[10] The Union had 40 lodges in 1972 and 31 in 1977, all located in Illinois and Indiana. Membership in 1979 was 5,000.[11] In 1994 it was reported to have 5,000 members in 34 locals.[12]

Rituals[edit]

Rituals included private words, tokens, signs, grips and passwords, which were all supposed to be secret. Members of the society were issued annual passwords, and the Supreme President issued a quadrennial password to members of the Supreme Council.[13]

Corruption of the Unione[edit]

In the early 1900s the Unione took part in efforts to fight the Black Hand in Chicago. It failed in its endeavor. Later, the presidency of the Unione became a target for political power. Antonio D'Andrea was at that time the Chicago Mafia boss. He was an ex-priest who was arrested for counterfeiting in 1902. With the assistance of his family and supporters, he was released from prison after a short time. He worked as a professional translator and later as a court translator. In 1916 he ran for political office, but his criminal past, which he had kept hidden, was exposed. To gain additional strength from the local Italian power base, he ran and was elected president of the Chicago chapter of the Unione in or around 1919. In 1921 he ran against John Powers, who ended up with more Italian support than D'Andrea. After numerous bombings and killings from both of their followers, D'Andrea dropped out of the race. Nevertheless, he was shot and mortally wounded in May, 1921.

Michele Merlo, who went as Mike Merlo, a leader in D'Andrea's Mafia organization, made an emergency return from Italy, where he was vacationing, upon hearing of D'Andrea's death. According to Nicola Gentile, he ordered the death of D'Andrea's assassin. For this act he not only took control of the Chicago Mafia, but replaced D'Andrea as president of the Unione as well.[14] His brief term was regarded as a successful one, and he was noted to have kept the criminal organizations of John Torrio and Dean O'Banion from warring with each other.

Following Merlo's death from cancer in 1924, the chapter organization (later renamed the "Italo-American National Union") split into several factions as various underworld groups struggled for control of the organization. Of these factions, "Bloody" Angelo Genna claimed the presidency following Merlo's death; however, he was murdered the following year by members of the North Side Gang. Genna's successor, Samuzzo "Samoots" Amatuna, would be killed (allegedly) by Northsider Vincent "The Schemer" Drucci in a barbershop that same year.

While the myth has it that Capone had amassed enough power in Chicago to place Antonio Lombardo as head of the Unione Siciliane," Lombardo was believed to have been chosen by outside Mafia leaders for his abilities as a peacemaker. Lombardo, who was from eastern Sicily, together with Supreme President Bernard Barasa, agreed to change the name to the Italo-American National Union to increase awareness that the association was not only for Sicilians. Lombardo held considerable influence in Italian-American communities including acting as a negotiator between [Black Hand] kidnappers and victim's families. It is traditionally believed that although he was supported by Capone, many members of the organization opposed his reforms as a faction under Capone rival Joe [Aiello] challenged Lombardo, calling for his withdrawal from office. Lombardo's refusal would result in his death on September 7, 1928. According to Nick Gentile, however, Aiello was Lombardo's underboss and Capone was given permission by Joseph Masseria (a boss of one of New York's Five Families and soon a "Boss of Bosses") to eliminate both Aiello and Lombardo. Gentile believed Capone was responsible for Lombardo's death.[15]

The brother Lombardo's bodyguard Pasqualino "Patsy" Lolordo would assume the presidency in his brother's place for around four months until his own murder by Joe Aiello and his two brothers after inviting them for dinner at his home on January 8, 1929. Claiming the presidency the next day, Aiello would reportedly hold the office for a year and a half until his death by Chicago Outfit gunman on October 23, 1930. In fact he may never have held office.

Recent history[edit]

The association continued with corrupt influence in its leadership for many years. Phil D'Andrea, a nephew of Antonio D'Andrea, served as supreme president while active in the former Capone organization then led by Frank Nitti. Attorney Joseph Bulger led the association for several years. Born Giuseppe Imburgio, he was close to Tony Accardo and was killed in a plane accident in 1966.[16] After state investigators rooted out its corrupt influences in the 1950s, its membership continued to decline in the 1970s. The Unione eventually merged with the Italian Sons and Daughters of America.

Presidents[edit]

Chicago[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Capeci, Jerry. The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Mafia. Indianapolis: Alpha Books, 2002. ISBN 0-02-864225-2
  • United States. Congress. Senate. Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce. Investigation of Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce: Hearings Before a Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce. 1951. [1]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Schiavo, Giovanni The Italians in Chicago, a study in Americanization, Chicago, Ill., Italian American publishing co., 1928 pp.57-8
  2. ^ Schiavo p.58
  3. ^ Schmidt, Alvin J. Fraternal Organizations Westport, CT; Greenwood Press p.169 Schmidt cites 1930 constitution and laws which the office sent him in Jan. 1979, as well as quarterly IANU Bulletin
  4. ^ Axelrod p.187-8
  5. ^ Schmidt p.169
  6. ^ Schiavo p.58
  7. ^ Schiavo p.58
  8. ^ Schmidt p.169
  9. ^ Schmidt p.169
  10. ^ Schiavo p.58
  11. ^ Schmidt p.169
  12. ^ Axelrod p.187-8
  13. ^ Schmidt p.169
  14. ^ Nick Gentile with Felice Chilante, Vita di Capomafia (Rome: Editori Riuniti, 1963)
  15. ^ Nick Gentile with Felice Chilante, Vita di Capomafia (Rome: Editori Riuniti, 1963)
  16. ^ "Bulger Body Flown Home After Crash," Chicago Tribune, 4 Dec 1966
  • Fox, Stephen. Blood and Power: Organized Crime in Twentieth-Century America. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1989. ISBN 0-688-04350-X
  • Kelly, Robert J. Encyclopedia of Organized Crime in the United States. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2000. ISBN 0-313-30653-2
  • Nelli, Humbert S. The Business of Crime: Italians and Syndicate Crime in the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976. ISBN 0-226-57132-7
  • Sifakis, Carl. The Mafia Encyclopedia. New York: Da Capo Press, 2005. ISBN 0-8160-5694-3
  • Warner, Richard N. "The Dreaded D'Andrea: The Former Priest Who Became the Windy City's Most Feared Mafia Boss." Informer 2:2 (April, 2009), 4-31.

External links[edit]