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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

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Black Hand Threatens Russo

by Kim Rush, John Russo, and Martin Starr

Black Hand members attempted to kidnap Josephine Russo, G.B.’s eighteen-month-old daughter, in front of the Home Bakery at 643 South Division Avenue in September 1914. Her nurse bravely warded off the attackers and prevented anyone from harming the child. [1]

Russo family members explain that there was jealousy exhibited toward members of this early Italian community who were experiencing a degree of financial success, and extortion was a method used to abscond money from these business owners. Specifically, they tried to extort $5000.00 from G.B., delivered with hand written warnings, which threatened the lives of G.B. and his daughter.

To guarantee their safety G.B. sent two of his three children, Girolama "Mamie" and Josephine, to Palermo, Sicily.[2]Relentless resistance by G.B. and other Russo family members, coupled with police and city court efforts to prosecute the offenders, caused the Black Hand to lose most of their influence in Grand Rapids. A Grand Rapids Press article, 11.5.1914, suggested, “it was through Russo’s activities and his disregard for the Black Hand warnings that enabled the police to capture the gang.” A statement from the same newspaper, issued nine days later, confirms that one Black Hand member had been sentenced to Jackson prison and two other offenders were housed at Marquette’s jail.

Mamie returned to Grand Rapids in July of 1917, and in 1920 G.B. filed petition in Grand Rapids probate court to bring Josephine home. She retained her Italian accent throughout her life as a result of spending her formative years in Sicily.[3] To update her education she attended an evening vocational program at South Division St. School across the street from St. Andrew’s Cathedral.


[1] Grand Rapids Press, 9.24.1914 and 11.5.1914.

[2] 2.10.25.  Application for amendment or extension of passport for G.B .Russo. Russo became a citizen in 1906.

[3] Grand Rapids Press, 4.13.1920.  Grand Rapids Probate Court petition intended to secure the return of Josephine Russo to the United States from Sicily.



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