Book review: INVISIBLE by Stephen L. Carter

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The first few pages of this book read like a two-bit novel of the 1930’s, but it’s a true story of the eventual arrest and conviction of “Lucky Luciano,” the crime boss of all New York City at that time– “the untouchable”.

The black woman lawyer, Eunice Hunton Carter, was a graduate of Smith College in Massachusetts, and Fordham Law School in New York City, the only member of New York Prosecuting Attorney Thomas Dewey’s team that was not a white male. She devised a plan to keep the small offenders on the side of the law while going after the “big fish.”

Prostitution was one of the smaller sources of income for the “Mafia,” New York’s crime organization that took a cut in the profits of most of the city’s commerce. Eunice focused on that.

One hundred sixty police officers were stationed on various street corners, one cold February night in 1936 with orders they were forbidden to open before five minutes to nine. At 8:55 the orders were opened. Their targets were eighty brothels, each believed to be paying tribute to Mob leaders. The police moved in on schedule. Most of the customers were detained, questioned, and released as soon as evidence was given that prostitution was taking place. The women were handcuffed, booked at local police stations and then taken by taxi to the Woolworth building’s unoccupied 13th floor and kept under guard. The women found that their usual agents they could rely on to arrange their release next morning were unavailable (having been arrested ahead of time.)

Luciano himself slipped out of town to Hot Springs, Arkansas, a convenient city for people evading arrest at the time. But he found that he could not escape extradition back to New York despite his making a $50,000 bribe offer to local authorities. His trial in New York was held, not in criminal court but in the civil courthouse, easier to defend in case the Mafia tried some armed attack. In June the jury convicted Luciano of compulsory prostitution and sent him to prison.

Eunice Carter stayed in the background during the trial, but soon became one of America’s most prominent black women, with many invitations to speak in public. Not all of this was of her own doing; both her parents had been active in the national (Black) YMCA and YWCA; prominent in Atlanta, Georgia’s small black middle class, able to travel and speak without fear in public, even in the deep south. This in spite of Eunice’s young brother, who was a self-proclaimed communisblican politicst in the 1920s. Eunice herself became a social leader in Harlem, NY society, and a leader in Republican politics.

Thomas Dewey later ran for U.S. President, but was defeated by Harry Truman.

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