The Numbers

The numbers, similar to the lottery, was a prominent feature in Black Pittsburgh. In the beginning Gus Greenlee and his partner Woogie Harris controlled the numbers in their area. They fronted their illegal gambling with a legitimate business, the Crawford Grille and the Pittsburgh Crawfords. Many people played the numbers, and no one equated it with illegality because Gus was always there to help a person in need. Therefore, the community could not see him in a criminal light. Another numbers man was Sonnyman Jackson. He helped fund the Homestead Grays with his money. He differed from Gus in the sense he was willing to use violence and intimidation, whereas Gus did not believe it was necessary.

The numbers game was played when a person chose a three digit number, if the number chosen matched the predetermined number for the day, the player won. The organizations that ran the number racket paid players on 500 to 1 odds. Therefore if a person bet a dime they could win up to fifty dollars. There were some banks, which were willing to pay against 600 to 1 odds. The numbers brought revenue into the community and allowed their athletic teams to prosper. For example, it was because of Gus Greenlee and his numbers that he was able to build Greenlee Field-the first black owned field.

By 1925, Gus Greenlee, owner of the Crawford Grille and the Pittsburgh Crawfords was the leading numbers man in Pittsburgh. The numbers game folded in Pittsburgh for two reasons. The first occurred when many of the organizers were caught having invaded income tax. The federal government closed down many of the lucrative "business" men. The second happened when a large number of people chose the number 805. Since that was the predetermined number for the day, the organizers had to pay people off. This caused many of the big men to go broke, or lose enough money they had to retire.