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History of writers

Started : Early 1970's.

Alias : CORKY 161, MR. ED 161, EDWARD 161

Writing Groups : THE EBONY DUKES, ( T.E.D Incorporated)

Area : Fort Apache, South Bronx New York


STAFF-161  formed one of the most revered writing groups of the 1970's called The Ebony Dukes G.C. or graffiti clique.  Originated from several local street gangs in the fort apache section of the south Bronx in New York City.  Inspired by the black power movement, the group would later focus their attention on the NYC transit system, which included bus, subways, mail trucks and any other means of mobile transportation.  With Staff’s leadership he would help make the group one of the elite groups citywide.  Staff’s artwork was one of the most innovative and imaginative of his generation. His most celebrated trains were the Cannon piece and his grim reaper whole car, which was the first use of a character painted on a New York City subway car in 1973. Along with the vice president of the Ebony Dukes inc. Super slick 156 and Staffs younger brother AJ161 the group would build chapters in Brooklyn, queens, Manhattan, Yonkers, Mount Vernon, Staten Island, and Connecticut.  They would welcome writers from different backgrounds and nationalities as well as many female writers.  Some of the writers known to push The Ebony Dukes were Stay High 149, Snake 131, Spin, Stop 700, Krane 150, Bop, Vamm, Death, Te-Kool, Lava1&2, Hot Source 575/ Hs 575, Stick 1, Jester,  Jive 3, Piper, Crachee, Blade, Billy 167, Mr Pug, Stave 2, most of the who’s who of writers in the 70's at one time or another wrote for The Ebony Dukes with only a few exceptions. Later on people like Smiley 149 and Fuzz one would carry the torch.  Staff would stop writing in 1974 but his legacy would still live on. Those close to Staff 161 like Topaz one mostly knows Staff for his heart.


 It all started something like this: There was a little boy Edward and his younger brother Adam, both Edward and Adam had been placed in foster care in the custody of some folks in Staten Island. The two boys’ mother a young woman from St. Thomas, an Island in the Caribbean was living in Harlem N.Y. when she begin to experience problems with the two boys’ father. As a result there was a separation, the woman began to have difficulties taking care of the two boys on her own. Subsequently the court system ordered the two boys placed into a foster home. Edward and Adam viewed this as the equivalent of a prison sentence and the first of a few sentences the two would serve during their lives, they remained in the foster home five years. The two boys considered this experience cruel and unusual punishment upon them that was ordered by the court system. As far as the two were concerned. My birth record states my name as Edward as well as my rap sheet but many know me as Staff my first New York City residence as a child was in Harlem. I was taken from my mother at age five along with my younger brother A.J. and placed in a foster home. We subsequently returned to our mother’s custody five years later who was living in the Fort apache area of the South Bronx. It was the year 1966 that A. J. and me were first introduced to the Fort apache area of the south Bronx. Despite the area being a nightmare of a ghetto rampant with drugs, gangs, violence, crime and poverty, we were still able to create our own childhood fun. We occupied our time playing stickball, basketball on make shift courts tops and assorted street games. We loved to explore the maze on back yards in the tenements and the rooftops.





I being the eldest of nine siblings I had to quickly learn how to street fight and the larceny and violence of the concrete jungle. Poverty and disfranchisement were a fact of life in that part of the city. The usual response by its residents was rebellion. Coming into that kind of


environment at the height of the civil rights movement brought about a rebellious tendency in me as well. After enduring five years in a basically abusive foster home, I viewed the power structure of government as the Main Perpetrator of injustice especially the judicial system. I remember when they still had Jim Crow laws against black people in certain parts of the country. The status quo was not to be trusted, without a father figure in my home my male role models came from the neighborhood street thugs, pimps, hustlers, drug dealers, not so much as I admired their crafts, but it appeared that they were the strong dudes in the hood: who dressed the best, drove the better cars, and commanded respect. But most of all they seemed to be against the system of government, especially the police. Who were the obvious front line enforcers for the big shot political oppressors at City Hall. During that period there

 weren’t many Black and Hispanic Civil Service employees. The police, postal workers, sanitation, transit, fire department, hospital, school & of   social workers were mainly white folks. So were most of the businesses in the hood. These people weren’t from our communities yet they



clearly exploiting us by having employment in our communities. I could give any body the benefit of doubt, but I won’t hesitate to call a spade. A spade this was obvious hypocrisy when the government was supposed to be the people’s advocate. Despite our poverty my mother always kept a


a stereo radio and record player in the living room with a collection of popular hits that included from Calypso to Soul to Rock and Roll and Jazz. Back then a stereo record player was a huge cabinet like piece of furniture that occupied a major place in the living room. The television set was also a large piece of furniture that sat on the floor another cabinet with a big antenna that sat on top. These two pieces of furniture are where I got another form of education: James Brown and the temptations on the Ed Sullivan Show, Nat King Cole the first Black man to have his own weekly variety show. Then there was news showing the demonstrations by the civil rights workers down south and the Black Panthers marching in Harlem. Malcolm X expressing his views on a talk show. Then it was the 45 records with Sly and the family stone singing “dance to th-e mu-sic”, we got to Li-ve to-gether”, Marvin Gaye, “what’s going on”, and James Brown “ say it loud I’m Black and I’m Proud”. When I saw these images and heard those sounds the idea came to my mind that it was crucial that a person make a statement in life, that your message had to be seen or heard or both, unless you might wind up living without


anybody knowing you are alive. You had to say something and you had to say it in style! Everybody seemed to have had a message to declare back then; the signs read: “stop the war”, “we shall over come”, “Black Power”, “Flower Power”, “Peace”. Then I started noticing in the backgrounds of mostly all the on scene demonstrations, wherever something significant was jumping off: The writing on the wall! Somebody always had something written on the wall and every body watching T.V. was seeing the writing on the wall! I had to get my writing on the wall!


The Beginning of " THE EBONY DUKES "

By 1968 two of my heroes had been assassinated Malcolm X and then Martin Luther king even through I had my local street hustler roll models, the ones that I really admired were the ones I saw on the news and in the newspapers and heard on radio and 45 records. Malcolm X  always spoke about Black people not having their original names and adopting the names of the slave masters. I started considering my


birth name Edward, I looked up the meaning; which said some good things but it still was a English man’s name and it was so common as well! There was a show back in the days which featured a horse that talked which was called “Mr. ED”, I always was amused with that show the way they did the sound effects with the voice over, while the horse’s mouth moved it was funny. Some of the kids in school used to call me “Mr. ED” jokingly already. That was actually my name in the short version with the respect commanding “Mr.” attached to it so I adapted it and made it official by writing it on some of my personal property, school books, and other items that I wanted to be identified as mine. I was always able to draw simple images and I begin to experiment with sketches of a horse head and horse shoes with Mr. ED written next to it. Art class was one of my favorite grade school courses mainly because it didn’t take much effort and I usually got more recognized in that class for my ability

 than others. One day out of a whim I took a felt tip marker from the art class to the rest room at  I school, drew on the door of the stall a horse head and signed it Mr. ED. After I did that little sketch in the restroom at school, I noticed that kids who didn’t know me by name before started addressing me as Mr. ED or ED; it appeared that many who happened to go into the rest room and saw the Graffiti were impressed enough to inquire who I was, which established a new popularity for me around the school and into the surrounding neighborhood. This is the basic appeal as well as motivation for the Graffiti artist, Fame! I believe I was 11 years old when that occurred, what really set me off was when this cute girl that I always admired from a distance who never talked to me before came up  to me in the cafeteria and stated with bells in her voice: “Mr. ED” can you draw me a horse please?” Right there I knew I was on to something. A.J. also established a tag from a popular television program, he adopted the whole title of the show, “Adam 12”, after all Adam was his name. Westerns were the

 regular television programs back then you had shows like “Bonanza”, F Troop”, “The lone Ranger”, “Wild Wild West”, “and others so western cowboy type themes were popular. I noticed that many of the street gangs of the period adopted the western outlaw look as well. Dudes on gangs were sporting stuff like bandannas, wide brim hats and cowboy boots with spurs, thick leather hostler type belts, and other western gear. I started adding western theme characters to my Mr. Ed. tag and sketched a horse, cowboy hats, horse shoes and other things in my graffiti, when guys started repping turfs I added the -161- after Mr. Ed. because 161st street was the nearest number street to where I was living so when ever I wrote my tag outside my neighborhood I had to Rep. 161st street as my hood. The street where I was living in the Fort apache



section was Hewitt Place  between Westchester and Longwood a section of 161st street came to an end into Hewitt. I lived closer to the Westchester avenue end of the block, my building where I lived was the second to last on the street. Dynamite 161-aka-Dr. Soul lived next door in the last building on the Westchester end. TOPAZ ONE lived on the Longwood avenue end of Hewitt. The elevated IRT number 2 and 5 trains track ran the length of Westchester Ave. with the uptown track adjacent to Hewitt. The tracks are about 3 to 4 stories high in the air and most of the buildings on Hewitt were 5 to 6 stories high. You could hear the trains as they pulled into the Prospect avenue station going uptown and they would become loudest is they passed Hewitt going down the Westchester Ave. track on the way to the Intervale avenue station. At times you could hear the train’s noise up until it passed the Intervale station. On Hewitt we had a spectacular view of the tracks.



Eventually A.J. and myself became somewhat serious Juvenile delinquents. Boosting (shoplifting) was a frequent activity and we became proficient at it. This is a required ability for a major Graffiti writer because it is the specific source of spray paint and markers to work the craft. Skipping class and school at times we would hop the turn stile in the subway and ride the trains to specific shopping areas so we could boost, at the time mainly clothing. As we spent more time in the subways I begin to notice the Graffiti tags specifically: Taki 183, Kilroy was Here, Lee 163, El Marko 174 , Super Kool 223, Stay High 149 ( was all over the wall and buses at first ), Jesus Saves, Kool Herc, Tabu 1, Sweet Duke 161this may have been late 1969 early 1970 most of the tags were simply in what we refer to as a “toy marker” (cheap marker)


some were very appealing because the pen seemed to be thicker with better ink. I wasn’t familiar with the Piolit markers yet as a Graffiti tool but had seen them before in school most of what I noticed at first was inside tags on walls and the interior of subway cars. During the original hey days of Graffiti you had certain train stations like 3rd avenue, 149th street and 135th and others that had been so bombed by writers, tagging all the walls that the entire station looked psychedelic. I'm just talking just marker hits of every color in the rainbow. During this time I was periodically writing Mr. ED with a toy marker and I started adding the number 161, after I noticed that certain areas or train stations were dominated by certain signatures which included a number related to that area I was a member of the Ghetto brothers street gang and was familiar with turf rights. But over all back then there was a general turf pride thing based on where you were from you had to  represent. I remember that my brother started tagging an early A.J. 161 first, which I assumed was the initials to his birth name, it stood for ALL-JIVE. I was attracted to the Ghetto brothers  because of their band. They had a serious Latin rock band that used to be jamming in the hood frequently. Their club house was basically right

 around the corner from where I was, most of their members were Latino and they started referring to me by a nick name that meant coconut in Spanish, co-co or coquito; I heard it as “Corky” and that’s how I got my second alias. I can remember when they first moved into the 163rd street clubhouse up on the hill, when they begin to decorate it there was quite a bit of spray paint available. I assisted them with some designs and when I was done they let me have quite a bit of the paint that was left over. There was a  large church that took the entire half of the street with a large wall; this is basically where all of the writers on the block including myself started practicing our tags, my biggest and best tag on that wall was a skull and cross bones with a crown. This was inspired by the colors of the Savage Skulls street gang, which was the biggest gang in my hood. One of my homeboys Super Slick 156 was a Savage Skull. Slick and me got along well because we both were the eldest males of large families. One of his younger brothers Skip I was one of A. J. and my crime partners, Skip’s

 family was always from that area, at least when A. J. and me got there they were well known. Skip was very adept at boosting but was even better at “geese jobs” (burglary). This was basically how I acquired my first large amount of spray paint, which I took to the lay-ups (parked trains)! There was a hardware store that we entered through the roof and cleaned them out of spray paint in every color imaginable, along with the tools we sold; I was ready for Staff’s big score. Since I had made some money from that job, I went to Pearl Paints on Canal Street and brought about $100 worth of art supplies. I had equipment before, but now, I was stocked to the ceiling!  



After I found a good stash for the paint I begin to map out my game plan. I never went to a lay-up (parked trains) before with the intention of doing Graffiti. But I was familiar with them specifically the middle track lay-ups that were uptown on the numbers 2 and 5 line, I used to go to those lay-ups on some general mischief, so I had stuff like conductors keys for train doors and exit gates and flash lights, transit uniforms, tools. I would regularly know which stations closed down at certain hours and I had keys to open the booth and the turnstiles and take all the tokens. Two of the writers I admired most in the beginning were Super Kool 223 and Stay High 149  when I first started it appeared to me that these guys were into it fulltime. I was determined to compete with them, most of their tags were individual signature type, mostly stuff you could just ride the trains and do, but I knew that at least that dude Super Kool  was going to the lay-ups because I saw his tag there! If you study my signature tag “Staff 161”, you could see where I was inspired by these two writers. I got Stay High’sS” and Super Kool’s Crown” and “cloud around the tag.” Basically the name Staff  came from the Bible specifically the 23rd Psalm, most of my   younger brothers and sisters were given biblical names by my mother a devout Christian woman, you got Adam, David, Daniel, Joseph, Naomi, Esther, Eve, it’s my youngest brother Lester (Les) who didn’t get a biblical name, certain stories in the Bible that refer to a rod or a staff such as the one MOSES had appealed to me During the 60s and 70s, canes and walking  sticks were a popular item, amongst the afro centric soul brothers. I had made one from a branch of a tree   broke off it was just a cool thing back then to walk with and they doubled as a good weapon just in case you needed one. There were so many different kinds of writers back then, especially before the subways became the main target. You had Graffiti that was just a statement with no specific name that we recognized as legendary. You had individuals that made their mark with what would be considered unconventional ways: shoe polish, stickers, carvings and other odd stuff. You had mysterious symbols that seemed to be every where, then you had the special individuals  that only tagged certain places or thing; restroom kings, king of the bread delivery trucks, king of the phone booths, king of the bill boards, king of the highways, king of being most traveled, you had tags that you would see in multiple states, but didn’t dominate any particular state. King of the airport, then you had the ladies who had their own special styles. You had these style guys back then that even through they got around less than the average writer they had some incredible unique tag or something about them that created a mystique. So being not ‘recognized’, would automatically bring up the question, for what? If you got your tag off and somebody saw it and took notice then you got recognized. Most of us realized back then that we weren’t going to reach everybody but was happy with getting some people’s attention. Even if you just pissed somebody off with your tag, your tag still got attention. In our own rebellious ways we refused to be ignored, 15 minutes of Fame was better than no Fame at all somebody knew now that they saw your tag that you was around, and you was somebody significant on 161street or you was the number 1 with that title, but most of all they realized you was determined to make your presence known.



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