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The Young Lords, later Young Lords Organization and, in New York (notably Spanish Harlem), Young Lords Party, was a Puerto Rican nationalist group in several United States cities, notably New York City and Chicago.
The Young Lords began as a Puerto Rican turf gang in the Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park during the 1960s, but transformed into a civil and human rights movement. When they realized that urban renewal was evicting their families and saw police abuses, some became involved in the June 1966 Division Street Riots in Wicker Park and Humboldt Park. They were reorganized into a civil and human rights movement officially, on September 23, 1968 by José Cha-Cha Jiménez. They then spread to other cities nation-wide. Puerto Rican self-determination and the displacement of Puerto Rican and poor residents of prime real estate areas for profit soon became the primary focus. During Mayor Daley's tenure, the first Puerto Rican immigrants to Chicago in Lincoln Park, along with several Mexican communities of Chicago, were completely evicted from prime real estate near the Loop and lakefront. Since there were few students and no leadership, the former street-gang organized the community.
Many chapters were formed and on July 26, 1969, the New York chapter accepted neighborhood empowerment and Puerto Rico self-determination as the unifying mission and became affiliated. Because New York was the center of skilled Puerto Ricans and because the east coast is where most mainland Puerto Ricans then lived, the chapter was sanctioned as a regional headquarters. This was after the Young Lords Movement as a whole had gained national prominence by leading protests against conditions faced by Puerto Ricans and had occupied institutions across the country. There was a takeover of the First Spanish United Methodist Church in East Harlem on December 28, 1969, one year after the Young Lords began in Chicago. On September 29, 1969, the United Methodist Pastor Rev. Bruce Johnson and his wife Eugenia of the Chicago People's Church (where the Young Lords' national headquarters was established in May 1969 after that church's occupation) were both discovered stabbed multiple times in their parsonage home. Rev. Bruce Johnson was stabbed 14 times and Eugenia, 19 times. It is a cold-case murder that took place a couple of months prior to Mark Clark and Chairman Fred Hampton of the Black Panthers being killed by a special unit of the Cook County State's Attorney's police on December 4, 1969. The assistant pastor of the Young Lords People's Church in Chicago, a Cuban, Sergio Herrera was also killed after being transferred to Los Angeles. The Johnsons case has only been lightly investigated and no one has investigated the Sergio Herrera case. These cases have never been solved. Some say they have never been solved to cast a shadow on the Young Lords of Chicago. However, Rev. Bruce Johnson and his North Side Cooperative Ministry were prime supporters of the Young Lords Movement. There was resentment toward Rev. Bruce Johnson and his wife Eugenia Ransier Johnson because they refused to evict the Young Lords after the occupation of the Armitage Avenue United Methodist Church, which at the time of their murders was being fined $200 for each day it remained opened (recently it was demolished to make way for a Walgreens). The next day, the Young Lords set up programs and it was their national headquarters for nearly two years. The Johnsons were murdered while the Young Lords were leading marches on behalf of the Puerto Ricans in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, which was the hub of the first Puerto Rican immigrants to Chicago. It was a neighborhood of prime real estate near downtown, next to Lincoln Park and near Lake Michigan, so the city was displacing them to "keep Chicago Clean" (the city's slogan at the time). The Johnsons' North Side Cooperative Ministry of several pastors and their churches wanted the poor to remain in these targeted communities. A major service was led by Bishop Pryor, the Northside Cooperative Ministry, Lincoln Park Poor People's Coalition and the Young Lords. According to a reporter, William C. Henzlik, the Young Lords' founder, José Cha-Cha Jiménez, was in Cook County Jail for a new charge of alleged bond jumping, at the time of the murders. A bail bond drive organized by Bishop Pryor and other churchpersons enabled Jiménez to leave the jail in time to tell worshipers, "Rev. Bruce Johnson came down from the mountaintops of the rich to be with the poor people... most people are like boats in a harbor, always tied up to the dock. Bruce and Eugenia Johnson left the safe harbor and tried to cross the ocean."
The Young Lords Organization drew front-page headlines in new-left tabloids and the national and local media. This was primarily due to the Young Lords' ability to organize and to bring thousands of people to their neighborhood actions. It was also because of the increasing number of chapters in cities across America. The New York chapter, where one-fourth of Puerto Ricans then lived, and the Chicago national office, where the Young Lords originated, were the two main Puerto Rican hubs. Puerto Rican mainland communities developed during the Great Puerto Rican Migration of the 1950s. In 1969, branches of the Young Lords were found in Philadelphia, Bridgeport, Newark, Milwaukee, Los Angeles, Hayward and elsewhere. In fact, the New York chapter was composed of three loose Young Lords groupings that had formed on their own and merged to become the chapter.
By May 1970, the New York section followed its Central Committee with Felipe Luciano, Chairman; David Pérez, Minister of Defense; Juan González, Minister of Education; Pablo Guzmán, Minister of Information; Juan Fi Ortiz, Minister of Finance; and Denise Oliver, Officer of the Day and later Minister of Economic Development, and decided to break away from the national Young Lords' office in Chicago. They renamed their new group the Young Lords Party. The separation was never a hostile one. Branches in New Jersey (Newark and Jersey City), Boston, Philadelphia and Bridgeport, Connecticut were affiliated with them. All the other groups across the United States remained tied to the national headquarters in Chicago.
The Young Lords grew in numbers and influence from 1968 to 1983.
Their newspapers, The Young Lord, Pitirre, and Palante (a contraction of "Para adelante", "Forward"), reported on their increasingly militant activities. Today, back issues of some of them are housed at DePaul University's Richardson Library Special Collections and over 120 oral histories entitled "Young Lords in Lincoln Park" are at Grand Valley State University and accessible via the web.
Besides the National Black Panther Party Office of Oakland and the Illinois Chapter of the Panthers in Chicago, which were integrated into the Rainbow Coalition by Fred Hampton, the Young Lords were also in local coalitions with the Northside Cooperative Ministry and the Lincoln Park Poor People's Coalition, and influenced by such groups as the Chicano Brown Berets, Crusade for Justice, Black Berets, Rising Up Angry, SDS, M.P.I., Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, P.I.P., the Communist Party USA, the East Asian-American Red Guards, Damas y Caballeros de San Juan, as well as local community activists. Regarding Puerto Rico, the Young Lords organized conferences and marches calling for Puerto Rican independence, relating back to their natural operating bases and the gentrification that they were fighting against in Lincoln Park, Chicago, Manhattan and other cities.
The Young Lords grew into a national movement through the leadership of activists like Angela Adorno who met with Vietnamese women, Omar López (currently involved nationally with immigrant rights), David Rivera, Field Marshall, Dr. Tony Baez a leader in Bi-lingual, Bi-Cultural Education and Richie Pérez who established the Puerto Rican Student Union (PRSU) in a number of college campuses and high schools.
The Young Lords focused their activity around independence for Puerto Rico and the struggle for self-determination for all Puerto Ricans, Latinos and the poor, along with the empowerment of all barrios within the United States. The local aspect of the mission was also significant. The Young Lords saw themselves as a people's struggle, a vanguard connected with the masses and it is why they began in Chicago fighting against the displacement of Puerto Ricans from Lincoln Park. While the national symbol and YLO appeared on buttons ( Young Lords Organization), the New York chapter led the "Garbage Offensive", which was utilized as an organizing vehicle or local city-service concern. Other local organizing issues of the Young Lords included police injustice, health care, tenant's rights, free breakfast for children, free day care, and more accurate Latino education.
In March 1970, the Young Lords opened a South Bronx Information Center that established Pa'lante, a newspaper which was later printed and distributed in New York by Young Lords. It was similar to the earlier Young Lords newspapers El Pittire and El Young Lord which was printed while the entire National Central Committee in Chicago had to go underground due to constant police harassment.
The Young Lords created community projects similar to those of the Black Panthers, but with a Latino flavor, such as the free breakfast program for children, Emeterio Betances free health clinic, community testing for tuberculosis, lead-poisoning testing, free clothing drives, cultural events and Puerto Rican history classes. In Chicago, they also set up a free dental clinic and a free community day care center. There was also work on prison solidarity for incarcerated Puerto Ricans and for the rights of Vietnam War veterans. The female leadership in New York pushed the Young Lords to fight for women's rights. In Chicago, it was a sub-group within the Young Lords led by Hilda Ignatin, Judy Cordero and Angela Adorno called (M.A.O.) Mothers And Others, that organized around women's rights and helped to educate the male members and the community at large.
The Young Lords carried out many direct-action occupations of vacant land, hospitals, churches and other institutions to demand that they operate programs for the poor. This included a campaign to force the City of New York to increase garbage pick-up in Spanish Harlem. In Chicago, the seven-day McCormick Theological Seminary take-over, won Lincoln Park residents $650,000 to be used for low-income housing. The four-month People's Park camp-out/take-over, at Halsted and Armitage Avenue by 350 community residents, prevented the construction of a for-profit tennis court where low-income persons once lived in affordable housing. In New York, much of their local health-care activism was carried out by a mass organization they formed with the Health Revolutionary Unity Movement (HRUM). In Chicago, the Young Lords' health program was coordinated by Dr. Jack Johns, Quentin Young, Ana Lucas, and Alberto and Marta Chavarria who also worked with a Black Panther-led coalition under "Doc" Satchell to recruit medical-student organizations like the Medical Committee for Human Rights (MCHR) which advocated for health care for the poor.
The Young Lords inspired young political and community leaders, professionals and artists, forming part of a Puerto Rican cultural renaissance in the 1970s within the continental United States. In New York City, it was locally known as the Nuyorican Movement although it was part of a nationwide development within the Puerto Rican Diaspora. It included poetry and music. In New York, Felipe Luciano, already a well-known poet within black liberation circles in Harlem, became the Deputy Chairman of the New York regional chapter. He was himself expelled by the later Young Lords Party, though Chicago never recognized the expulsion. He recited many poems that he wrote while a member of The Last Poets, including Jíbaro, Un Rifle Oración and Hey Now. The poet Pedro Pietri wrote and publicly recited his poems "Puerto Rican Obituary" and "Suicide Note of a Cockroach in a Low Income Project" at New York Young Lord events. Alfredo Matias wrote poems about Afro-Boricua pride and David Hernández also of Chicago recited La Armitage about the Chicago street that became the downtown for Puerto Ricans and the Young Lords. This street extended from Lincoln Park to Humboldt Park and beyond. The song "Qué Bonita Bandera" ("What a Beautiful Flag") was written by Pepe y Flora in Puerto Rico and was adopted by the Young Lords as their anthem. It was sung live many times during the take-over of McCormick Theological Seminary and the People's Church in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood along with the later occupation of the New York People's Church in Spanish Harlem. The impact on music was even more significant as musicians such as Eddie Palmieri, Ray Barreto and Willie Colón then wrote and performed songs that addressed the Puerto Rican community.
The Young Lords were a target of the FBI's COINTELPRO, which had long harassed Puerto Rican groups. The New York-Chicago schism mirrored divisions within the Black Panther Party, Students for a Democratic Society, Brown Berets and many other new left movements. All of these organizations were repressed. At first, the splits were believed to be the result of growing pains, as this movement was very young and spread quickly. But it is now documented that it was primarily due to police infiltration by informants and provocateurs, and planned and shaped by the ongoing undercover work of the FBI's COINTELPRO. The leaders were framed, beaten, murdered, given high bonds, imprisoned, harassed, and discredited. The entire Chicago leadership was forced underground in order to reorganize itself. Tactics against the movements included the creation of factionalism and negative rumor campaigns. Members were interviewed in public view in front of the church. The Red Squad was also parked 24 hours a day in front of the national headquarters. Other harassment included inciting quarrels between spouses and between members and allies. The founder and chairman, José Cha-Cha Jiménez not only was indicted 18 times in a six-week period for charges such as assault and battery on police to mob action; he was kept in the county jail, or in court rooms fighting the charges, and received constant death threats. While the Young Lords advocated armed strategies similar to those advocated by the Black Panthers, it was as a right of self-defense and rarely arose. It did after the shooting of Manuel Ramos and the implications of police foul play in the circumstances surrounding the beating death of José (Pancho) Lind, the supposed suicide of Julio Roldán in the custody of the NYPD and the fatal stabbings in Chicago of the United Methodist Church Rev. Bruce Johnson and his wife Eugenia, who pastored in Lincoln Park at the Young Lord's first People's Church in Chicago.
Decline and aftermath
By 1973, the Young Lords had been crippled. José Cha-Cha Jiménez was on the run, underground along with most of the national leadership. It was later learned that Jiménez had set up an underground training school at a farm near Tomah, Wisconsin. It was also learned later that Cointelpro utililized informants to pit groups against each other and in Chicago set up an official anti-Rainbow Coalition component. Some of the things Cointelpro did was inflame personality conflicts, create distrust, exploit group rivalries, discredit leaders and destroy unity. Many members independently continued to pursue self-determination for Puerto Rico and other nations, as well as neighborhood empowerment. In Chicago, the Young Lords resurfaced after two and a half years in the underground training camp. Meanwhile, the New York Young Lords and other chapters filled the void of a national headquarters under direct attack. At the same time, Jiménez turned himself in to the police on December 4, 1972, exactly three years after the police raid which killed Chairman Fred Hampton and Mark Clark of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party. Even though it was four degrees below zero, there was a demonstration of over 500 people to greet the return of Jose Cha Cha Jimenez in front of the Town Hall Police Station. He had been underground two and a half years and was immediately taken to Cook County Jail to serve his one-year sentence but not before being permitted to talk to the crowd that would not leave. Upon his release after the year, the Young Lords were forced to raise $75,000 cash to cover 17 remaining felony cases. Soon afterwards, the Young Lords ran the Jimenez 1975 aldermanic campaign, in which Jose Cha Cha Jimenez garnered 39% of the vote against the Democratic machine's candidate, Chris Cohen. The campaign followed the example of Bobby Seale of the national office of the Black Panthers who was then running for mayor of Oakland, California. The campaign was viewed only as "an organizing vehicle for change," to bring out the urban renewal displacement concerns of the community. Soon after the aldermanic campaign, Jiménez was incarcerated for another nine months in Cook County Jail, awaiting trial for an alleged hostage charge that stated that he was showing support for the FALN. The case was eventually thrown out of court due to lack of evidence and the Speedy Trial law. However Jimenez still had to do another year awaiting trial due to a ridiculous high bond.
In 1982 in Chicago, the Young Lords were the first Latino group to join with and to organize a major event for the successful campaign of the first African-American mayor, Harold Washington. Soon after Washington's victory, Jiménez introduced the new mayor to a crowd of 100,000 Puerto Ricans in Humboldt Park in June 1983. That day the Young Lords gave out 30,000 buttons with "Tengo Puerto Rico En Mi Corazon" inscribed on them. In the fall of 1995, Chicago Young Lords' Tony Baez, Carlos Flores, Angel Del Rivero, Omar López and Angie Adorno were brought together again by Jiménez, to form the Lincoln Park Project. They archived the history of the Young Lords and documented the displaced Latinos and the poor of the Lincoln Park neighborhood. To show support for the Puerto Rican Vieques campers and to continue the struggle for Puerto Rican independence as well as against the displacement of Puerto Ricans and other poor within the Diaspora, the Young Lords organized Lincoln Park Camp on September 23, 2002, near Grand Rapids, Michigan. Over 120 people camped out together for the weekend.
Many Young Lords showed support for the freed Puerto Rican nationalist leaders and urban guerrilla groups like the Macheteros. Others later joined more explicitly Maoist formations, like the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Party, and others went on to provide the leadership of the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights (NCPRR). Some worked within the media, such as Juan González of the New York Daily News and Democracy Now!, Pablo "Yoruba" Guzmán at WCBS-TV New York, Felipe Luciano and Miguel "Mickey" Meléndez of WBAI-FM New York. The documentary Palante, Siempre Palante! The Young Lords, produced by Young Lord Iris Morales, aired on PBS in 1996.
- Abramson, Michael et al. Palante: Young Lords Party McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1971. (out of print) ISBN 978-0-07-000157-2.
- González, Juan. Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America, Penguin, 2001. ISBN 978-0-14-025539-3.
- Melendez, Miguel "Mickey," We Took the Streets: Fighting for Latino Rights with the Young Lords, St. Martin's Press, 2003. ISBN 0-312-26701-0.
- Jennifer 8. Lee, "The Young Lords' Legacy of Puerto Rican Activism", New York Times, City Room blog, Aug. 24 2009.
- Origins of the Young Lords, nationalyounglords.com