Young Lords

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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.

Founding[edit]

The Young Lords began as a Puerto Rican turf gang in the Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park during the 1960s. During Mayor Daley's tenure, Puerto Rican in Lincoln Park (the first hub of Puerto Rican in Chicago) and several Mexican communities were completely evicted from areas near the Loop, lakefront, Old Town and Lincoln Park, in order to increase property tax revenues. When they realized that urban renewal was evicting their families from their barrios and witnessed police abuses, some became involved in the June 1966 Division Street Riots in Wicker Park and Humboldt Park.[1] They were officially reorganized into a civil and human rights movement on September 23, 1968 by José Cha-Cha Jiménez, the last president of the former gang and founder of the Young Lords Movement. Puerto Rican self determination and the displacement of Puerto Ricans and poor residents from prime real estate areas for profit became the primary focus. Since there were few Latino students and no outspoken leadership, the former street-gang transformed themselves, training leadership and organizing the community.[2]

Multiple chapters were formed, and on July 26, 1969, the national headquarters in Chicago asked a loose coalition of chapters to form the New York chapter. Later, they were sanctioned as the regional chapter, accepting neighborhood empowerment and Puerto Rican self-determination as the unifying mission.[3] The national office in Chicago, where the movement originated, gave approval primarily because New York was then the center of the Puerto Rican diaspora.

The East Coast was then where most Puerto Ricans first arrived on the mainland and where many remained. The office in Chicago was attempting to build a nationwide grassroots movement within the barrios to unite Puerto Ricans and other Latinos to carry out its mission. The New York chapter formed just ten months after the Young Lords Movement began in Lincoln Park, Chicago, and after the Young Lords had gained national attention by leading protests against conditions faced by Puerto Ricans on the mainland. Media-savvy and adjacent to the New York media centers, the New York chapter provided needed support for the national headquarters, which was being suppressed by Chicago's city government. They helped to catapult the movement to prominence.[4]

National headquarter's first action was ransacking and the closure of the Department of Urban Renewal office in Chicago. Later, in New York, it was the "Garbage Offensive." Both targeted the local city governments calling for community control or neighborhood empowerment while linking it to international movements. They mounted occupations of institutions in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood and these actions spread the group across the country. The New York members first read about Chicago's Young Lords in an issue of the Black Panther newspaper. There was a takeover of the First Spanish United Methodist Church in East Harlem on December 28, 1969,[3] This was after the June occupation of Chicago's People's Church where Young Lords set up free community programs.[5] The assistant pastor of the Young Lords People's Church in Chicago, Rev.Sergio Herrera, was of Cuban ancestry and did not agree with the Young Lords' church occupation nor the murals of Che Guevara and Don Pedro Albizú Campos at first. He later participated in the neighborhood events. The day after the May 1969 Armitage Avenue United Methodist Church occupation, the Young Lords set up programs there and it remained the Young Lords national headquarters for nearly two years. The church's pastor and his wife, Reverend Bruce Johnson and Eugenia Ransier Johnson, were found murdered, stabbed multiple times in the parsonage home on September 29, 1969. Rev. Herrera was also killed after being transferred to Los Angeles. The murders of U.M.C. Pastor Rev. Bruce Johnson and his wife and Rev. Herrera remain unsolved.

Expansion[edit]

New York City, where one-fourth of Puerto Ricans then lived, and Chicago were the two largest Puerto Rican hubs. Puerto Rican mainland communities also developed elsewhere during the Great Puerto Rican Migration of the 1950s, so in 1969, subsequent branches organized themselves in Philadelphia, Connecticut, New Jersey, Boston, Milwaukee, Hayward (California), San Diego, Los Angeles, and Puerto Rico.

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 Collection. Over 120 oral histories entitled "Young Lords in Lincoln Park" are housed at Grand Valley State University in Michigan and accessible via the web.

Besides the National Black Panther Party Office of Oakland,CA and the Illinois Chapter of the Panthers in Chicago, which was where they 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. The Young Lords organized conferences and marches calling for Puerto Rican independence.

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.

By May 1970, the New York section followed its then 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 and 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 remained affiliated with them as they were the regional chapter. It was a major division in the Puerto Rican liberation movement and a major separation of the organization. It was also caused by infiltrators, as it was in other movements such as the Black Panthers, Students for a Democratic Society, The Young Patriots and the American Indian Movement, as revealed in COINTELPRO documents.[6] All the other Young Lords chapters across the United States remained tied to national headquarters in Chicago.

The Young Lords continued to grow in numbers and influence from 1968 to 1983.

Social action[edit]

The Young Lords' supported independence for Puerto Rico, all Latino nations and oppressed nations of the world and also neighborhood empowerment. This is clear by the original symbol with a map of Puerto Rico and a brown fist holding up a rifle and the purple lettering reading, "Tengo Puerto Rico en mi Corazon" ("I have Puerto Rico in my heart"). They 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 (Young Lords Organization) appeared on buttons, the New York chapter began the local "Garbage Offensive", which was an organizing vehicle and city-service concern. The Young Lords also addressed the local issues of police injustice, health care, tenants' rights, free breakfast for children, free day care, and more accurate Latino education. The urban renewal campaign was framed by the Chicago office as the modern day land question, since Emiliano Zapata, who said, "all revolutions are based on land", was then being studied.

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 earlier Young Lords newspapers El Pittire and El Young Lord. The latter was printed while the entire National Central Committee in Chicago was 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.

Cultural influence[edit]

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 nationalist 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.

Repression[edit]

The Young Lords were a target of the FBI's COINTELPRO, which had long harassed Puerto Rican independence groups.[7] 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, given high bonds, imprisoned, harassed, and discredited. The entire Chicago leadership was forced underground in order to reorganize itself. Tactics against the movements included negative rumor campaigns, pitting groups against each other and the creation of factionalism, distrust and personality conflicts. In Chicago, COINTELPRO created an official anti-Rainbow Coalition component.[8] 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. The Young Lords accused the FBI of killing Young Lord members.[9]

Decline and aftermath[edit]

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. 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.

Soon afterwards, the Young Lords ran the Jiménez 1975 aldermanic campaign.[10] José Cha Cha Jiménez garnered 39% of the vote against the Democratic machine's candidate, Chris Cohen.

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.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Perez,Gina M. "The Near Northwest Side Story:Migration,Displacement and Puerto Rican Families" 2005
  2. ^ Jeffries,Judson "From Gang-bangers to Urban Revolutionaries: The Young Lords of Chicago," Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (Autumn 2003)
  3. ^ a b Jennifer 8. Lee, "The Young Lords' Legacy of Puerto Rican Activism", New York Times, City Room blog, Aug. 24 2009.
  4. ^ " Grand Valley State University,"
  5. ^ Chicago Sun Times| Boyer, Brian D." Gangs Day Care Center to open"| August 22, 1969
  6. ^ Churchill, Ward & Wall, Jim V. "The Cointelpro Papers" 1990
  7. ^ Origins of the Young Lords, nationalyounglords.com
  8. ^ Haas, Jeffery " The assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police murdered a Black Panther" | 2009
  9. ^ Haas, Jeffery " The assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police murdered a Black Panther" | 2009
  10. ^ Lerner Newspapers Klement, Alice "Young Lords Leader Eying 1975 Aldermanic seat" March 16, 1974