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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 were first a Puerto Rican turf gang in the 1960s in the Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park. When they realized that urban renewal was evicting their families and saw police abuses, some like other Puerto Ricans became involved in the June 1966 Division Street Riots in Wicker Park and Humboldt Park. A couple of years later they were reorganized into a human rights movement officially, on September 23, 1968 by Jose Cha Cha Jimenez and spread to other cities nation-wide. Puerto Rican self-determination and Gentrification or displacement became the primary focus early on in Chicago due to Mayor Daley's ruthless patronage machine that eventually evicted the entire neighborhood barrio of the first Puerto Rican immigrants in Lincoln Park and several Mexican communities of Chicago, from these prime real estate, near downtown and near lakefront areas.
On July 26, 1969, a New York chapter accepted neighborhood empowerment and Puerto Rico self-determination as the unifying mission and was joined. The New York Chapter was then sanctioned as the regional center of the Young Lords because the east coast was where most mainland Puerto Ricans lived. This was also after the entire Young Lords Movement gained national prominence leading protests against conditions faced by Puerto Ricans that lead to several takeovers nationally. In New York there was a takeover of the First Spanish United Methodist Church in East Harlem on December 28, 1969. It was soon after September 1969, when 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 an earlier May,1969 church occupation) were both discovered brutally stabbed multiple times in their parsonage home.Rev. Bruce Johnson was stabbed 14 times and Eugenia 19 times in a cold case that has never been solved. There was much resentment toward Rev. Bruce Johnson and his wife Eugenia because of their strong commitment to the Young Lords and the Puerto Rican Community that was then being displaced from the Lincoln Park neighborhood. They were connected to the North Side Cooperative Ministry of several pastors committed to helping the poor. A major service was held 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, Young Lords founder, Jose Cha Cha Jimenez was in Cook County Jail for a new charge of alleged bond jumping, at the time of the murders. A bail bond drive organized among churchmen enabled Jose Cha Cha Jimenez 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 growing existence of chapters in various cities from the mid west to both coasts. The growth of the New York chapter where one fourth of most Puerto Ricans then lived and the Chicago national office, where they originated and had become another Puerto Rican hub during the Great Puerto Rican Migration of the 1950s, led to the opening of more new branches including: Philadelphia, Bridgeport, Newark, Milwaukee, Los Angeles, Hayward and other Puerto Rican hub cities.
By March 1970, the Young Lords also opened up a South Bronx Information Center, that established Pa'lante, a newspaper later printed and distributed in New York by the Young Lords Party, along with the other Young Lords newspapers:El Pittire and El Young Lord. Geraldo Rivera a lawyer and later a journalist who while never an official member was committed to supporting the Young Lords in New York.
By May 1970, the New York section under the leadership of its Central Committee: Felipe Luciano, Chairman; David Perez, Minister of Defense; Juan González, Minister of Education; Pablo Guzmán, Minister of Information; Juan Fi Ortiz, Minister of Finance; and Denise Oliver, Field Marshall, decided to separate the New York chapter from the national Young Lords office in Chicago. This had begun only as a personal difference between two prominent individuals Andre Nunez and Yoruba Guzman but then it was explained as an ideological difference. In fact, to this day there are no ideological differences in politics or actions.Through the years the regional and the personal conflicts were tossed to the wayside, as being less significant than liberty for Puerto Rico. But then the New York entity was renamed the Young Lords Party. Even then the separation was never a hostile one. But the chapter in New York was also the eastern regional office of the Young Lords and it collected several east coast groups. All of the other groups across the United States remained with National Headquarters in Chicago. A similar situation was taking place at the same time within the Black Panther Party, Students for a Democratic Society and many other new left movements. Most were believed to be the result of growing pains,but they were primarily due to police infiltration by informants and planned and shaped by the ongoing undercover work of the FBI's COINTELPRO. Repression became rampant in all these organizations.Frame-ups, beatings, killings,high bonds, jailings of their leaderships, constant infiltrations and negative rumour campaigns were all launched against them, to incite quarrels and create divisions inorder to destroy a then well disciplined and united movement.
The Young Lords as a movement continued to focus its activity around Independence for Puerto Rico and the struggle for democratic rights for all Puerto Ricans and Latinos and poor, along with the empowerment of all barrios within the United States. The local aspect of mission was significant because the Young Lords saw themselves as a People's Struggle. Therefore the original issue that turned the Young Lords in Chicago into a bonafide human rights movement was the complete destruction and displacement of an entire Puerto Rican community in Lincoln Park, Chicago. This was also the first large barrio of the first Puerto Rican immigrants to Chicago. In New York the "Garbage Offensive" was utilized as an organizing vehicle or local city service issue. Other key local organizing issues brought forward by the Young Lords, included: police injustice, health care, tenant's rights,free breakfast for children, free day care, and accurate Latino education. The Young Lords grew in numbers and influence from 1968 to 1983.
Their influence extended beyond politics, as the Young Lords inspired young political leaders, professionals and artists, forming part of a Puerto Rican cultural renaissance in the 1970s nationally within the continental United States.In New York it was known as the Nuyorican Movement but clearly connected to Puerto Rico.It also included poetry and music. Felipe Luciano, already a well-known poet within black liberation circles in Harlem, recited many of his well-known poems he wrote while a member of The Last Poets: Jibaro, Un Rifle Oración and Hey Now. Another great poet Pedro Pietri wrote and publicly recited his best known poems, "Puerto Rican Obituary" and "Suicide Note of a Cockroach in a Low Income Project", at Young Lord events.Alfredo Matias from Chicago wrote about Afro- Boricua pride and David Hernandez recited, "La Armitage" about the Chicago neighborhood street that became the downtown for Puerto Ricans and the Young Lords, and extended from Lincoln Park to Humboldt Park. The song "Qué Bonita Bandera" ("What a Beautiful Flag") was written by Pepe y Flora in Puerto Rico and adopted by Chicago's national office, as the Young Lords national 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 occupation of the New York's People's Church in Spanish Harlem. The impact on music was even more significant as prominent groups such as Eddie Palmieri, Ray Barreto, Willie Colón and others began to write and perform songs that addressed the Puerto Rican Nation.
Subsequent branches were also organized in Philadelphia, Connecticut, New Jersey, Boston, Milwaukee, Hayward, California, San Diego, Los Angeles, and Puerto Rico. The Young Lords set up many 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.
Their newspapers, The Young Lord, Pitirre, and Palante (a contraction of "Para adelante", "Forward"), reported on their increasingly militant activities. 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 the 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.
Besides the National Black Panther Party Office of Oakland and the Illinois Chapter of the Panthers in Chicago, of whom they were organized 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 many local community activists. As for the Puerto Rican island, the Young Lords immediately began organizing conferences and marches calling for Puerto Rican independence, which was always related back to their natural operating bases and the gentrification that they were fighting against it within the streets of 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 Lopez (currently involved nationally with immigrant rights), and Richie Perez who established the Puerto Rican Student Union (PRSU) in a number of college campuses and high schools. They also became one of the leading targets of the FBI's COINTELPRO, which had long harassed Puerto Rican groups. The founder and Chairman, Jose Cha Cha Jimenez was indicted 18 times in a six-week period ranging from assaults and battery on police to mob actions. He was kept in the county jail, or in court rooms fighting the charges, and lived with constant death threats. While the Young Lords advocated similar armed strategies to those advocated by the Black Panthers, it was as a right of self-defense that rarely arose, as it did after the shooting of Manuel Ramos, the Police implications in the circumstances surrounding the beating death of Jose (Pancho) Lind, the supposed suicide of Julio Roldan 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 the Lincoln Park Community at the Young Lord's first People's Church in Chicago.
Decline and aftermath
By 1973, the Young Lords had been crippled and had all but been destroyed by the FBI's discreditations and divide-and-conquer tactics of COINTELPRO and other government investigative agencies. Still, many members continued independently to pursue their vision for self-determination for Puerto Rico and other nations, as well as for neighborhood empowerment. In Chicago, the Young Lords resurfaced after two and a half years in a training camp set up by Jimenez in Tomah,WI a rural farm town.They had been forced underground by repression from groups like the Gang Intelligence Unit, the Red Squad and COINTELPRO. At that time the founder Jose Cha Cha Jimenez who had been living underground for two and a half years, also turned himself in to the police on December 4, 1972, exactly three years to the date, after the infamous police raid that killed Fred Hampton and Mark Clark of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party. There was a demonstration of over 500 persons in below zero weather to greet him in front of the Town Hall Police Station. He immediately was taken to Cook County Jail to begin serving a one-year sentence in Cook County Jail. This was right after helping to run the underground training school for the new Young Lords leadership. After his release from the year in jail, the Young Lords ran the 1975 aldermanic campaign for Jose Cha Cha Jimenez . It garnered 39% of the vote against Mayor Richard J. Daley's political machine candidate, Chris Cohen. The campaign followed the example of Bobby Seale of the Black Panthers who was then running for mayor of Oakland,California, and was viewed only as "an organizing vehicle for change," to bring out the urban renewal displacement concerns of the community. Not long after the aldermanic campaign, Cha-Cha Jimenez was incarcerated for another nine months in Cook County Jail, awaiting trial on an alleged hostage charge that stated that he was showing support for the FALN.The case was thrown out of court due to lack of evidence and the Speedy Trial law.
The Young Lords in 1982 in Chicago, became 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 Mayor Harold Washington won, Jose Cha Cha Jimenez who was the only one on stage with him, introduced Washington before a June, 1983 crowd of 100,000 Puerto Ricans (that the Young Lords helped to organize) in Humboldt Park. 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 Lopez and Angie Adorno were brought together again by Jose Cha Cha Jimenez, to form the Lincoln Park Project. They began to archive Young Lords history and to document the displaced Latinos and the poor of the Lincoln Park neighborhood. In order 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,MI. Over 120 People camped out togrther for the weekend.
Many Young Lords showed support for the freed Puerto Rican nationalist leaders and urban guerrilla groups like the Macheteros. Still others moved on to 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" Guzman at WCBS-TV New York, Felipe Luciano and Miguel "Mickey" Melendez 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