The Young Lords began in 1960 as a Puerto Rican turf gang in the Lincoln Parkneighborhood of Chicago. Their president Jose Cha Cha Jimenez reorganized them on Grito de Lares, September 23, 1968 and became founder of the Young Lords as a national civil and human rights movement. This new community wide movement, then networked to nearly 30 other cities including three branches in New York City. These groups were united into one by Chicago's national offices because of the importance of building a strong united national organization for Puerto Rican self determination. NYC was the port of entry for most immigrants, and this included more than 90% of Puerto Ricans.
During Mayor Daley's tenure, Puerto Ricans in Lincoln Park (the first hub of Puerto Ricans in Chicago) and several Mexican communities were evicted from prime real estate areas near the Loop, lakefront, Old Town, Lakeview and Lincoln Park. Chicago wanted to avoid paying for extra services and to increase property tax revenues. The Young Lords realized urban renewal was evicting Latino and poor families from their neighborhoods and witnessed police abuses. Some became involved in the Puerto Rican June 1966 Division Street Riots in Wicker Park and Humboldt Park. Impacted by the 1968 Democratic Convention protests which took place in Grant Park and Lincoln Park, next to the Lincoln Park Neighborhood, is when the Young Lords joined with others and were reorganized by the founder Jose Cha Cha Jimenez into the more inclusively broader civil and human rights movement. Puerto Rican self-determination and the displacement of Puerto Ricans and poor residents became the primary organizing focus of the original movement. There were few Latino students or outspoken leadership at the time. Still the Young Lords were able to transform themselves, adding and training leadership, and organizing the broader Latino community.
Multiple chapters sprouted nationwide following the example by the original chapter in Chicago with several loose branches forming in NYC, and along the East Coast. National headquarters in Chicago then asked a loose coalition of chapters in New York to form one regional branch. These all accepted neighborhood empowerment and Puerto Rican self-determination as the unifying mission. The national office headed by Jose Cha Cha Jimenez, gave approval because before the 1950s New York was the port of entry for immigrants and Puerto Ricans entering the continental U.S.
The Great Migrations of the late 40's spread Puerto Ricans into the mid west while sizable numbers continued to increase on the Eastern coast of the U.S. Today Florida also has a significant number living on the mainland Therefore, in the 1960s it was natural that the most populated center of the Puerto Rican diaspora would also take on a significant role and they became a regional headquarters of the movement. Nevertheless, the Young Lords originated from the transformed Lumpen Proletariat movement in Chicago which was able to mobilize various Puerto Rican social classes, and various ethnic People's within the United States including Puerto Rico.
The office in Chicago was attempting to construct a nationwide grassroots movement within the U.S. barrios, to unite Puerto Ricans and other Latinos, and to carry out its mission to free Puerto Rico. The New York regional chapter formed July 26, 1969,ten months after the Chicago Young Lords Movement began in Lincoln Park Chicago. The Young Lords movement had already gained national prominence leading protests against conditions faced by Puerto Ricans on the mainland. Because most were students in New York, and more established as a middle income community; media-savvy and adjacent to New York media centers; the New York chapter flourished and provided the needed support for national headquarters which was then being suppressed viciously by the F.B.I. and Mayor Richard J. Daley's Chicago city government. They helped Chicago catapult the movement to more prominence.
National Headquarters' first action was the ransacking and closure of the Department of Urban Renewal office in Chicago. The Young Lords walked into the urban renewal meeting and told the panel of primarily members of the local neighborhood association that no more meetings would be permitted until there were people of color on their board.To make the point they trashed the entire place to the point of shut down.
Eleven months after National headquarters in Chicago formed, and the day after July 26, 1969 when the New York chapter formed, Sunday, July 27, 1969 the branch office in New York City mounted a "Garbage Offensive." This was carried out remembering the 1968 Sanitation Strike and to protest the slow collection of garbage in East Harlem. It also promoted the opening of the Young Lords' local office in New York. This was the first official action as new members of the Young Lords network. The offensives targeted local city services which was in tune with the National Headquarters established mission for neighborhood empowerment. The actions continued to link other international movements with the primary mission of the Young Lords which is to free Puerto Rico. In Chicago, the Young Lords also mounted occupations of local institutions within the Lincoln Park neighborhood. It was to pressure institutions to support low income housing for working families. These actions spread the group nationwide. New York had first read about the Chicago Young Lords in an issue of the Black Panther newspaper which spoke also about actions for Puerto Rican and Latino self-determination, and the increasing repression of Jose Cha Cha Jimenez and the national office. The east coast then followed the pattern set by People's Church in Chicago and conducted their own takeover of the First Spanish United Methodist Church in East Harlem.
After a couple of weeks over 100 members were arrested. Chicago visited during the take-over and asked them not to resist arrests to avoid bloodshed.
The New York church occupation took place after the sit-in at Chicago's Grant Hospital, the take-over of People's Park, the occupation of McCormick Seminary and the June, 1969 occupation of Chicago's People's Church.The Young Lords set up free community programs. United Methodist Pastor Rev. Bruce Johnson, who retained his church was part of the North Side Cooperative Ministry that worked on social justice concerns. They were able to direct funds to support the Young Lords programs. The assistant pastor of the Young Lords People's Church in Chicago, Rev.Sergio Herrera, was of Cuban ancestry and initially did not agree with the Young Lords' church occupation nor the murals of Che Guevara and Don Pedro Albizú Campos. He did later participate in all the neighborhood events. The day after the May 1969 Armitage Avenue United Methodist Church occupation, the Young Lords immediately set up programs inside People's Church. It remained a church but also the Young Lords National Headquarters for nearly two years. On September 29, 1969, the church's pastor and his wife, Reverend Bruce Johnson and Eugenia Ransier Johnson, were both found murdered in their parsonage home several blocks away. They were discovered stabbed multiple times in a cold case that has yet to be solved with the Young Lords continuing to call for an investigation. The assistant Pastor, U.M.C. Rev. Sergio Herrera was transferred soon afterwards to Los Angeles. He too soon after was also discovered murdered. The timing of the murders of U.M.C. Pastor Rev. Bruce Johnson and his wife, and the assistant Pastor, Rev. Sergio Herrera were connected to their work with the Young Lords, and only two months before the death of Black Panther Fred Hampton in a police raid on December 4, 1969 with whom the Young Lords were connected via the Rainbow Coalition. Threats and letters to Bishop Pryor to oust the two U.M.C. ministers and the Young Lords were being made by the Alderman George Barr McCutheon and members of the Lincoln Park Conservation Association that were in a group called United People to Inform Good Doers(UPTIGD).Several letters exist in their collection at the De Paul University archives. The court also fined People's Church $200 a day for everyday the free day care center remained open. Since then the Young Lords have held several events including neighborhood tours to the old Armitage Avenue United Methodist Church (now a Walgreens) calling for a full investigation.
13 Point Program and Platform of the Young Lords Organization
The Young Lords' mission was created in Chicago:self determination for Puerto Rico, all Latino nations and all oppressed nations of the world and for barrio empowerment.They also had a 10 point program modeled after the Black Panthers 10 point program. However when the New York group split from Chicago it created their own 13 Point Platform.
(From the newspaper Palante, 8 May 1970, volume 2, number 2)
• We want self-determination for Puerto Ricans -- Liberation on the island and inside the United States.
• We want self-determination for all Latinos.
• We want liberation for all third world people.
• We are revolutionary nationalists and oppose racism.
• We want community control of our institutions and land.
• We want true education of our creole culture.
• We oppose capitalists and alliances with traitors.
• We oppose the amerikkan military.
• We want freedom for all political prisoners.
• We want equality for women. Machismo must be revolutionary... not oppressive.
• We fight anti-Communism with international unity.
• We believe armed self-defense and armed struggle are the only means to liberation.
• We want a socialist society.
In November of 1970, that platform was revised. The 5th point changed to wanting equality for women, down with machismo and male chauvinism. Their 6th point followed the Young Lords mission regarded community control of our institutions and land. The 7th point was changed to demanding true education of afro-Indio culture and the Spanish language. The 10th point was for the freedom of all political prisoners and prisoners of war and lastly the 11th point was changed to a proclamation of being internationalist.
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 Pa'lante (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 Special Collections and Archives. 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 under the leadership of Jose Cha Cha Jimenez alongside activists like Angela Lind Adorno, Alberto Chavarria, Marta Chavarria, Andres Nunez, Edwin Diaz, Jose (Cosmoe )Torres, Eddie Ramirez, Raul Lugo, Juan Gonzalez, Felipe Luciano, Iris Morales, Judy Cordero, Denise Oliver, Pablo Yoruba Guzman, Hilda Ignatin, Maria Romero, Omar Lopez, David Rivera, Dr. Tony Baez, Richie Perez, and Juan Fi Ortiz among others.
By May 1970, the New York section followed its then Central Committee 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 and had more to do with the rapid development of the group or "growing pains," a natural friendly competition between cities, and primarily by infiltration and repression by government groups that were trying to create conflict between the chapters to divide and destroy the newly formed movement. Branches in New Jersey (Newark and Jersey City), Boston, Philadelphia and Bridgeport, Connecticut remained affiliated with New York as they were the regional chapter. All the other chapters remained with national headquarters in Chicago. It was a major blow for the Puerto Rican liberation movement and a major separation of the organization. It was the same situation that was then occurring within 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. All the other Young Lords chapters across the United States remained tied to national headquarters in Chicago.
Women in the Young Lords participated in community organizing and constructing newspapers and articles against sexism and patriarchal structures. One of the major documents regarding women in the Young Lords was the "Young Lords Party Position Paper on Women", published in 1970, and later included in The Young Lords: A Reader (2010), edited by Darrel Enck-Wanzer (see external links below for the full text of that book).
The Young Lords in New York and Chicago continued to grow in numbers and influence from 1968 to 1983 where Jose Cha Cha Jimenez introduced the newly elected African American mayor to Chicago, Harold Washington before a June crowd the Young Lords helped organized in Humboldt Park, Chicago of 100,000 Puerto Ricans.
The Young Lords' mission supported self determination for Puerto Rico, all Latino nations and all 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 always connected with the common folk masses. It is why they began in Chicago fighting against the displacement of Puerto Ricans from Lincoln Park. The national symbol and YLO (Young Lords Organization)soon appeared on buttons nationwide.
The first action of the Young Lords was the complete thrashing and closing down of the Chicago urban renewal office located then in the Lincoln Park Neighborhood. In New York, the Young Lords followed the lead of Chicago related to city services and began their local chapter social action with a local "Garbage Offensive". Organizers had spent weeks cleaning up garbage in Puerto Rican communities that the city was not collecting. In need of additional cleaning supplies, they asked the New York City Department of Sanitation for assistance and were refused. Disgruntled, they blocked 3rd Avenue traffic at 110th, 111th, and 112th Street. The Young Lords also addressed other local and nationwide issues of police injustice, health care, tenants' rights, free breakfast for children, free day care, and a more accurate Latino education. The original urban renewal campaign was framed by the Chicago office as the modern day land question. It was inspired by Emiliano Zapata who said, "all revolutions are based on land."
The Young Lords created community projects similar to those of the Black Panthers, yet centralized around Latinos; such as the free breakfast program for children, the 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. 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 soon expelled for male chauvinism and opportunism by the later Young Lords Party, though the National Young Lords Headquarters in 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 Young Lords were a target of the FBI's COINTELPRO, which had long harassed Puerto Rican independence groups. The New York-Chicago schism mirrored the "Divide and Conquer" divisions within other New Left groups like 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 and discredited by the Mayor Richard J. Daley forces and the FBI.They were beaten, given high bonds, imprisoned, harassed, scapegoated and made to look demonic to the public. The entire Chicago leadership was forced underground in order to reorganize itself before being destroyed completely. 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. 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, Jose Cha Cha Jimenez became the main target and not only was indicted 18 times in a six-week period for felony 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.The intent was to cripple the organization. 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 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. A few weeks later, transferred Assistant Pastor Sergio Herrera was also discovered murdered in Los Angeles. The Johnson's had continued to pastor in Sunday services in Lincoln Park at the Young Lord's first People's Church in Chicago. The Young Lords went on to accuse the FBI CointelPro of a conspiracy to murder Young Lords and Black Panthers.
The Young Lords were working within their communities to provide resources that they felt were withheld from them, similar to the Brown Berets and the Black Panther Party. Their overall goals were to demonstrate efforts that would help others become aware of the oppression they were facing, as well as helping others understand the struggle of many Puerto Rican men and women, while teaching the history behind the movement. The book The Young Lords: A Reader (2010), edited by Darrel Enck-Wanzer (see external links below for the full text of that book) explains the purpose, goals, and tactics of the Young Lords New York chapter: "Puerto Ricans have suffered as a group, racially and culturally, not as individuals. Therefore the fight for self determination must be a group struggle" (Darrel Enck-Wanzer, p. 134). Through this passage, the author is trying to convey his personal message that Puerto Ricans have been oppressed overall as a group, and that each person who identifies as Puerto Rican has suffered, while feeling the pain for their fellow Puerto Rican brothers, sisters, friends, and close relatives. Puerto Ricans must fight for their nation against American colonialism and to empower its people by organizing and educating those in the barrios. They also need to be made keenly aware about the heavy repression that has taken place in Chicago from the beginning of the transformation and creation of the Young Lords as a movement, in the neighborhood of Lincoln Park.
Decline and aftermath
By 1973, the Young Lords had been crippled. Jose Cha Cha Jimenez was on the run, underground along with most of the national leadership. While underground Jiménez set up an underground training school at a farm near Tomah, Wisconsin. Many central committee members moved there. Many other 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. After Jimenez served a year while fighting the remaining seventeen cases, the Young Lords ran him for alderman of the 46th Ward against Mayor Daley's machine candidate, claiming the campaign was just an organizing tool for change. Meanwhile, the New York Young Lords and other chapters had helped to fill the void of a national headquarters crippled under direct attack and forced underground.
Not long after leaving Cook County Jail, is when the Young Lords ran the Jiménez 1975 aldermanic campaign. Jose Cha Cha Jimenez garnered 39% of the vote against the Democratic candidate, Chris Cohen, opening the door for later Latino candidates. It also brought back the symbolic Rainbow Coalition formed by Black Panthers, Young Patriots, Young Lords and later other groups and communities.
In 1982 in Chicago, the Young Lords were the first Latino group to join with and organize the first major Latino event for the successful campaign of the first African-American mayor, Harold Washington. Soon after Washington's victory, Cha Cha Jiménez introduced this 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 Lind Adorno were brought together again by Jose Cha Cha Jimenez to form the Lincoln Park Project to begin to collect the history of the movement. They archived the history of the Young Lords and documented the displaced Latinos and poor of their birthplace: 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 in cabins 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 Maoistformations, 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 Newsand Democracy Now!, Pablo "Yoruba" Guzmán at WCBS-TV New York, Felipe Lucianoand 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. In 2015, a retrospective “¡Presente! The Young Lords in New York,” was held in New York City.
In 2001, Omar López, Minister of Information of the Young Lords was asked by the Lincoln Park Project to donate a small amount of archival material that had been stored in his house, and which had been used in the Young Lords newspapers. They were being stored in his basement DePaul University’s Special Collections and Archives Department and a portion of the archival materials were digitized as part of DePaul's Digital Collection. In 2012 it was the 120 oral, audio and visual histories or the Young Lords in Lincoln Park collection, collected by Jose Cha Cha Jimenez and housed at Seidman College of Grand Valley State University that became another of several times that the national office of the Young Lords have re-surfaced as a group; including being underground in Tomah, Wisconsin, the aldermanic campaign in Lakeview, Chicago, the Harold Washington Campaign in Humboldt Park, Chicago, Lincoln Park Camps, and the archival projects in Grand Rapids, MI.
In 2010, New York University Press published The Young Lords: A Reader which was edited by Darrel Enck-Wanzer and includes a foreword by former Young Lords Iris Morales and Denise Oliver-Vélez. The book offers a look into the Young Lords New York chapter through primary documents such as speeches and articles from Pa'lante, the Young Lords Newspaper, interviews, posters, and photographs.