On July 26, 1969, the Young Lords Party New York regional chapter was founded. The New York Chapter rapidly grew to become a regional center of the Young Lords, after the organization gained national prominence leading protests against conditions faced by Puerto Ricans and leading to the takeover of the First Spanish Methodist Church in East Harlem on December 28, 1969. Earlier in September 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 located, were both discovered stabbed repeatedly in their parsonage home. There was much resentment towards them because they were strong supporters of the Young Lords. 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, Jose (Cha-Cha) Jimenez was in Cook County Jail at the time of the murders, but a bail bond drive among churchmen in the area enabled him to leave 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 organization drew front page headlines in new left tabloids and the national and local media due to the Young Lords ability to organize and bring thousands of people to their actions, and the existence of chapters in various cities. The growth of the New York chapter and the Chicago national office led to the opening of new branches in Philadelphia, Bridgeport, Newark, Milwaukee, Los Angeles, Hayward and other Puerto Rican hub cities.
Their influence extended beyond politics as the Young Lords inspired a Puerto Rican cultural renaissance in the 1970s, particularly with respect to 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, Hey Now. 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. The song Que Bonita Bandera (“What a Beautiful Flag”) was written by Pepe Y Flora in Puerto Rico and was adopted by Chicago’s national office as the Young Lords national anthem. It was sung live many times during the take-over of the People’s Church in Spanish Harlem. The impact on music was even more significant as groups such as Eddie Palmieri, Ray Barreto, Willie Colón, and others began to write and perform songs that addressed the Puerto Rican experience.
Today, many members continue to pursue their vision for self-determination for Puerto Rico and other nations, as well as neighborhood empowerment. They have also 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.
I thank these brothers and sisters. Although there has been instances of violence which we can not doubt, the Young Lords peacefully demonstrated with quick results against the injustice and inhumane treatment of all colored people in the United States. The Young Lords history is a model for many Latino activists and one of the inspirations for the creation of this page. Pa’lante Siempre!
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