From a Puerto Rican street gang created for protection to a people-focused group fighting for community survival, the Young Lords were a revolutionary force composed of poor and working-class Puerto Rican youth in the late ’60s and early 1970s (Library of Congress). Though the group was created by and largely consisted of children of Puerto Rican migrants, the Young Lords attracted Black and other Latine youths and young adults tired of being underserved and displaced. Together, they rallied for access to healthcare, education, and housing, self-determination and the liberation of Puerto Rico and other oppressed people, and an end to state violence. The Young Lords “incorporated the emerging feminist and gay rights movements into their political platform,” and provided basic services lacking in their communities (The Nation, Curbed). Their reach spread from Chicago to cities like New York, Boston, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia, where they, alongside other community-based resistance groups like the Black Panther Party, fought against the social inequities in inner-city communities.
• Support local youth activism and community organizing efforts, including AgitArte, PRISM, MASK, Students for the Preservation Of Chinatown, and the Vessel Project of Louisiana.
• Reflect on your current role in your community. What is your relationship with activists, organizers, and other community leaders? What issues are currently affecting the community? When was the last time you got involved with local campaigns or organizing? How can you strengthen that connection?
Since its shift to community activism on Sept. 23, 1968—the 100th anniversary of Grito de Lares, the Puerto Rican rebellion against Spanish rule—the Young Lords provided social services paired with revolutionary tactics. This included one of their earliest actions: fighting against the gentrification, or “urban renewal,” of a Chicago neighborhood (Digital Chicago). Many major U.S. cities were in economic distress at the time, with neglected housing, education, employment, and healthcare. Low-income residents of color were pushed to the margins, including many Puerto Rican families who first migrated to the mainland due to the 1917 draft and later for work with the encouragement of the U.S. government (ThoughtCo). So by 1969, when redevelopment in Lincoln Park, Chicago threatened to push out the largely Latine residents, the Young Lords occupied the McCormick Theological Seminary for weeks until their demands were met, including city investment into free health clinics and low-income housing.
The Young Lords would carry out other campaigns like “liberating” a mobile chest X-ray unit with the technicians and “returning it to the people” in East Harlem to test residents for tuberculosis after noticing a growing need for the service when doing door-to-door tuberculosis testing (New York Times). Another action included piling and burning uncollected heaps of rotting trash into the middle of the streets for weeks, blocking traffic including “major connecting points for suburban commuters,” to draw attention to environmental racism and (successfully) pressure the local government to improve sanitation and garbage collection procedures (History, New York Times). By connecting with residents and their neighbors and hearing their concerns, they gained the support of the communities they aimed to represent.
Their most prominent act was in 1970 when the Young Lords’ New York chapter occupied the Lincoln Hospital, locally known as the “butcher shop” (The Museum of the City of New York, History). After protests to expose the racism, negligence, and mistreatment of the mostly Brown and Black poor patients at the decrepit hospital failed to create change, the group held a 12-hour-long occupation of the hospital, renaming it the People’s Hospital. The occupation led to the creation of one of the first patient’s bill of rights and is credited for helping facilitate the construction of a new Lincoln Hospital.
The Young Lords pressured local officials to step up and pass legislation, but transforming society and liberating their communities meant providing mutual aid. Inspired by and often alongside the Black Panthers, their revolutionary organizing included community service acts like testing children for lead poisoning, setting up a daily free breakfast for children and a daycare center, lunch programs, running a free health clinic and substance abuse programs, and more. They understood that the people power revolutions and a community struggling to survive cannot lead.
Infighting, political repression, and FBI infiltration via COINTELPRO caused the Young Lords to disband by the mid-1970s. Despite their brief tenure, they left behind a lasting legacy and are a testament to how revolutionary community activism can be.
• The Young Lords were a group of poor and working-class Puerto Rican, Black, and other Latine youth stepping up to provide the basic needs for their communities.
• Their community activism was inspired by the Black Panthers and student movements in Puerto Rico.
• They worked to resolve community issues through large, attention-grabbing acts of civil disobedience and hands-on community service programs.