The Rainbow Coalition reached out to Royal Rosamond’s Appalachian People. I made a good choice when I made David Hanson my heir. He named his son after Malcom X who inspired the formation of the Black Panthers. I posted this and four more posts on a Black Panther facebook page. Bob Lee is named after my kin, Robert E. Lee. This is more than a coincidence.
This is the most shocking video I have ever seen. When Robert E. Lee puts his hand on the shoulders of the Appalachian Rednecks, you can feel I great line has been crossed. You can feel hundreds of years of tension that screams “THIS ISN’T RIGHT!” But, then the other question sinks in. “Why isn’t this right?” We have to stop fueling the DIVIDE our President wants us to OWN. He does not want us to be IN THE SAME BOAT due to COVID-19. We are being rendered POOR. I am kin to Lee. My grandfather wrote books on the Hillbilly people. I am the historian on the real Rednecks. My kin, Senator Thomas Hart Benton’s name was removed from a college building. He sent thousands of Scot-Irish to the Oregon Territory along the Oregon Trail he had his son-in-law blaze. John Fremont was the first to free black slaves in order to keep Missouri from becoming a Confederate State. This video is prophetic. We are here!
This is why those white men are listening to Bob Lee. They know their heritage, their family history, while fake Rednecks are believing they are supremist and racists. The Red Coats treated the Scot-Irish as inferior people. The Scot-Iris did most of the fighting in the War of Independence because they hated the British for 400 years and knew how to use weapons to fight them.
Rainbow Coalition (Fred Hampton)
The Rainbow Coalition was a multicultural movement founded April 4, 1969 in Chicago, Illinois by Fred Hampton of the Black Panther Party, along with William “Preacherman” Fesperman of the Young Patriots Organization and Jose Cha Cha Jimenez founder of the Young Lords. It was the first of several 20th century Black-led organizations to use the “rainbow coalition” concept.
Some members of the Young Patriots included Jack (Junebug) Boykin, Bobby Joe Mcginnis and Hy Thurman who worked with Field Marshall Bobby Lee of the Black Panthers. The founder of coalition Fred Hampton, first met Jose Cha Cha Jimenez of the Young Lords in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood the day after the Young Lords were in the news, after they had occupied the police community workshop meeting of the 18th District Police Station. Fred Hampton was arrested twice in February 1969 with Jose Cha Cha Jimenez at the Wicker Park Welfare Office. Both were charged with Mob Action during peaceful pickets of the welfare office protesting mistreatment of the patrons.
The Rainbow Coalition soon included various radical socialist community groups like the Lincoln Park Poor People’s Coalition, Later, the coalition was joined nationwide by the Students for a Democratic Society (“SDS”), the Brown Berets, the American Indian Movement and the Red Guard Party. In April 1969, Hampton called several press conferences to announce that this “Rainbow Coalition” had formed.
The coalition later included many other local groups like Rising Up Angry, and Mothers and Others. The Coalition also brokered treaties to end crime and gang violence. Hampton, Jimenez and their colleagues believed that the Richard J. Daley Democratic Party machine in Chicago used gang wars to consolidate their own political positions by gaining funding for law enforcement and dramatizing crime rather than underlying social issues.
The phrase “rainbow coalition” was co-opted over the years by Reverend Jesse Jackson, who eventually appropriated the name in forming his own, more moderate coalition, Rainbow/PUSH. Some scholars, including Peniel Joseph, assert that the original rainbow coalition concept was a prerequisite for the multicultural coalition that Barack Obama built his political career upon.
Bob Lee, a key member of the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party (ILBPP), founder of the original Rainbow Coalition in Chicago, and self-described lifelong community organizer, passed away Tuesday March 21, 2017 after a battle with cancer. He was seventy-four years old. He leaves behind his wife Faiza, two brothers, a son, and a long list of activists and organizers influenced by his dedication to the poor and underserved.
I last saw Bob Lee less than two weeks before his death in his hospital room in Houston, Texas. Still the consummate organizer, he was trying to organize the hospital’s nurses and dining staff from the confines of his hospital bed. As I watched his efforts in amazement, Bob reminded me that “one should never pass up an opportunity to organize those in need.”
Bob Lee, named Robert E. Lee, III, was born on December 16, 1942, to Robert and Selma Lee. He grew up in Houston, Texas where he attended Phillis Wheatley High School along with two other deceased infamous classmates, Houston congressman Mickey Leland, and Carl Hampton, slain leader of People’s Party II, a local black revolutionary group inspired by the Black Panthers whose name was suggested by Lee to avoid police repression, all to no avail.
He acquired effective grassroots organizing skills by observing activists in his mother’s nightclub, the civil rights activism of his father, and the labor struggles of the Longshoreman’s Union that was directly across the street from his childhood home. Lee once declared, “I was raised around organizing. Any nightclub in the South during segregation; all the conversations that I listened to in the club were organizing work. So, I had an instinct by being raised in an organizing world.”
Lee moved from Houston, Texas, to Chicago in 1968 as a Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) volunteer stationed at the Isham YMCA. He was the recreation leader of the facility during the day and a counselor at night. Lee worked exclusively with gang members in the area, including African Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Southern whites.
After the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr in 1968, Lee joined the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party for the purpose of conducting community organizing. Due to Lee’s familiarity with and experience as an organizer of white youth on Chicago’s North Side, ILBPP deputy chairman Fred Hampton appointed Lee as field secretary and section leader for the area. The North Side consisted mostly of segregated, nonblack neighborhoods.
In late 1968, Fred Hampton and Bob Lee indirectly created the original Rainbow Coalition. Led by the ILBPP, the Rainbow Coalition included the Young Lords, a socially conscious Puerto Rican gang; and the Young Patriots Organization (YPO), a group of Confederate-flag-wearing Southern white migrants. This political formation later became famous when Harold Washington used it as a base for his successful bid for mayor of Chicago in 1983.
Lee was joined by fellow Panthers Hank “Poison” Gaddis, Jerry Dunnigan, and Ruby Smith in organizing with the Young Patriots on Chicago’s North Side, specifically Uptown, unbeknownst to Hampton and other Illinois Panther leadership. After Lee informed Hampton of their activities, the two men met on the roof of the Panthers’ headquarters alone. Both were well aware of the great promise but potential fragility of multiracial coalition-building. Bob Lee remembered:
[Fred Hampton and I] believed that solidarity in Chicago was stronger than anywhere else. We knew our organization would not last long, and we knew that we had to move fast. We didn’t fool ourselves . . . there was a mystique in the Party about my cadre because no one knew what Poison and I were doing. I only dialogued with Fred.
Lee would insist that “Fred Hampton introduced class struggle” to the growing movement in Chicago, citing “rallies and his speeches that set up the ideology in which I was able to apply.” Fred Hampton was the face of the Rainbow Coalition, and Bob Lee served as the legman. Hampton gave speeches and sat for interviews on behalf of the organization, but it was Bob Lee who was the mover and shaker of the group. Lee was out in the street politicizing North Side groups and introducing them to the Black Panther Party.
The first encounter between Lee and the Young Patriots actually happened by accident. Lee was invited to speak at the Church of Three Crosses on the Near North Side by Charlotte Engelmann, a white attorney. The congregation of the church consisted of predominantly upper-middle-class whites. Engelmann had also invited the Young Patriots to speak that night. Lee remarked:
In theory, one does not put southern whites and the Panthers together. It was a mistake in programming. When I got a phone call and was asked to speak, I was not informed about the Young Patriots attending. My intention was to introduce the Illinois Black Panther Party because the organization was new to the city of Chicago . . . The event was my first speaking engagement.
The Young Patriots had been invited to speak about police brutality. Bob Lee was surprised by the intense hostility and class dialogue between the two white groups, and he was unaccustomed to the way that the middle-class group verbally attacked the Young Patriots.
Coming from the South, it was a culture shock for me. I had never seen that before, because in the South whites were united around race . . . I had never seen whites attack poor whites before. I had never seen poor whites having to explain themselves to other whites before . . . When I was called upon to speak, I made my speech, and it was an emotional tie-in with the Young Patriots because I felt the hostility toward them. And that was the beginning of our alliance.
Bob Lee introduced the youth gathered that night to the ideology of the Black Panther Party and its community service programs. The Young Patriots were easily persuaded to work with the Panthers, being receptive to the concept of class solidarity. The YPO’s introduction to class solidarity that transcended racial divisions, courtesy of Bob Lee, also forced members to reassess its vestigial identification with the Confederate flag.
As Lee and others helped organize the Young Patriots around Panther ideology, the group quickly became the leading political representatives of the Uptown neighborhood, an alternative to the electoral clientelism of then-mayor Richard Daley. Together, the Panthers, the YPO, and the Young Lords in Lincoln Park helped to form the Uptown Coalition of Poor People. The community coalition united residents against owners they now identified as slumlords.
The first Rainbow Coalition was short-lived, as it fell apart after Hampton’s tragic assassination in December 1969. Lee wasn’t entirely bitter about Rev. Jesse Jackson’s appropriation of the concept for his own political gains and agendas during the 1980s — in his opinion, Jackson “gave it a new set of legs.” But he had a greater appreciation of Harold Washington’s mayoral campaign of 1983, which recognized the historical roots and power of the earlier iteration of the Rainbow. According to Bob Lee,
It was not until the election of Harold Washington that organizers realized the actual strength of the Rainbow Coalition, which also helped members to understand the local power structure’s commitment to eliminating the group, as it was a real political threat to machine politics in Chicago.
Lee left the Panthers and returned home in 1970, where he continued his work as a grassroots community organizer until his death. I first met him in 2007, at his home in Houston, where I first interviewed him for my book, From the Bullet to the Ballot. Before he would sit with me for an interview he wanted to check my commitment to organizing those in need.
Lee was bound to a wheelchair later in life, due to multiple sclerosis. Nonetheless, he drove me around the Fifth Ward, where he was known as the “mayor.” An elderly African-American woman flagged down our car, and we pulled over. She told Lee that she needed a pair of shoes, taking care to mention her shoe size, and Lee told her he would find her a pair. A few blocks later, an older African-American gentleman asked to have his lawn cut. Shortly thereafter, Bob Lee approached a young man who told us he had not eaten in a few days.
A few hours later, we borrowed a lawnmower from a neighbor. Lee made a stop at a community center and picked up a few pairs of shoes for the woman. The young man who needed food mowed the older gentleman’s lawn, then he met us at the elderly woman’s home, who needed the shoes. We then sat down for a meal and all ate heartily. Everyone he helped that day assured Lee that they would vote for El Franco Lee, Bob Lee’s brother who preceded him in death, for Harris County Precinct 1 commissioner, and for other candidates that Lee supported.
Lee did all this important work from a wheelchair. His example inspired me to become the activist that I am today. He trained me how to connect with those in need, how to meet people at their level, and the significance of relationships in fostering grassroots community organizing. In our current climate of racial and political polarization, aggravated by the election of our orange president, Lee’s work in organizing across race within the class is all the more necessary.
If Bob Lee could unite folks across deep-seated racial differences — especially folks like the Young Patriots — in the segregated 1960s, then we have no excuse not to equal, if not eclipse Lee’s success in our current polarized context. Speaking as a historian, I see no need to reinvent the wheel in order to address Trumpism today.
It was activists like Lee, his fellow Black Panthers, and the original Rainbow Coalition who created change in our nation, by daring to enter distant neighborhoods and forge alliances. It is through the continuing nuances of applying the methods of the past to the grassroots organizing tenets of today, including social media, databases, digital archives, algorithms, and so on, that the extremes of our moment’s polar opposites will be connected to establish a conduit of understanding, communication, and respect.
As a political symbol, the Rainbow didn’t refer just to a series of colors; it signified an arc of connection between different places and people. For Lee and others who participated with him in struggle, this was the only possible starting point for revolutionary solidarity.
Young Patriots Organization
The Young Patriots Organization (YPO) was an American leftist organization of mostly White Southerners from Uptown, Chicago. Originating in 1968 and active until 1973, the organization was designed to support young, white migrants from the Appalachia region who experienced extreme poverty and discrimination. Along with the Illinois Black Panther Party and the Young Lords, the Young Patriots Organization formed the Rainbow Coalition, a group of allied but racially separate organizations each focused on helping with issues of poverty and discrimination among their local community while working together towards antiracist and anticapitalist goals.
Chicago was one of many American industrial cities that experienced an influx of White Southerners who came seeking employment throughout the eighteenth century. In 1970, Chicago and the neighboring city of Gary had about 280,000 residents who had been born in the South; they were particularly concentrated in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago, where they made up 80% of the population. The group was culturally isolated, treated as outsiders by other Chicagoans. They often experienced severe poverty and were targets of police brutality. They were derided as “hillbillies“, particularly among the press: the group was summarized in a subtitle to a 1958 article in Harper’s Magazine as “proud, poor, primitive, and fast with a knife”.
The Uptown neighborhood was home to several youth gangs in the 1950s and 1960s, a number of which formed among the Southern newcomers. The gangs formed “not only along the color line, but also along interfaces between different European American groups—between, for example, communities of Irish and Poles, Poles and Italians, Swedes and Italians, Jews and Poles”. Inter-gang violence was particularly noticeable as Black Americans began to move into Chicago neighborhoods.
Amidst this environment, community organizers attempted to address the issues of poverty and unemployment in the area in groups like the Jobs or Income Now (JOIN) community union, which grew out of the Students for a Democratic Society organization that encouraged local activism in Uptown. Both co-founders of the Young Patriots, Jack “Junebug” Boykin and Doug Youngblood, as well as other members had been involved with JOIN. Boykin and other Young Patriots were also active in Youngblood’s National Organizing Committee (later the National Community Union), an interracial and working-class group that rallied around issues including free medical and childcare, higher corporate taxes, rank-and-file union leadership, and the end of the draft.
1968–1969: Formation of the Rainbow Coalition
When the Young Patriots Organization and Bob Lee of the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party were accidentally double-booked to speak at the Church of the Three Crosses in Lincoln Park on the same night, the two ended up discussing poverty among impoverished White Southerners in Chicago, shared experiences between White Southerners in Uptown and Black people in the South and West Sides, and comparisons between poverty in Chicago and the Vietnam War. This meeting, which was captured on film and later included in the 1969 documentary film American Revolution 2, was the precursor to the spring 1969 formation of the Rainbow Coalition by Bob Lee and Fred Hampton. At the outset the coalition was made up of the Young Patriots, the Illinois Black Panthers, and the Young Lords, and over the years they were joined by other community organizations. As the coalition expanded, so too did the groups themselves, with the Young Patriots earning new members including the skilled speaker William “Preacherman” Feserpman, who would go on to become a leader among the Patriots. The Young Patriots maintained their focus on White Southerners and those in the Uptown area after joining the Rainbow Coalition, but usually were joined by one or both of the Black Panthers or the Young Lords in public appearances.
1969–1970: Young Patriots Uptown Health Service
The Young Patriots were one of several groups in the Rainbow Coalition to mimic various activities of the Black Panthers. In addition to providing free breakfast programs for children, organizing clothing drives, and monitoring police activities, the Young Patriots also followed the Panthers’ model of providing social services such as medical clinics directly to their communities. In October 1969, the Patriots opened a medical clinic to provide free care to Uptown residents. The Young Patriots Uptown Health Service’s medical staff were primarily volunteer medical personnel from outside the group, and each patient also was assigned a Patriot as a patient advocate who would provide home visits and accompaniment to later appointments. The clinic provided dental and medical care to about 150 people in the first few months it was open, but by December it had been forced to close due to noise complaints from neighboring tenants. The Patriots alleged the closing was solely due to continued harassment from the police, which they said had scared away clients and staff alike. The clinic relocated, though many of their volunteers did not return. After reopening, the unlicensed clinic faced issues with the Board of Health, who were concerned the Patriots would use the facility to “treat gunshot wounds, hand out drugs irresponsibly, perform abortions or give shots with unsterile needles”. As the Patriots battled with the Board of Health, they alleged that police harassed their patients, seizing prescribed medications and arresting them for narcotics possession. The Patriots also claimed the police harassed their members by crashing meetings between the Patriots and medical staff, and arresting the Patriots for trespassing in their own buildings or for allegedly assaulting other members of the organization. Eventually the clinic was allowed to remain open and unlicensed in a July 10, 1970 decision that determined that “ordinance covering dispensaries was so vague as to be unenforceable”. The clinic treated nearly 2,000 people by November of that year, and came to be the most well-known accomplishment by the Young Patriots.
In 1969, a new branch of the Young Patriots emerged, calling themselves the Patriot Party. Over the next year, branches of the Patriots emerged in several cities across the United States, though they generally dissolved fairly quickly due to lack of momentum or were absorbed by other radical groups.
1970–1973: Splintering and eventual dissolution
The groups in the Rainbow Coalition had already suffered a major blow with the 1969 assassination of Fred Hampton during a police raid of his apartment. In late 1970, the internal security subcommittee of the United States Senate charged a local church association, the North Side Cooperative Ministry, with financially supporting both the Young Patriots and the Young Lords. Although the consortium maintained that they had only supported free breakfast programs and legal defense funds, and rebutted the claims that they had been supporting violent revolutionaries, the press coverage widely describing the two groups as “street gangs” reduced outside support for the community services run by the Patriots and other groups.
Media attention to the Young Patriots diminished following the success of their medical clinic, and though they continued to provide community services, none would be as effective or widely-known as the clinic. The strongly Appalachian Uptown neighborhood gradually became more diverse as people from other countries immigrated to the area, and White Southerners moved elsewhere. By 1973, the Young Patriots Organization was, for the most part, defunct.
Platform and ideology
In 1970, the Young Patriots formed an eleven-point platform similar to the Black Panther Party’s 1969 Ten-Point Program. The Patriots’ platform shared the Panthers’ opposition to the Vietnam War, police oppression, and capitalist exploitation. The two platforms also shared welfare-related goals including improved education, housing, medical care, and access to clothing, and union reform that would address issues of racism and inefficacy in the existing unions. The Young Patriots’ platform included points that spoke about cultural nationalism and revolutionary solidarity, and denounced racism.
The Young Patriots’ condemnation of cultural nationalism has since been described by Martin Alexander Krzywy, publishing in the Journal of African American Studies, as somewhat incongruous with their strong focus on Appalachian and southern heritage and their adoption of symbols including cowboy hats and the Confederate flag. However, according to Krzywy, this was not dissimilar from inconsistencies between the Black Panthers’ and Young Lords’ stated beliefs on cultural nationalism and the practices of some of their members. The Confederate flag also served the Young Patriots as a recruiting tool, attracting other white southerners. Though the multiracial groups among the Rainbow Coalition did not raise the Confederate imagery as an issue in the intergroup organizing, many radicals outside of the coalition saw the flag as incompatible with solidarity with the Black Panthers.
The Young Patriots were extremely focused on class divides, and were critical of activist groups like the Students for a Democratic Society and the Southern Student Organizing Committee, who were largely focused on campus organizing. The Patriots denigrated their work as “petty bourgeoisie” and their members as having “had all the education, had all the schooling.”
The Young Patriots Organization described their membership as a diverse collection of people including Italians, Latinos, and American Indians. However, the backgrounds of its leaders and the symbols adopted by the group made it clear that the group was primarily centered around shared White Southerner identity. The Patriots were largely perceived by outsiders to be a group of white hillbilly gang members turned revolutionaries.
Krzywy, publishing in the Journal of African American Studies, wrote that “the Young Patriots tended to conflate Southernness and whiteness, to the exclusion of both poor white ethnics in Chicago and black Southerners who had moved to the city and shared many folkways with the Uptown residents.” However, despite the group’s exclusive intragroup identity, through the Rainbow Coalition the group organized effectively along with Blacks and Latinos in Chicago.
The Young Lords (formerly the Young Lords Organization (YLO) or Young Lords Party) is a civil- and human-rights organization transformed by the leadership of Jose Cha Cha Jimenez from a Chicago turf-gang on September 23, 1968, 100 years after the Grito de Lares. The group aims to fight for neighborhood empowerment and self-determination for Puerto Rico, Latinos, and colonized (“Third World”) people. Tactics used by the Young Lords include mass education, canvassing, community programs, occupations, and direct confrontation. The Young Lords became targets of the United States FBI‘s COINTELPRO program.
In party platform points, the Young Lords may spell “American” as “amerikkkan” or “Amerikkkan” – expressing (inter alia) opposition to U.S. military presence in Puerto Rico and suggesting that America’s success is rooted in white supremacy. The platform follows the mission clearly, stating: “We demand immediate withdrawal of U.S. military forces and bases from Puerto Rico, Vietnam, and all oppressed communities inside and outside the U.S. No Puerto Rican should serve in the U.S. army against his brothers and sisters, for the only true army of oppressed people is the people’s army to fight all rulers.”
The Young Lords formed in 1960 as a local Puerto Rican turf gang in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago and grew to several outposts including several women’s auxiliary groups called the Young Lordettes. While Jose Cha Cha Jimenez was president of the group he reconceived the local gang officially on the 100 year anniversary of Grito de Lares on September 23, 1968 as a national civil and human rights movement, inspired by the student movements in Puerto Rico, the Latino movements in the South West, and the organizing tactics of the Black Panthers. The Young Lords’ focus remains self-determination for Puerto Rico, other Latino and Third World countries, and for neighborhood controlled development. The movement expanded from Chicago to include a broader audience and chapters in 30 cities including three branches in New York City, the port of entry for the majority of Puerto Rican migrants.
During Mayor Daley’s tenure in Chicago, Puerto Ricans in Lincoln Park and several Mexican communities were evicted from prime real estate areas near the Loop, Lakefront, Old Town, and Lakeview neighborhoods. The rationale was to increase property tax revenues by luring White suburbanites and creating a suburb within the city. The urban renewal resulted in the eviction of Latino and poor families from their neighborhoods and increased police abuses. Some Young Lords were involved in the Puerto Rican June 1966 Division Street Riots in Wicker Park and Humboldt Park. The 1968 Democratic Convention protests in Grant Park and the adjacent Lincoln Park Neighborhood, resulted in the Young Lords, under the leadership of founder Jose Cha Cha Jimenez, to join with others to form a broader civil and human rights movement. Puerto Rican self-determination and the displacement of Puerto Ricans and poor residents became the primary organizing focus. The Young Lords organization also began to train students and youth to take on the leadership to organize the Latino community on a national level.
Multiple chapters formed nationwide based on the original Chicago chapter, including several branches in New York City and along the East Coast. The National Headquarters in Chicago asked the loose coalition of chapters in New York to unite as a single regional branch. All chapters considered neighborhood empowerment and Puerto Rican self-determination as unifying missions. The National Headquarters headed by Jose Cha Cha Jimenez, supported the unification and mission as New York served as the port of entry for Puerto Ricans entering the United States.
The Great Migrations of the late 1940s resulted in many Puerto Ricans settling in the Midwest, Florida, and on the East coast of the United States. Therefore, the most populated center of the Puerto Rican diaspora would also take on a significant role as a regional headquarters of the movement.
The office in Chicago attempted to construct a nationwide grassroots movement within the U.S. barrios to unite Puerto Ricans, other Latinos, and carry out its mission for Puerto Rican independence. The New York City regional chapter formed July 26, 1969, ten months after the Young Lords Movement began in Chicago. The National Headquarters in Chicago had gained national prominence by leading protests against conditions faced by Puerto Ricans in the U.S. Because most members in New York were students with a middle income and were media-savvy, the New York chapter flourished and provided needed support for the National Headquarters then under surveillance by the F.B.I. and the Chicago city government.
The National Headquarters’ first action was to ransack and close the Department of Urban Renewal office in Chicago. The Young Lords attended an Urban Renewal meeting and told the panel of the local neighborhood association that no more meetings would be permitted in Lincoln Park until people of color were on the Urban Renewal Board.
On July 27, 1969, the chapter office in New York City mounted a “Garbage Offensive” to commemorate the 1968 Sanitation Strike and to protest the substandard garbage collection service in East Harlem. The event also promoted the opening of the Young Lords’ New York City office. The offensives targeted local city services that aligned with the National Headquarters mission of neighborhood empowerment. In Chicago, the Young Lords also occupied local institutions in the Lincoln Park neighborhood to support low-income housing for working families.
The New York members had first read about the Chicago Young Lords in an issue of the Black Panther newspaper that supported actions for Puerto Rican and Latino self-determination and publicized the increasing repression of Jose Cha Cha Jimenez and the Chicago National Headquarters. The New York office followed the actions of the People’s Church in Chicago and took over the First Spanish United Methodist Church in East Harlem Over 100 members were arrested in the two-week takeover. National Headquarters members encouraged the New York members 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 occupation of Chicago’s People’s Church. In several cities, the Young Lords set up free community programs. United Methodist Pastor Rev. Bruce Johnson of the North Side Cooperative Ministry worked to obtain funds to support the Young Lords programs. The assistant pastor of the Young Lords People’s Church in Chicago, Rev. Sergio Herrera, did not initially agree with the Young Lords’ church occupation nor the murals of Che Guevara and Don Pedro Albizú Campos but did later participate in all the neighborhood events. In conjunction with the May 1969 Armitage Avenue United Methodist Church occupation, the Young Lords immediately set up programs inside the People’s Church. The building 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 murdered in their home. They were stabbed multiple times. The case remains open and has yet to be solved. The assistant Pastor, Rev. Sergio Herrera was transferred soon afterward to Los Angeles where he was also murdered. The murders occurred when the clergy worked with the Young Lords, and only two months before the death of Black Panther Fred Hampton in a police raid on December 4, 1969. Hampton was also connected with the Young Lords via the Rainbow Coalition. Pressure on UMC Bishop Pryor to oust the two UMC ministers and the Young Lords from the People’s Church was made by Alderman George Barr McCutcheon and members of the Lincoln Park Conservation Association. The Court also fined the People’s Church $200 each day the free daycare center remained open.
The Puerto Rican nation’s diaspora has been divided and has created multiple neighborhoods or barrios in Florida, along the East Coast of the United States, New York City and Chicago. These Puerto Rican mainland communities developed across the U.S. during Operation Bootstrap which gave way to the Great Puerto Rican Migration of the late 1940s and early 1950s. In 1968, branches of the Young Lords sprouted up in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Connecticut, New Jersey, Boston, Milwaukee, Hayward (California), San Diego, Los Angeles, and Puerto Rico.
The organizations’ newspapers, The Young Lord, Pitirre, and Pa’lante, reported the increasingly militant activities of the Young Lords. Over 120 publicly accessible oral histories, “Young Lords in Lincoln Park” are curated at Grand Valley State University in Michigan.
Besides the coalition with the National Black Panther Party Office in Oakland and the Black Panthers in Chicago, integrated into by the Rainbow Coalition of Fred Hampton, the Young Lords also participated in coalitions with groups of the Puerto Rican Independence Movement, Northside Cooperative Ministry and the Lincoln Park Poor People’s Coalition.
The Young Lords grew into a national movement under the leadership of Jose Cha Cha Jimenez which also included 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, Tony Baez, Richie Perez, and Juan Fi Ortiz.
By May 1970 due to infiltration by the local Red Squad, the Gang Intelligence Unit, Chicago Patronage Machine and CointelPro, the New York regional office broke away from the Young Lords National Headquarters and formed the short lived Young Lords Party. The separation also resulted from rapid development, growing pains, and a friendly competition between U.S. cities. The infiltration and divisions created conflict between the chapters and division of the Puerto Rican Independence Movement. Branches on the east coast were forced to remain affiliated with the New York regional office. Most other chapters remained loyal to the Chicago National Headquarters. The separation was a major blow to the liberation movement in the U.S. The separation occurred 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.
Women in the Young Lords participated in community organizing and wrote newspaper articles against sexism and patriarchy including the “Young Lords Party Position Paper on Women”, published in 1970, and included in The Young Lords: A Reader (2010), edited by Darrel Enck-Wanzer.
The Young Lords in New York and Chicago continued to grow in numbers and influence from 1968 to 1983. Jose Cha Cha Jimenez introduced the newly elected African American mayor of Chicago, Harold Washington, to a June crowd of 100,000 Puerto Ricans that the Young Lords helped organize in Humboldt Park, Chicago.
The Young Lords were a target of the FBI‘s COINTELPRO program that targeted Puerto Rican independence groups. The New York-Chicago schism mirrored the divisions within other New Left groups including the Black Panther Party, Students for a Democratic Society, and Brown Berets, often as a result of COINTELPRO activities of police infiltration by informants and provocateurs. The Young Lords leaders were framed and discredited by both Mayor Richard J. Daley forces and the FBI. The entire Chicago leadership of the Young Lords was forced underground to reorganize and avoid complete destruction. COINTELPRO tactics used against the movements such as the Young Lords included rumor campaigns and pitting groups against each other to create factionalism, distrust, and personality conflicts. In Chicago, COINTELPRO created an anti-Rainbow Coalition component. The Red Squad also monitored the Young Lords National Headquarters 24 hours a day. Jose Cha Cha Jimenez became a main police target and was indicted 18 times in a six-week period on felony charges including assault and battery on police and creating a mob action. The intent of the police action was to cripple the organization. While the Young Lords advocated armed strategies similar to those advocated by the Black Panthers, the basis was as a right to self-defense. Such self defense was advocated after the shooting of Manuel Ramos, the suspected police involvement in the death of José (Pancho) Lind, the alleged suicide of Julio Roldan while in the custody of the New York Police Department, the fatal stabbings in Chicago of the United Methodist Church Rev. Bruce Johnson and his wife Eugenia, and the murder of Assistant Pastor Sergio Herrera shortly after his transfer to Los Angeles. The Young Lords accused the FBI CointelPro of a conspiracy to murder Young Lords and Black Panthers.
The Young Lords worked in their communities to provide resources, similar to actions of the Brown Berets and the Black Panther Party. A goal was to raise awareness of the oppression and educate on the history and struggle of the Puerto Ricans. The Young Lords: A Reader (2010), edited by Darrel Enck-Wanzer details the purpose, goals, and tactics of the Young Lords New York chapter. He wrote, “Puerto Ricans have suffered as a group, racially and culturally, not as individuals. Therefore the fight for self determination must be a group struggle.” Enck-Wanzer’s book details that every Puerto Rican has suffered and felt the pain of their fellow Puerto Rican brothers, sisters, friends, and relatives. His book argues that Puerto Ricans must fight for their nation against American colonialism by organizing and educating in the barrios and raise awareness of the repression since the creation of the Young Lords as a movement in the Lincoln Park neighborhood.
By 1973, the Young Lords and its leadership were in disarray. Jose Cha Cha Jimenez along with many central committee members set up an underground training school at a farm near Tomah, Wisconsin. Some members continued independent efforts around self-determination for Puerto Rico and neighborhood empowerment. In Chicago, the Young Lords resurfaced after two and a half years. The New York Young Lords and other chapters also continued to function
After Jimenez served a year in prison, in 1975 he ran for alderman of the 46th Ward against Mayor Daley’s machine candidate. He garnered 39% of the vote against the Democratic candidate, Chris Cohen. The election re-energized the symbolic Rainbow Coalition formed by Black Panthers, Young Patriots, Young Lords and other groups and communities.
In 1983, the Young Lords organized the first major Latino event for the successful campaign of Chicago’s first African-American mayor, Harold Washington. After Washington’s victory, Jiménez introduced the mayor to a crowd of 100,000 Puerto Ricans in Humboldt Park in June 1983 where the Young Lords distributed 30,000 buttons inscribed with “Tengo Puerto Rico En Mi Corazon.” In the fall of 1995, Jose Cha Cha Jimenez brought together Chicago Young Lords’ Tony Baez, Carlos Flores, Angel Del Rivero, Omar López and Angie Lind Adorno to form the Lincoln Park Project to collect the history of the Young Lords movement. They curated the history and documented the displaced Latinos of the Lincoln Park Neighborhood. In support of the Puerto Rican Vieques campers, the struggle for Puerto Rican independence, and against the displacement of Puerto Ricans in the Diaspora, the Young Lords organized the Lincoln Park Camp near Grand Rapids, Michigan, on September 23, 2002,
The Young Lords supported freed Puerto Rican nationalist leaders and urban guerrilla groups such as the Macheteros. Other Young Lords members joined Maoist formations such as the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Party or provided the leadership of the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights (NCPRR). Some Young Lords worked in 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.