The Young Lords of New York














History 394

Dr. Thomas Beal

Research Paper

Marcello Duranti


Despierta, Boricua. Defiende lo tuyo

Awake Puerto Rican, Defend What is yours.

---Young Lords Party Chant (1969)[1]


On 7 June 1969, hundreds of Puerto Ricans gathered in Spanish Harlem, New York City to protest the arrest of Juan" Fi" Ortiz for a series of falsified crimes.[2] As a crowd gathered outside the People's Church in El Barrio, Felipe Luciano addressed those assembled asserting that, " We will not allow the brutalization of our community to go on without a response. For every Puerto Rican that is brutalized, there will be retaliation."[3]Luciano's statements were not ignored, and as the crowd filtered into the streets their shouts of Despierta, Boricua. Defiende lo tuyo filled the air.

The events of 7 June 1969 were but one of many moments in the history of New York City's Puerto Rican community that gave rise to and lent support for the Young Lords Party.[4]  Indeed over the course of the next five years this ethnic group of radical intellectuals would help bring attention to the plight of the Puerto Rican community in New York City.  This essay explores the history of the late twentieth century Puerto Rican migrants in New York City through an examination of the Young Lords Party (1969 to 1974).  In doing so, it examines several significant topics, including the growth of the Puerto Rican population in New York City; the unique challenges this ethnic group faced, and the origins, growth and decline of the Young Lords Party.

Twentieth Century Migration of Puerto Ricans To New York City

For us to clearly understand the Young Lords, it must be understood how the Puerto Rican Community came to be in New York City and other American cities such as Newark and Chicago.  With the Spanish American War of 1898 came added difficulty for the population of Puerto Rico.  Recently acquired by the United States, citizens of Puerto Rico were actually citizens of nowhere until granted statutory citizenship to the United States in 1917.  Yet three years earlier, on 12 March 1914 the citizens of Puerto Rico opposing this imposition of American citizenship sent a "Memorandum to the President and Congress of the United States" stating, " We firmly and loyally oppose our being declared, against our express will or without our express content, citizens of any other than our own beloved country which God granted to us as an inalienable gift and incoercible right."[5]

  Even without support of the Puerto Rican people the Jones Act was passed.  The Jones Act of 1917 [6] merely granted Puerto Ricans a status of citizenship, which was not equivalent to the constitutional citizenship.  This partial citizenship, however, did not prevent the United States from drafting Puerto Ricans into the armed forces during World War I, or from recruiting Puerto Ricans to labor in defense industries during the time of war.  The exploitation of Puerto Ricans by external forces reached its highest point of the 400 years of colonization with the passage of the Jones Act.  The desire for full citizenship as well as poor economic conditions in the homeland resulted in the migrations of tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans to the United States throughout the twentieth century.  The United States saw Puerto Rico was being devastated by poverty and took advantage of the poor fortunes of the people by offering this type of “partial” citizenship.

One measure taken by the government that happened to benefit Puerto Ricans was the passing of the Johnson Act in 1921[7], which restricted the immigration of Europeans to the United States. The passing of the Johnson Act created increased availability of jobs for Puerto Ricans choosing to migrate to the United States in search of better employment opportunities than could be found in their homeland.  While the aim of the Johnson Act was supposedly to create more job openings for members of the Puerto Rican community, jobs remained scarce, especially to people of Puerto Rican descent who were dark skinned and often denied equal opportunities.

The Puerto Ricans that arrived during what is known as the first period of migration (1910-1945) varied from different backgrounds.  Some came from the campos or rural areas in Puerto Rico and sought jobs in agricultural fields when they arrived on the mainland.  Others came from pueblos, which are towns or small cities. For these men and women this was already their second migration, they had left the campos of Puerto Rico to look for better jobs and opportunities in the pueblos and now would leave those pueblos to come to the mainland for the so called opportunities awaiting them here.[8]

  After they found out there was no work in these pueblos, their next move was to migrate to industrial centers in the Northeast, with the bulk of them settling down in New York City.  They settled down all over the Boroughs, with majority settling down in the Atlantic Street area in Brooklyn, El Barrio in East Harlem, and other areas of Manhattan (the Lower East Side, the Upper West side, Chelsea and the Lincoln Center area), while some began to populate the South Bronx.[9]  The Great Depression, with its high rate of unemployment, put an end to the demand for cheap labor after 1930; thereafter, the number of migrants from Puerto Rico dropped and did not increase until the late 1940's.[10]

Again at the end of World War II, United States companies began looking to Puerto Rico for cheap labor, and they sent agents to recruit workers. The demand was so great that in 1953 when then Mayor Richard Wagner of New York City visited the island, he publicly stated that he and all New Yorkers would welcome any Puerto Rican willing to work.

        The availability of jobs coupled with encouragement by the island government increased the average yearly migration from 1,800 in the period between 1930 and 1940, to 31,000 from 1946 to 1950, to 45,000 from 1951 to 1960. In 1953, Puerto Rican migration to New York reached its peak when 75,000 people left the island. Estimates are that more than one million Puerto Ricans migrated during this period known as "The Great Migration."[11] By 1964, the Puerto Rican community made up 9.3 percent of the total New York City population.[12]

Unique Challenges Faced By Puerto Ricans in New York City

The new migrants faced many of the same problems as the European immigrants of the early 1900's.  The new migrants had to deal with rampant racism, poverty, deplorable living conditions, lack of access to health care, malnutrition and other problems that effected earlier immigrant populations.  The new population is relegated to the worst housing; they hold the lowest paying jobs, their children attend overcrowded schools, and they are exploited by unscrupulous landlords.

        A study of congested Puerto Rican area's in New Haven, Connecticut; Chicago, Illinois; Jersey City and Perth Amboy, New Jersey; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and New York City was conducted to confirm the need's of the new comers, the study of the Welfare Council of New York was probably the most comprehensive. The difficulties of these congested Puerto Rican areas may be listed as:  (1) need for housing, (2) need of childcare facilities, (3) need of after school programs, (4) need of bilingual programs, (5) need of job training, (6) need of prenatal care and of health care in general, (7) need of information, in Spanish, as to the rights and responsibilities of citizens and the services available to them in New York, (8) need of local understanding of Spanish culture, (9) a need in the government agencies of New York of Spanish speaking personnel.[13]). Many problems that faced the Puerto Rican communities were also plaguing communities of other ethnicity’s and same socioeconomic status, but Puerto Ricans had dilemmas that were distinct to that ethnicity

 The Puerto Ricans here also faced stereotypes that they were hot-tempered, unintelligent, juvenile delinquents or here just in search for better Welfare benefits than they receive on the island.  Racism sparked the derogatory term "spic", whose most likely origin is from the phrase" No spik Inglish."[14]. Narcotics were also ravaging the communities and local police precincts did little or nothing to stop the flow of traffic through the neighborhoods.  There were some in the community that could no longer wait for the government and politicians to keep their promises of helping the Puerto Rican community and decided to take action themselves.  These young people were mostly second generation Puerto Ricans and had a sense of what must be done and how to go after it.  They were tired of fighting someone else's war and being oppressed by the same government that asked for them to come. 


Origins of The Young Lords Of New York Chapter

There were groups such as the Black Panthers, the Young Patriots[15]and The Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) were fighting for great causes, there was no organization representing the growing Puerto Rican population. Realizing a need for Latino consciousness in the New York City community and improvement in the conditions of the Latino status, The Young Lords New York Chapter was formed.  The organization consisted primarily of young Latino people who, similar to the Black Panthers, through direct community action and education, made an impact on the conditions of the Latino community.  7 June 1969, the Black Panther newspaper announced that the Black Panthers had formed an alliance between themselves, the Young Patriots Organization, and the Young Lords Organization that would be know as the Rainbow Coalition.

  A few months earlier some Puerto Rican college students had met and decided something had to be done to unite the college educated Puerto Ricans with residents of the Ghettos.  A young man with Afro hair and dark skin emerged, Pablo "Yoruba" Guzman.[16]  Eventually that year Yoruba had met another person fed up with the system David Perez. These two of men decided on one thing, the Sociedad De Albizu Campos, needed to take more action and do less talking.  The reached out to the Chicago Lords and were granted permission to start a chapter in New York City.[17]

Growth and Major "Offensives" of the Young Lords Party

" I had never done any thing like this before.  Twelve other guys, one woman, myself, a handful of people who until moments before had been spectators were about to set a barricade of garbage on fire.  Garbage in the ghetto sense; rusted refrigerators from empty lot, the untowed carcasses of abandoned vehicles, mattresses, furniture, and appliances off the sidewalk as well as stuff normally found in what few trash cans the city saw fit to place in El Barrio[18]"

                                                        -Pablo "Yoruba" Guzman


        The Young Lords first of four actions or "offensives" was taken in July 1969.  After repeatedly being denied brooms by the sanitation department to clean 110th street, the young lords and the citizens of the El Barrio got together to rid the garbage from their communities.  The first day they built a barricade of garbage across Third Avenue and 110th street, in the following days the barricades had sprung up on 111th and 112th street. Traffic was brought to a stand still with motorists honking and cursing and others just curious to see what all the commotion was about. [19]

The barricade on 110th was the one that had been put ablaze, when the firefighters arrived they were met with bottles, bricks and anything else people could find to hurl at them.  The firefighters immediately retreated and the muscle called in, the NYPD arrived and they quickly sought out the Lords, who were easily distinguishable by their purple berets. The Lords wanted to discuss why they resorted to the barricades, but the Police were not about to hear that and immediately came out swinging. The Lords took off their berets and ducked into the crowd that had formed; the Lords then split up and met a park they planned to go to if the police were to come out non-understanding.  When they all arrived in the park they were surprised to see the amount of young people that followed them wanting to join the Young Lords.  Wherever there was a barricade demonstrations were held and these same demonstrations are where some of the first recruits came from. Finally City Hall had to respond and garbage was picked on a much more frequent basis and El Barrio was looking as good as since any one could remember.[20]

The Lords needed a Platform and the Thirteen point Program and platform was introduced.  Their first point was a general statement that said “ for the liberation of all people".[21]  Other points called for “self determination of all Latino's”, "liberation of all the third world people”, opposition to “capitalists and alliances with traitors” and “the AmeriKKKan military.” The platform also called for a socialist society where the people ran all institutions meant for the good of the public. 

There was also a problem of malnutrition in the ghetto and the Lords recognized something needed to be done. The Lords wanted to run breakfast programs but didn’t have the money to lease a location.  With nowhere t o turn the Lords turned to a Methodist church on 111th street and Lexington Avenue and asked if we could use some space to run a breakfast program.  The church quickly turned them down even though it was open once a week, on Sundays, for about four hours.  The Lords wrote letters, attended services at the church with the congregation, but for some reason the lords kept being turned downs.  Every month the church had a testimonial Sunday where the people of the congregation get to speak, the Lords Deputy Chairman at the time, rose and spoke, immediately police officers hidden in the congregation grabbed Felipe and arrested twelve other members of the Young Lord on bogus charges. During this confrontation many lords and supporters were hurt, with Felipe suffering a broken arm.

The Lords were not done, on 28 June 1969, they returned to the church, seizing it and renaming it the “People’s Church.”  The Lords took the church over for eleven days and turned into a real community center.  From the church the Lords ran breakfast programs, offered education classes, day care centers entertainment, free lead and tuberculosis tests.  On 7 January 1970 the police came to knock down the chained and barricaded doors of the church.  Finally the police were let in and all inside were arrested on the charge of civil contempt. The Young Lords community support grew tremendously Following what had become to be known as the second “offensive”, the “People’s Church offensive.” 

Later that year the Young Lords overwhelming support from the people could be seen with the roar the crowd gave when the Lord passed wearing their purple berets during the Annual Puerto Rican Parade. 

The next target for the young lords was a building that had been condemned in the South Bronx for 25 years.  This building just happened to house Lincoln Hospital, one of the worst community hospitals of that time.  Since the beginning the Young Lord advocated for better health care and better testing of the community for epidemics that plagued the Ghetto.  18 July 1970, a group of about two hundred men and women gathered up from the Young Lords, The Health Revolutionary Unity Movement (HRUM)[22], and the Think Lincoln Committee[23] organized and raided Lincoln hospital with the purpose of handing over control of the hospital to the people. Before raiding the hospital, they had come up with a ten-point health program.[24] The community faced large instances of lead poison, tuberculosis, pneumonia and asthma.  The deplorable living conditions and lack of heat in tenement buildings caused many of the problems faced by the people.  Patients were not getting the care they needed and were kept completely misinformed, or not informed at all, by doctors.

 When they entered the building the first action they took was to hoist a Puerto Rican Flag on the Building and putting up a sign that said, “Bienvenido al hospital del pueblo”-“Welcome to The Peoples hospital.”[25] Once inside they step up stations to run test probing for lead poisoning, iron deficiency anemia, and tuberculosis.  That day hundreds of people from the community gushed through the doors.  After writing hundreds of un answered letters and petitioning the city for better facilities these once docile organizations teamed with the Young Lords finally took charge of their own community hospital setting up the testing they needed and day care center for the needy.   All these programs were set up in a building the hospital was not using.

The Lords had held the hospital for twelve hours and treated in one day as many patients the hospital treated in weeks.  The Young Lords would not leave without airing their demands the city government.  Their demands included door to door health services for preventive care, sanitary control, nutrition, maternal and childcare, drug addiction care[26], a 24- hour a day grievance table, a senior citizen center and last but not least, a weekly minimum wage for the hospital workers.[27]  After a couple of hours the mayor's office broke off negotiations over the demands. By the time police entered the hospital, the Lords had already received a promise from Mayor John Lindsey to construct a new hospital on 149th street.  The third major offensive was successful; the people had gotten some of the changes they wanted.

Now the Lords were going to focus their sights on the prison system of New York that was packed with a large Puerto Rican population.  There were reports as early as the mid Sixties speaking of Puerto Rican Suicides in the tombs.[28]  The reasoning behind the suicides was that Puerto Ricans were unaccustomed to being isolated and tended to commit suicide when away from their tight family structure.

 When Julio Roldan,[29] a Young Lord, was found hanging in his cell, the police said he had supposedly committed suicide.  This was all a great white lie.   At the end of his funeral procession, the people took to the streets again and met up at the people's church.  The fourth offensive had been put in motion, with about two thousand supporters looking on, the Lords began to protest only this time they had taken to arms.   A prison riot broke out in Attica and the jail was taken over by the inmates and the government was without an answer on how to quell the strikes.  The Lords saw this as a perfect time to seek Prison Reform.  The young lords met with the inmates and came out with a set of demands.  The police decided to ignore the demands and raid the complex.  After a violent standoff with inmates that left many dead, the police regained control of the prison. Even though changes did not come immediately, many people became aware with the in humane manner in which inmates were treated.[30] 

The fall of the Young Lords

The downfall of the Young Lords is similar to that of the Black Panthers whom the Puerto Ricans most associated with.  The Lords had internal problems deciding which direction the movement should precede.  The FBI also sent sellouts[31] to infiltrate the Lords and find out their next move.  When the government felt the Lords movement gaining they did anything they could to stop it.

The Young Lords were a short-lived, yet powerful group of young political activists. The Young Lords inspired future organizations and created an ethnocentric pride among Puerto Ricans.  The Young Lords also believed that all institutions in the community should be accountable to the people that they are set up to serve.  The Young Lords also will be remembered for dramatic takeovers of local institutions as a way to draw attention to the neglect of local communities. Writing letters, forming groups talking about gaining freedom and rights did not get the Young Lords what they wanted.  I wish that I could have lived during the 1960's when strong willed groups such as the Black Panthers and Young Lords took the streets in search of changing the ways all minorities were treated by the  "average" American.  The sad part is many of the problems that faced the ghetto back then are still imminent in still too many communities today.

Works Cited




Abramson, Michael. et. al. Palante: Young Lords Party. New York: McGraw-   

       Hill Book Company, 1971.  Museo del Barrio in New York City.  4 May

      2001 http://www.geocities.com/TheTropics/1094/Ylord.html


Cordasco, Francesco, and Eugene Bucchioni.  The Puerto Rican Experience.           

New Jersey: Littlefield, 1973.


Guzman, Pablo Y.  " La Vida Pura: A Lord of the Barrio. "  Village Voice 21   

March 1995: 24-32.


Humphrey, Hubert H.  The Puerto Ricans.  Strangers- Then neighbors.  By

Clarence Senior.  Chicago: Anti-Defamation League, 1961, 1965.


Rodriguez, Clara E.  Puerto Ricans born in the U.S.A.  Mass: Hyman, 1989. 


Sanchez, Virginia E.  From Colonia to Community: The History of Puerto  

Ricans in New York City, 1917-1948.  Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1983.


Yglesias, Jose.  "Right on with the Young Lords."  New York Times 7 June

1970: 32+


"13 Point Program and Platform of the Young Lords Party."  The Sixties

Project.  University of Virginia at Charlottesville.  4 May 2001 http://lists.village.virginia.edu/sixties/HTML_docs/Resources/Primary/Manifestos/Young_Lords_platform.html




[1] Francesco Cordasco and Eugene Bucchioni, eds .The Puerto Rican Experience: A Sociological Sourcebook (Totowa, New Jersey: Rowman and Littlefield, 1973), 242

[2] Juan Ortiz, commonly known as Fi, was the Chief of Staff of the Young lords Party. The New York City Police on charges of kidnapping, armed robbery and assault arrested Ortiz. For a discussion of these events see, Cordasco, The Puerto Rican Experience, 241-242.

[3] This report of Felipe Luciano's statement was recorded in the Young Lords Party's newspaper, Palante. Palante was quoted in Cordasco, The Puerto Rican Experience, 242

[4] The Young Lords Party was a Puerto Rican self-professed " Revolutionary Political Party Fighting for the Liberation of all Oppressed People." In addition, they can be described as a group who sought self-determination for Puerto Ricans living both in Puerto Rico and the United States (commonly referred to in their literature as" the mainland".  See the " Young Lords Party: 13-Point Program and Platform" http://lists.village.virginia.edu/sixties/HTML_docs/Resources/Primary/Manifestos/Young_Lords_platform.html



[5] Cordasco, The Puerto Rican Experience, 188.

6 Sanchez Korrol, Virginia, From Colonia to Community: The History of Puerto Ricans in New York City  (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1983), 29.

[7] Korrol, From Colonia to Community, 31.

[8]  Rodriguez, Clara E., Puerto Ricans: Born in the U.S.A (Winchester, Mass: Unwin Hyman, 1989), 2

[9] Rodriguez, Puerto Ricans: Born in the U.S.,3.

[10] Cordasco, The Puerto Rican Experience, 181.

[11] The introduction of the Airplane after World War II made it easier for migrants to get here and can also help understand how the groves of migrants came to New York.

[12] Http//www.palante.org/

[13] Cordasco, The Puerto Rican Experience, 152.

[14] Most common theory is the word was derived from the phase: "No spik Inglish."

[15] The Young Patriots was a group made up of poor whites with Appalachian roots that was based in Chicago.

[16] Yoruba had just returned from a trip to Mexico that had reconnected him with his Latin roots.

[17] The New York Chapter broke from the Chicago chapter in April 1970 because of a lack of confidence in the way Chicago was organizing the lords.  The New York Young Lords had more formal education as a whole and felt the Chicago chapter was still conducting itself as gang and did not like the way they were heading.

[18]Guzman, Pablo, Village Voice: La Vida Pura: A Lord of the Barrio, March 21,1995 24.

[19] Guzman, Village Voice; La Vida Pura: A Lord of the Barrio

[20] Cordasco, The Puerto Rican Experience, 249.

[21] The Young Lord believed in fighting for the rights of all oppressed peoples, regardless of ethnicity.

[22] HRUM was a citywide group of third world workers seeking better condition for the community.

[23] Organization made up of concerned workers and patients at Lincoln Hospital.


[25] Cordasco, 243

[26] Heroin use was a huge epidemic during the Young Lords Tenure.

[27] Cordasco, 243

[28] This is the underground central booking facility in Manhattan, New York.

[29] Julio Roldan had been arrested for drinking alcohol in public.

[30] Cordasco, The Puerto Rican Experience, 254.

[31] Sellouts were Puerto Ricans who sold out their own people to the Yanquis.