CHM curator of civic engagement and social justice Elena Gonzales writes about when the the Young Lords Organization took a stand in Chicago for community self-determination.
At the Chicago History Museum (CHM), the history of multiethnic, multiracial collaboration to stand up against white supremacy and colonialism surrounds us. CHM is located in beautiful, wealthy Lincoln Park. Today, the area is synonymous with affluence and whiteness. No signs remain that the neighborhood was, as recently as the 1960s, predominantly Puerto Rican and Mexican and the location of the Young Lords Organization’s (YLO) strongest stand in Chicago for community self-determination.
This work, as Dr. Jacqueline Lazú discussed in the essential “The Chicago Young Lords: (Re)Constructing Knowledge and Revolution” for Centro Journal (2013), lay the groundwork for the Rainbow Coalition, launched Puerto Ricans into the Civil Rights Movement (setting the stage for the YLO, later Young Lords Party, in New York), and forged a longstanding connection between Chicago and the movement for Puerto Rican independence. (Since 1898, when the US invaded the island nation, Puerto Rico has been a US territory, not a state or an independent country. Essentially, Puerto Rico is a colony of the US. Puerto Ricans are taxed but not able to vote and not represented by voting members of congress.)
Fred Hampton of the Black Panther Party, Michael Klonsky of the Revolutionary Youth Movement II, Cha Cha Jiménez of the Young Lords, and others at a press conference at Armitage Avenue and Halsted Street to announce plans for a peaceful march to oppose the Vietnam War and honor Albizu Campos, Chicago, October 1969. ST-17112848-0007, Chicago Sun-Times collection, CHM
José “Cha Cha” Jiménez (above, seated, second from right) reinvented the YLO from its roots as a street gang that protected local youth to a community support organization in 1968. Fred Hampton (above, seated at left) and Bobby Rush founded the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party that same year, and their work—among that of other revolutionaries—inspired Jiménez and the YLO. The murder of YLO member Manuel Ramos by a Chicago police officer in May 1969 galvanized the YLO to engage in several highly visible and historically significant campaigns.
The majority of Chicagoans are people of color. Yet neighborhoods of color are still dramatically underserved in this segregated city. Black and brown populations in Chicago still regularly experience outsized policing and surveillance, race-based violence and hate speech, and discrimination in housing, all of which the YLO and its political descendants—locally and nationally—have fought against since 1968. The image of a diverse coalition protesting the murder of Ramos, an unarmed man of color, by police feels disturbingly relevant today.
The Young Lords, Black Panthers, Young Patriots, and Students for a Democratic Society march along West Armitage Avenue to protest murder of Manuel Ramos, Chicago, May 13, 1969. ST-70004759-0018-E1, Chicago Sun-Times collection, CHM
Just 11 days after the murder, YLO occupied the McCormick Theological Seminary, now the DePaul School of Music, for a week, gaining pledges of action from local leaders. A memorial plaque will be added in 2024 to mark the event on campus—an important step toward revealing the history of resistance that has hidden in plain sight in the neighborhood for decades.
José “Cha Cha” Jiménez and other members of the Young Lords occupying the Armitage Avenue Methodist Church, 834 W. Armitage Ave., Chicago, June 1969. ST-40001941-0023, Chicago Sun-Times collection, CHM
In July 1969, YLO also began a year-long occupation of the Armitage Avenue Methodist Church with the support of Pastor Rev. Bruce Johnson. At the church, YLO opened a childcare and healthcare center and hosted community events, such as a Halloween celebration and a block party. As Lazú notes in her article, Rev. Johnson and his wife, Eugenia, were murdered three months later.
Young Lordettes and children at the YLO-run free childcare center inside Armitage Methodist Church, June 12, 1969. ST-40001943-0006, Chicago Sun-Times collection, CHM
Broadcaster Studs Terkel recorded Jiménez and neighbors live at one block party (among many Black and brown community events) that Chicago Police ended. The two-part recording was presented as Fiesta: A Chicago Happening.
Police confront Young Lords members as they attempt to hold a Puerto Rican heritage festival without a permit, Chicago, August 23, 1969. Studs Terkel can be seen recording the exchange. ST-40001976-0092, Chicago Sun-Times collection, CHM
Author and broadcaster Studs Terkel autographs copies of Division Street: America, January 20, 1967. The book traces changes in the US over the past few decades through personal interviews with Chicagoans. ST-10000401-0004, Chicago Sun-Times collection, CHM
Recently, there has been increased interest in the history of the YLO in Chicago. More local history can be seen in the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Entre Horizontes: Art and Activism Between Chicago and Puerto Rico. YLO also collaborated with Professor Lazú at DePaul (advisor on Aquí en Chicago at CHM), to develop DePaul’s Young Lords Collection and as well as on her two forthcoming books.
Melanie Ann Apel in association with the Chicago Historical Society, Lincoln Park, Chicago. Dover, NH: Arcadia Publishing, 2002.
Brett Chase, “City Official Lays out Stark Disparities between Lincoln Park, Southeast Side Where Scrap-Metal Shredder Wants to Open,” Chicago Sun-Times, November 4, 2021.
Chicago History Museum, “It Was a Rebellion: Chicago’s Puerto Rican Community in 1966,” Google Arts & Culture.
Sarah Coffman, “The Young Lords and the Black Panther Party,” Digital Chicago.
Freedom Archives, “The Story of Manuel Ramos.” Accessed July 14, 2023.
Daniel Kay Hertz, The Battle of Lincoln Park: Urban Renewal and Gentrification in Chicago. Cleveland, Ohio: Belt Publishing, 2018.
Jacqueline Lazú, “The Chicago Young Lords: (Re)Constructing Knowledge and Revolution,” Centro Journal, vol. 25, no. 2, fall 2013.
The WFMT Studs Terkel Radio Archive. “Studs Terkel Comments and Presents Fiesta: A Chicago Happening ; Part 1.” Accessed May 24, 2021.
The WFMT Studs Terkel Radio Archive. “Studs Terkel Comments and Presents Fiesta: A Chicago Happening ; Part 2.” Accessed May 24, 2021.
Dani Thurber, “Research Guides: A Latinx Resource Guide: Civil Rights Cases and Events in the United States: 1968: The Young Lord’s Organization/Party.” Research guide. Accessed June 9, 2023.
Robert Waddell, “Puerto Rican Days,” Chicago Reader, July 11, 2002.