The Fight for Lincoln Park: The Young Lords, the Black Panthers, Concerned Citizens, and the Struggle Against Urban Renewal

Photo courtesy of Richard Vission: Cha Cha, Fred Hampton, Bob Lee, and others march to the Wicker Park welfare office, March 1969.

We recently spent three episodes of our weekly radio show History is Revolting listening to and discussing audio from an interview that Mike conducted with Richard Vission, an organizer and writer who is promoting his new novel, The Foundations of Kindness (scroll to the bottom of this post or click here to listen to the full audio of these three broadcasts). The novel is a fictionalized account of the history he lived through as an organizer fighting alongside the Young Lords, the Black Panthers, and other radical groups, in a struggle against urban renewal in the late 1960s in Lincoln Park, Chicago.

From 1968 to 1970 Richard Vission was an organizer with Concerned Citizens of Lincoln Park, a church based group that was committed to fighting against urban renewal and the displacement of poor and working class people from the Lincoln Park Community Area. In the fall of 1968 Vission met José “Cha Cha” Jimenez and other members of the Young Lords, a Lincoln Park street group that was in the process of transforming into a revolutionary political body. Concerned Citizens and the Young Lords soon joined forces to fight against urban renewal and to fight for the poor and working-class people of Lincoln Park.

We present here a brief narrative that provides background information on urban renewal, Concerned Citizens, the Young Lords, the impact of the Black Panthers on the movement in Lincoln Park, and other topics. We also provide a variety of primary documents that correspond with this discussion. Much of the text in this post has been adapted from Mike‘s MA Thesis, which you can access by clicking here if you want a more complete story with full citations. Click here for all sorts of cool primary documents related to this history.

Listen to Richard Vission talk about how he first began working for Concerned Citizens of Lincoln Park (click SoundCloud link below):

Urban Renewal Reshapes Chicago

Broadly speaking, the term “urban renewal” in the US generally refers to efforts from the 1940s through the 1970s to use public funds to renovate and replace decaying housing stock in urban areas. In Illinois these efforts began after the state legislature passed the Neighborhood Redevelopment Corporations Act in 1941 (amended in 1953). This and subsequent state legislation (e.g. the Blighted Areas Redevelopment Act of 1947, the Relocation Act of 1947, and the Urban Community Conservation Act of 1953) allowed community groups to initiate renewal plans. These laws also expanded the ability of municipalities to seize property under eminent domain rules. City leaders were also able to access federal funds for these projects following the passage of federal urban renewal legislation such as the Housing Acts of 1949 and 1954.

Much of the impetus driving urban renewal projects in Chicago had to do with a desire to replace the dilapidated and decaying housing stock (characterized as “blighted”) found in large parts of the city. Much of this substandard housing existed in densely populated areas in the city’s South and West sides. Urban renewal projects often led to the demolition of entire city blocks. Rows of so-called blighted tenements were replaced by new developments, transforming formerly working-class neighborhoods into upscale commercial, institutional, and residential areas. In essence, urban renewal projects helped shape and maintain housing segregation in Chicago along racial, ethnic, and class lines. Urban renewal was also used in the 1950s and 1960s as a tool by educational institutions—such as the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois at Chicago, DePaul University, the McCormick Theological Seminary, etc.—to shape campus expansion and to control the partial racial integration of areas surrounding their campuses. While urban renewal legislation ostensibly provided assistance for the relocation of displaced poor and working-class people, quality housing remained mostly inaccessible to these populations. This was true even after the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) began to construct large public housing developments. As the city’s Urban League noted, the razing of “blighted” zones only worsened “the already intolerable overcrowding” in Chicago’s Black neighborhoods.

Puerto Rican Displacement from ‘La Madison’ and ‘La Clark’

Among Chicago’s early Puerto Rican neighborhoods were those that emerged in the 1940s and 1950s in parts of the city’s Near West Side and Near North Side. Unofficially known to their Spanish-speaking residents as ‘La Madison‘ and ‘La Clark,’ Puerto Ricans and other ‘Latin’ residents were systematically displaced from these areas in the 1950s and early 1960s. Driven from their homes, large numbers of Puerto Ricans then began resettling further west into Wicker Park and Humboldt Park and north into Lincoln Park, Uptown, and Lakeview.

La Madison was located in the city’s Near West Side community area. The Near West Side as a whole was ethnically diverse at this time, housing large numbers of Puerto Rican, Mexican, Irish, and Italian residents. Yet these populations resided in highly segregated enclaves. José “Cha Cha” Jiménez later remembered that his family would travel from the Puerto Rican Near North Side to the Mexican section of the Near West Side to attend the St. Francis of Assisi Church, one of the first churches in the city to offer Spanish language mass (Jiménez interviewed by Mike, 2014). North of this area, the Puerto Rican La Madison neighborhood stretched west along Madison Street from Halsted Street to Kedzie Street.

Map of Points of Interest, from Mike’s MA Thesis. Map created by Jennifer L. Picard, basemap provided by ESRI Online.

The displacement of Puerto Ricans from La Madison began in the 1950s with the construction and expansion of three federal expressways that converged in the Near West Side. Completed in 1955, the expansion of the Congress Street Expressway (later renamed the Eisenhower Expressway) removed sixteen thousand families from their homes. The North (Kennedy) Expressway opened in 1955, and the South (Dan Ryan) Expressway opened in 1961-62, further adding to the displacement of residents. The construction of a new campus for the University of Illinois at Chicago in the early 1960s also led to the massive removal of Mexicans and Puerto Ricans from the Near West Side. During this time, large numbers of displaced Mexican families moved south into the nearby Pilsen neighborhood in the Lower West Side community area. Meanwhile, the majority of Puerto Rican families moved to either the Near North Side or west into Wicker Park and Humboldt Park. There they joined thousands of new Puerto Rican migrants who were also settling in those areas.

Large numbers of Puerto Ricans began moving to the Near North Side in the late 1940s and early 1950s. While the eastern portion of the area (known as the Gold Coast) contained some of Chicago’s wealthiest residents, Puerto Ricans settled further west near more industrial sections of the Near North Side. There they lived in some of the most dilapidated, crowded, and least expensive housing units in the city. By the mid-1950s, a Puerto Rican neighborhood known as La Clark had developed that spread west several blocks from North Clark Street between West Ohio Street and North Avenue. When Jiménez and his family first arrived in Chicago in 1951, they moved into a run-down hotel that had been converted into a tenement. Known as the Water Hotel, this building was located in the heart of what was becoming La Clark, at the corner of West Superior Street and North La Salle Drive. While they were among the first Puerto Ricans in the building when they arrived, they were soon joined by other migrants from their home village of San Salvador (in Caguas, Puerto Rico).

While city and business leaders first started making plans for the “renewal” of the Near North Side in the 1940s, it was not until the 1950s that large scale redevelopment began. One of the most ambitious renewal projects in the area called for the demolition of four square blocks of tenement buildings (nearly thirty-four acres), north from Division Street to North Avenue, and west from Clark Street to La Salle Street. Thousands of working-class Puerto Ricans, Appalachians, and Blacks were removed from the area to make room for a new middle- to upper-income residential development known as Carl Sandburg Village. This development consisted of thirteen hundred new units (the first of which opened in April 1963) housed in a series of fourteen-story towers, alongside a number of new high-end commercial spaces. Together with other nearby developments, a total of 2,400 luxury apartments were soon erected in the area.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Housing Authority oversaw the expansion of public housing in the Near North Side. Opened in 1958, for example, a massive expansion of the Frances Cabrini housing projects resulted in the construction of fifteen high-rise buildings that contained over nineteen hundred apartments. As well, the William Green Homes opened three years later contained eleven hundred units. Contrasting sharply with the luxury apartments of the Carl Sandburg Village, the overcrowded Cabrini-Green projects (as these facilities became collectively known) suffered from a variety of maintenance problems stemming from shoddy construction. Monse Lucas-Figueroa, whose family moved into Cabrini-Green after being forced from their home by the construction of the Carl Sandburg Village, later described the difficult living conditions they endured there: “It was a very sad thing. They stuck everybody in a hole” (Lilia Fernandez, Brown in the Windy City, 139-144).

Most Puerto Ricans in the area found themselves pushed north or west as their homes were razed block by block. Some families were able to secure spots in public housing developments, yet most were left to find new housing on their own. By 1956, José Jiménez and his family had been forced to relocate a total of nine times. Drifting two or three blocks northward with each move, they eventually made their way into Lincoln Park.

Urban Renewal Comes to Lincoln Park

The first steps toward transforming Lincoln Park were taken in the early 1950s when property owners in the wealthier eastern sections of the area (e.g. Old Town and Mid North) began coordinating renovation efforts through their neighborhood associations. In 1954, members of several Lincoln Park area neighborhood associations joined together to establish the Lincoln Park Conservation Association (LPCA). The LPCA ultimately sought to use state and federal urban renewal funds to remove large tracts of run-down tenement buildings and replace them with moderate- to upper-income housing or commercial space. In the process, poor and working-class people who lived in the area would be forced to leave.

In 1956, the city’s Community Conservation Board—the predecessor of the Department of Urban Renewal (DUR) — designated Lincoln Park as a “conservation area,” and thus eligible for the public funding of large urban renewal projects. As required by state law, the city then created a Conservation Community Council (CCC) with board members appointed by the mayor’s office. While these bodies were in theory designed to facilitate community participation in the crafting and administration of urban renewal projects, anti-urban renewal activists would argue that the Lincoln Park Conservation Community Council (Lincoln Park CCC) represented the interests of developers and wealthier property owners while ignoring the needs of poor and working-class residents. Beginning in 1959, members of the LPCA and Lincoln Park CCC worked together to draft a General Neighborhood Renewal Plan (GNRP) for Lincoln Park. Throughout the 1960s a significant number of LPCA leaders also sat on the board of the Lincoln Park CCC, a fact that activists would point to as deeply problematic.

Cover, Lincoln Park Project 1: Preliminary Proposal, City of Chicago, Department of Urban Renewal, 1964.

By early 1963 a broad framework had been agreed upon and the GNRP was approved by the DUR. The Lincoln Park GNRP called for four stages of urban renewal projects that were to be implemented over a period of ten years. During this time a number of designated “areas of blight” were to be targeted for demolition and redevelopment. Dilapidated tenement buildings housing large numbers of low-income residents were to be torn down and replaced by more modern buildings that would contain much more costly commercial and residential spaces. By the mid-1960s the initial stages of this plan were well underway and its effects were becoming apparent.

“There were some obvious changes that had started to take place in the neighborhood,” Concerned Citizens of Lincoln Park organizer Patricia Devine recounted to Jimenez in an interview conducted in 2012. As she explained, a number of area residents were taken by surprise in the mid-1960s when they began noticing the dramatic effects of urban renewal projects on the social and urban landscapes of their communities. “The eastern part of the neighborhood was growing more and more wealthy,” she recalled, “and many of the people who had lived there before no longer could afford to own their homes.” She also began noticing the demolition of several large tenement buildings on some of the main avenues. At first she was not alarmed, she explained, because “it wasn’t always clear what was happening.”

Artists rendering of proposed look of La Salle Street Drive at Eugenie Street, from Lincoln Park Project 1, 1964.

Devine first learned of the full extent of Lincoln Park’s urban renewal plans in the winter of 1966-67 after becoming involved with a coalition of progressive church groups called the North Side Cooperative Ministry (NSCM). “The pastors of the churches had become very concerned about what was happening,” she remembered. They were bothered by the recent experiences of those who had been displaced from the Near West Side to make room for the construction of a new University of Illinois at Chicago campus. They were also worried that as Lincoln Park became more gentrified, the racially and ethnically diverse working-class residents that lived in the area would be forced to leave. From the perspective of leaders in the NSCM, Devine explained, urban renewal meant “development to the advantage of institutions and the city, and not to the large numbers of people that lived in the city.”

Listen to Richard Vission talk about the impact of urban renewal on Lincoln Park:

A new organization called Concerned Citizens of Lincoln Park was formed in early 1967 to coordinate the efforts of progressive church activists who wanted to influence the shape of future renewal projects in the area. Pat Devine and Richard Vission soon became its principal organizers. To her dismay, Devine found that challenging urban renewal would be much more difficult than she had initially imagined. “It became clear that Concerned Citizens and the churches were a little behind the eight-ball,” she later laughed. “The plan had pretty much already been set by the [LPCA] and the city of Chicago.” To Concerned Citizens activists, she explained, it was clear that the LPCA was “not representing all homeowners…not the working class.” From the perspective of Concerned Citizens activists, she continued, LPCA members were using urban renewal as a way to “upgrade the financial level of the community,” and “not as a way to improve housing for the people living there.”

Artists rendering of proposed look of Willow Street Vista, from Lincoln Park Project 1, 1964.

According to Devine, Concerned Citizens activists hoped to represent “the common people who were not being represented by the [LPCA].” To aid these efforts the group began publishing The Lincoln Park Press, a bilingual monthly newspaper featuring articles written by local community members. Concerned Citizens organizers also mobilized working-class residents to speak out against urban renewal projects. “For each [Lincoln Park CCC] meeting,” Devine recalled, “we would organize residents to attend whose living circumstances were being considered,” especially those whose homes faced imminent demolition. By bringing poor and working-class families into the hearing rooms, Concerned Citizens organizers hoped to confront Lincoln Park CCC board members with the consequences of their plans. They also hoped to push Lincoln Park CCC leaders to consider alternatives. “We were organizing tenants to come and speak for themselves about improving that property rather than demolishing it,” Devine said. “We were not opposed to houses being upgraded…[but] we wanted the neighborhood to be upgraded for the people who lived here.”

Front page from March 1969 issue of The Lincoln Park Press, the newspaper of the Concerned Citizens of Lincoln Park. Click here for a PDF copy of the March 1969 issue of The Lincoln Park Press.

It was in 1968, while organizing tenants for one of these meetings, that Devine and Richard Vission first met members of the Young Lords. “We were making posters out on the sidewalks…out in front of the buildings,” Devine remembered, “and there were these young guys who were hanging at a hot dog stand on the corner…I met a young man named ‘Cha Cha’ Jiménez—he was very sharp, very bright—and he challenged what we were saying.” While curious about the efforts of the Concerned Citizens, Jiménez was cautiously skeptical about working with area residents. Devine remembered saying to him, “people in the buildings want you to help them, but they’re afraid of you. And you’re afraid of them, because as you say, they don’t want you on the corner. You need to join together.”

Listen to Richard Vission talk about when he first met Cha Cha and the Young Lords:

A march to the 18th District police station - SUN-TIMES NEGATIVE COLLECTION
Young Lords march to the 18th district police station carrying placards of their slain comrade Manuel Ramos, who had been shot and killed by an off-duty police officer, May 1969 , Sun-Times Negative Collection

The Young Lords Joins the Fight Against Urban Renewal

By early 1969 the Young Lords street group had transformed into the Young Lords Organization (YLO), a political body modeled after and allied with the Black Panther Party. As much as the group espoused support for the independence of Puerto Rico, on a day to day basis its members were much more immersed in the struggle against urban renewal in Lincoln Park, and the fight for self-determination for Puerto Ricans and other poor and working-class people living in Chicago.

Pat Devine and Richard Vission played an important role in this transformation and the group’s focus on Urban Renewal.

Cha Cha later wrote in the Young Lords newspaper: “I met Pat Devine and later Dick Vision [sic] who were working in the area against Urban Renewal; They seemed to know a lot about it and I wanted to learn as much as I could. They took me to the meetings and gave me books to read, including the Black Panther newspaper… that did it! I had to create an organization of that kind for the Puerto Rican community.”

For Young Lords activists, the struggle against urban renewal personally affected their lives. Having previously been displaced from Puerto Rican neighborhoods such as La Madison and La Clark, many Young Lords members were facing similar experiences in Lincoln Park. Monse Lucas-Figueroa, for example, was a high school student who volunteered at the Young Lords free health clinic. Her family had previously been forced from their home in La Clark by construction of the Carl Sandburg Village. After a brief stay in the Cabrini-Green public housing projects, they settled near North Avenue on the southern edge of Lincoln Park. Urban renewal followed closely behind. “It was everywhere, they were tearing buildings down,” she later remembered. When condos were erected to replace these structures, “[they] were not intended for the people that were living there for years.” Sometimes residents were forced out of apartments that were slated to undergo extensive renovations. Often when the repairs were completed, however, previous tenants were unable to return. As Lucas-Figueroa recalled, “you were paying [so much] for rent, here comes this guy, he renovates your apartment. Now he wants to charge [double]!” (Lilia Fernandez, Brown in the Windy City, 184, 196). José Jiménez’ family had also been displaced from La Clark after having been forced to move a number of times as a result of urban renewal. The family faced similar challenges after having relocated to Lincoln Park. Eugenia Rodriguez, José Jiménez’ mother, later remembered having her rent increased from $140 a month to $300 a month after developers had renovated surrounding buildings.

When Jiménez attended his first Lincoln Park CCC meeting in late 1968—he had been invited by Patricia Devine and Richard Vission—he was shocked by what he saw as a lack of community involvement and representation in the process. “I didn’t see a black face, nor a Puerto Rican face, not even a poor white’s face in the whole meeting for the community who wanted to come and see what was going on,” he later wrote in the Young Lords newspaper. “The decision making board who sat in front of everyone else were all property owners and middle class,” he continued. “I asked why there was no one from the community, and they said it was hard to get anyone to come…I told Dick Vision [sic] and Pat Devine to find out when the next meeting was and I would get some people to come.”

While urban renewal was seen as a threat by many Puerto Ricans in Lincoln Park, Jiménez initially found it difficult to enlist others to join him. He wrote: “It was hard getting people interested. Everybody knew they were being pushed out of the community but they felt they couldn’t do anything about it because they would lose their welfare check, and the youth just wanted to get ‘high.’ I felt almost like giving up but after knowing that my family had been pushed out four times already and they seemed to be getting pushed out again, I continued.”

A march to the 18th District police station - SUN-TIMES NEGATIVE COLLECTION
Young Lords march to the 18th district police station carrying placards of their slain comrade Manuel Ramos, who had been shot and killed by an off-duty police officer, May 1969, Sun-Times Negative Collection. Also notice the flags of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and the Young Patriots Organization.

Despite facing some initial resistance, Jiménez was able to recruit dozens of youth to join him at a mid-January 1969 Lincoln Park CCC meeting. It was at this meeting where Young Lords members mounted their first public protest against urban renewal. As they entered the lobby of the Department of Urban Renewal’s Lincoln Park office, Young Lords activists saw a model display of Lincoln Park featuring mostly empty spaces in their neighborhoods.

Jiménez wrote: “all of us started saying ‘look at my block, there is no building on it.’” After reflecting for a moment about what this meant for their families, the young people entered the meeting. Tensions were running high, and at some point the room exploded.

Jiménez: “We went in and sat down…A priest from DePaul University, who was planning to expand and move more families out and who also sat on the board approached me and said ‘what’s the problem son’ with his hand on my shoulder, ‘Can I help?’ I told him we didn’t come there to ‘pray and talk; ‘You know what the problem is because you’ve been helping to create it by sitting around that table deciding which one of us is going to get pushed out first, so get your motherfucking hands off me and let’s get this meeting started because all we want is our homes.’

“I don’t know what happened to the priest; I won’t mention his name, but they informed us that there wasn’t a quorum of five people, that they needed to begin the meeting. The priest was missing, that’s why! So four of the other guys and myself started sitting around the table and said, ‘there are five people now, let’s get started.’…

“That’s when everything started, chairs flying all over the place, washrooms overflowing with soap and toilet paper all over the commodes and water running down the main hall. The neighborhood display was turned over and broken and all the front windows of the place were gone. No one got arrested, it was too fast. I was arrested later, about a week later.”

Before leaving the meeting, Young Lords activists threatened that the Lincoln Park CCC would not be allowed to meet again until it included greater representation from poor residents.

Listen to Richard Vission discuss his recollections of the mid-January 1969 Lincoln Park CCC meeting:

Concerned Citizens had helped organize actions against the CCC throughout 1968. Richard Vission later remembered that in addition to bringing tenants to speak at CCC meetings, he and Richard Brown (the leader of a local Black housing group) sometimes “simply shouted the board down.” And in doing so they had prevented any new urban renewal plans from being approved during that year.

Yet Devine later credited the Young Lords with infusing much needed energy into the movment. She jokingly recalled that the Young Lords’ January 1969 action at the Department of Urban Renewal office was “something that all the ‘civilized’ people were very surprised at.” She said that “it woke folks up,” and served as a warning that poor and working-class people in Lincoln Park were no longer “going to let somebody else speak for them and plan their lives for them.”

“We had been demonstrating very nicely [up to that point], and everybody acted very proper because the churches were behind the opposition movement,” she remembered. “Now we had these young people, and their whole style of operating was much different than the churches.” While their approach was perhaps abrasive and shocking to some, Devine recalled that most church activists welcomed the participation of the Young Lords.

The actions of the Young Lords also got the attention of city leaders and Lincoln Park CCC board members who scrambled to find a solution to the crisis. One of the principal complaints lodged that night was that the urban renewal planning process lacked adequate representation from poor and minority voices. This problem was exacerbated by the resignation of Felix Silva from the Lincoln Park CCC board. On February 20, 1969, Silva wrote in an open letter (published in the Young Lords newspaper): “Personally, I too feel that there is not adequate representation of the poor in the Lincoln Park Conservation Community Council.” Noting that he was “the only Latin” on a “board of 15 members,” Silva concluded: “I cannot in conscience, be a part of what my people feel to be a conspiracy against them.” At its subsequent meeting (attended by Young Lords members as well as twelve Chicago police officers) the Lincoln Park CCC unanimously passed a resolution asking Mayor Daley to appoint additional members to the board to “give the Council broader ethnic and economic representation.” This resolution pledged that “the Council would not meet again until such appointments were made.”

Felix Silva resignation letter, published in the March 1969 Young Lords newspaper.

The McCormick Takeover

In early 1969 the Young Lords formalized its partnership with the Concerned Citizens by forming the Poor People’s Coalition. The Poor People’s Coalition also included a diverse mix of other organizations, including Black Active and Determined (BAD), which was formed by residents from the Cabrini-Green housing projects; the Latin American Defense Organization (LADO); the Welfare and Working Mothers of Wicker Park, a group that worked extensively with LADO; and the Young Patriots Organization (YPO), consisting of mostly white Appalachian migrant youth living in the Uptown neighborhood. From early 1969 until late 1970, these various groups coordinated many of their anti-urban renewal activities under the banner of the Poor People’s Coalition.

Perhaps the boldest action organized through the Poor People’s Coalition was the takeover and nearly week-long occupation of the main administration building on the McCormick Theological Seminary campus. The occupation began just before midnight on Wednesday, May 14th, 1969, when roughly a dozen activists set out from the Concerned Citizens offices and walked three blocks to the McCormick campus. After forcing entry into the main administration building, they secured the doors shut with bicycle chains and padlocks. Hanging a banner from a second floor landing, they renamed this building after Manuel Ramos, a Young Lords member who had been killed just over a week earlier by an off-duty police officer.

Significant public pressure, along with a threat by the Young Lords to burn down the McCormick library, finally forced McCormick leaders to negotiate a settlement after five days of occupation. In the end the McCormick administrators met almost all of the Poor People’s Coalition’s demands; they pledged nearly $700,000 (and institutional support) for the creation of a low-income housing development, a children’s center, and a Puerto Rican cultural center.

More than four decades later, Jiménez stood before that same building, addressing the spectators gathered at the last stop of a 2013 Lincoln Park historic walking tour. Dimly lit by a streetlamp, he spoke of the support that Poor People’s Coalition activists received from McCormick students and community members. He made particular note of the contributions of women from the community who brought their children to the occupation after hearing rumors that the police planned to raid the facility. “We didn’t ask them to do that,” Jiménez told the crowd, “but it prevented the police from entering the building.” Many of these women, Jiménez explained, stayed for extended periods of time throughout the week to participate in a variety of cultural events hosted inside.

Listen to Cha Cha discuss the McCormick occupation (from a 2013 historical walking tour in Lincoln Park):

The Young Lords reported in the May 1969 issue of their newspaper that the Poor People’s Coalition chose to target McCormick because of its role in instigating and supporting “an urban renewal program in the community which is designed to remove poor people and replace them with middle and upper income residents.” Young Lords activists had said the same thing about other nearby institutions—including DePaul University and the Children’s Memorial Hospital, both of which were larger and more powerful than McCormick and were using urban renewal to expand their campuses. As Devine and Jiménez later explained, the decision to occupy McCormick and not these other institutions was strategic. Poor People’s Coalition activists reasoned that McCormick’s avowed social mission and numerous institutional connections with progressive church communities would make its leaders more susceptible to public pressure (and less likely to use the police). By forcing McCormick to make concessions, Poor People’s Coalition leaders also hoped to set a precedent that would aid them in future campaigns against larger institutions.

Clipping, “McCormick Takeover,” from May 1969 issue of the Young Lords newspaper. Click here for PDF of May 1969 issue.

Listen to Richard Vission discuss the McCormick occupation:

Throughout 1969 and 1970, Young Lords activists employed a number of other tactics (some more confrontational than others) to combat gentrification in Lincoln Park. For example, the Young Lords at times helped evicted residents to find empty apartments, many of which were undergoing renovation. After moving families into an empty apartment, Young Lords members would then inform the building’s landlord about their new tenants. At times the Young Lords would even help pay the first month’s rent. At some point in 1969 Young Lords activists participated in what Jiménez later described as an “organized riot.” According to Jiménez, the group only targeted new businesses identified as playing a role in the efforts to gentrify Lincoln Park. “Everybody picked a window,” Jiménez remembered, “and all the windows were knocked out.” In part the limited scope of these actions was informed by criticisms that had arisen after the Division Street riots. “People were criticizing and saying that we were destroying our own neighborhoods,” he continued, “but we wanted to make sure that we were disciplined, that people knew we were not destroying our own neighborhoods. But we wanted to make a point. We wanted to let them know that we were serious about not letting them move into our neighborhood.” (Jiménez interviewed by Mike, 2014).

Meanwhile, the various organizations involved in the Poor People’s Coalition continued mobilizing residents to attend Lincoln Park CCC meetings. Eventually the location of these meetings was moved to an auditorium in Lincoln Park’s Waller High School. This was done in order to accommodate the growing crowds of community residents that began attending (and at times disrupting) Lincoln Park CCC meetings. Several of these meetings were raucous affairs, which the addition of opposition members to the Lincoln Park CCC board did nothing to quell. A Lincoln Park CCC meeting on July 29, 1969 was particularly rowdy. Attended by some 500 people (including activists from the Young Lords, the Black Panthers, the Young Patriots, Concerned Citizens, the Welfare and Working Mothers of Wicker Park, and other groups), this meeting began with a verbal altercation between protestors and police, and ended in a confusing on-stage fracas. The Lincoln Park Conservation Association (LPCA) newsletter later reported that for over an hour, “the stage and microphone were ‘occupied’ by members of several groups.” Richard Vission, Denny Ankrum, and Richard Brown, a Poor People’s Coalition supporter and newly appointed Lincoln Park CCC board member, were all later arrested. Charged with “mob action and battery,” they were accused of attacking Lincoln park CCC chairman (and LPCA board member) Lyle Mayer, who reportedly had been knocked to the floor during a struggle for control of the microphone.

Video from outside “Waller High School,” featuring Patricia Devine (Devine-Reed) of Concerned Citizens, and Hy Thurman from the Young Patriots Organization, on 2013 Lincoln Park Historical Walking Tour:

Immediately following this meeting, Poor People’s Coalition leaders announced that they were planning to take over Urban Renewal Site 19 in order to create a “People’s Park.” At the time, the soon to be developed Site 19 consisted of an entire block of vacant lots located on the east side of North Halsted Street, between West Armitage Avenue and West Dickens Avenue. This block had previously been the site of several buildings housing large numbers of Puerto Rican residents. By 1969, however, all of these buildings had been demolished to make room for new developments. In early 1969 it was announced that this site would become the location of a new private tennis club (with a rumored $2000 membership fee). The People’s Park emerged on the site in early August 1969 as a protest against the planned tennis club. At first it mostly consisted of a massive tent city. Later, Poor People’s Coaltion activists installed a number of sculptures throughout the park. As Patricia Devine later remembered, “[the sculptures] were actually here for about three years, and then the city came and mowed them all down to build other things.”

During this time Poor People’s Coalition organizers were also moving beyond simply opposing urban renewal projects, and were working to make their own vision of the city a reality. Using funds obtained as a result of the McCormick occupation, the Poor People’s Coalition formed the People’s Cooperative Housing Corporation (PCHC) during the summer of 1969. Designed as a non-profit organization controlled by Poor People’s Coalition leaders, the PCHC soon hired a young architect named Howard Alan to draft plans for a cooperative housing facility for low-income residents. Alan’s plans were submitted to the Lincoln Park CCC in December 1969 as a bid proposal for urban renewal funding.

A seeming victory for the Poor People’s Coalition, the Lincoln Park CCC voted to recommend funding of the PCHC’s cooperative low-income housing plan, choosing it over three other proposals for the same piece of land at a meeting on January 14, 1970. Officials at the city’s Department of Urban Renewal had the final say in approving projects, however, and were unwilling to accede to public pressure, even from the Poor People’s Coalition’s wealthy new benefactors. When the DUR signaled in early February that it would overrule the Lincoln Park CCC’s recommendation, McCormick president Arthur McKay met with Commissioner of Urban Renewal Lewis Hill in an unsuccessful bid to convince him to support the PCHC’s proposal. Despite this appeal, at a chaotic public meeting held on February 11, 1970, the DUR Board of Urban Renewal rejected the PCHC’s cooperative housing proposal in favor of a for-profit development. While this defeat did not the end their movement, it certainly deflated the hopes of Poor People’s Coalition activists. It also portended the continued losses the movement would face. Within a year, the Young Lords would be severely crippled by state repression. Coupled with the continued displacement of working-class people from the area, the movement against urban renewal in Lincoln Park could not survive.

The People’s Church & the Murders of Bruce and Eugenia Johnson

A small crowd gathered near the bustling corner of North Dayton Street and West Armitage Avenue in Chicago’s Lincoln Park community area on September 23, 2013. This was one of the last stops on a historic walking tour organized both to celebrate the forty-fifth anniversary of the founding of the Young Lords Organization (YLO) as a political body, and also to honor the lives and memories of fallen comrades. Dusk set in as the assembled spectators stood before an empty lot where until recently had stood a historic church building. The empty lot was soon to be developed into a Walgreens. Used by a variety of congregations over the years, for a few short years beginning in mid-1969 this facility was known as The People’s Church and served as the heart of the Young Lords movement in Lincoln Park.

The People’s Church (at North Dayton Street and West Armitage Avenue in Lincoln Park, Chicago) before, during, and after 2012 demolition.

Young Lords leader José “Cha Cha” Jiménez stood before the fenced-off lot. His soft-spoken voice amplified by a megaphone, Jiménez recounted the extensive community service work that took place inside the People’s Church. “Most of the buildings all around here had Latinos that lived there, or poor working-class people,” he said, gesturing toward the surrounding neighborhood, “and this was their church, this was their symbol. A lot of churches are dying. That church was very vibrant at that time.”

This had not been the case before the Young Lords took over the site. Faced with a declining membership and lack of operating funds, the Armitage Avenue Methodist Church had for years rented out its basement space to the city government. At this location the city operated an Urban Progress Center, a place for Lincoln Park’s poor and working-class people to obtain food stamps and other forms of public assistance. At some point (likely in 1967) the city government moved this center west into the Humboldt Park area. Jiménez later characterized this move as part of the effort to push Puerto Ricans out of Lincoln Park. “[Puerto Ricans] hadn’t moved yet,” he explained in an interview, laughing, “but [city leaders] thought they’d have to move, because Puerto Ricans would follow the food stamps.” (Jiménez interviewed by Mike, 2014)

The establishment of the People’s Church began in June 1969. However the story begins in early 1969 when Young Lords leaders first approached members of the Armitage Avenue Methodist Church and requested permission to use the facility’s basement space for a number of proposed community service programs. The church housed two small congregations. One group consisted largely of older progressive whites. The other was made up mostly of exiled Cubans who had fled the island in the wake of Castro’s seizure of power in 1959. The Young Lords had already used the church for some of its events, and its members had already gained the support of key church leaders. Yet the group faced significant resistance from members of the Cuban congregation who were opposed to these “communists” taking over the church. Unable to reach an agreement, Young Lords members grew increasingly impatient. On Wednesday, June 11, 1969, a group of Young Lords members decided to take action. Reasoning that the church’s basement space should serve the needs of poor people in the community rather than sit empty, they seized the building. This was done without consulting Jiménez, who was surprised when he learned what had transpired.

In response, Jiménez quickly held a press-conference during which he promised that the church would remain open and religious activities would be allowed to continue unimpaired. He even pledged that Young Lords members would be in attendance during the following Sunday’s worship service. Jiménez also affirmed that the Young Lords would continue to occupy the site, which would henceforth serve as the home for the group’s proposed community programs. The following day the Young Lords began registering children for a free community daycare center.

Some church members (especially among the Cubans) were against the occupation and left the church in opposition shortly afterwards. However, the Young Lords received significant support from key church leaders. Perhaps most important was the backing of the church’s young pastor, Reverend Bruce Johnson, and his wife Eugenia Johnson. Informed of the occupation shortly after it began, police officers were soon dispatched to the church. In an effort to avoid a confrontation (and over the objections of certain church members), Rev. Johnson assured the police that the Young Lords had permission to use the space.

Afterwards, Bruce and Eugenia Johnson worked to educate the congregation about the Young Lords movement. Together with a number of supportive church members, they also helped the Young Lords to develop their community service programs. Operating in the church basement, and modeled after the efforts of the Black Panthers (thus also referred to as “survival programs”), they included a free breakfast for children program, a free community daycare center, and a free community health clinic.

Photograph of Young Lords members inside the People’s Church, ca. 1969-1970.

At some point during the summer of 1969, a Chicana artist named Felícitas Nuñez led a group of artists in painting a number of murals throughout the exterior and interior of the People’s Church. A large image of the island of Puerto Rico, overlaid with a raised rifle clasped in an outstretched hand, carrying the words “Tengo Puerto Rico En Mi Corazón” (Puerto Rico Is In My Heart), stood brightly above one of the church’s entrances. Other murals included a pantheon of revolutionary heroes from throughout Latin America and around the world, such as the Mexican revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata, the Argentine-born Cuban revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara and Puerto Rican nationalist heroes such as Dolores “Lolita” Lebrón, and Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos, among others.

A new symbol—a cross bursting the chains of bondage—was soon displayed inside the church, and a new creed appeared at the church door. It read: “We have a dream. This Church, led by the community, confronting the powers which limit our destiny, keeping rulers responsible, assisting man to claim his destiny and celebrating in worship the birth of that power is our dream of a People’s Church. The Good News of Jesus Christ is that each man is of worth as a special creation of God. And Christ’s resurrection means that there is no power or establishment which can control a man who claims his own dignity. This is your faith & your Church. Claim them both and join us in this dream.”

Tragically, in late September 1969, Reverend Bruce Johnson and Eugenia Johnson were brutally stabbed to death inside of their home in front of their two young children. While the police never solved these crimes, Young Lords leaders suspected that the murders were politically motivated—retribution for support the couple had given to their movement—writing in the Young Lords newspaper shortly afterwards: “these murders show to what vicious lengths the ruling class will go to prevent the growth of our just struggle.”

Clipping from Fall 1969 issue of YLO newspaper: “You Can’t Kill a Revolution,” obituary and tribute to Rev. Bruce Johnson. Click here for a PDF copy of the entire Fall 1969 issue of YLO.

Standing before the remains of the People’s Church in 2013, Reverend Matthew Johnson raised the megaphone to his face as organizers of the historical walking tour passed out candles. He began by testifying to the character and conviction of his slain friends Reverend Bruce Johnson and Eugenia Johnson, who had supported the Young Lords’ efforts in the People’s Church: “When he met you, he’d look you in the eye and he’d say, ‘where you do place yourself in the world?’ Now, he placed himself with the poor and the oppressed, because he was convinced that God had a preference for the poor and the oppressed.”

“The day that Bruce and Genie’s bodies were found,” Matthew Johnson continued, “he was supposed to be down at the Daley Center at court, on some of the charges that were being made against the health care center and daycare center.” City building inspectors had earlier visited the People’s Church facilities and inspected the basement space that housed its community daycare program. Church leaders were threatened with fines and ordered to complete major renovations to bring the space up to code. The Young Lords responded in its newspaper, writing: “We were violations to the system the day we were born. The idea of poor people running and benefiting by their own day care center is a violation of city purpose and policy.” A year later the city Board of Health attempted to shut down the Young Lords’ free community health clinic, which also operated out of the People’s Church. Young Lords Minister of Health Alberto Chavira charged in the group’s newspaper: “This attempt to close down our health program is another example of how the fascist Daley machine responds to any program which truly serves and educates the people.”

Listen to audio from the People’s Church stop on the 2013 Lincoln Park Historical Walking Tour (featuring Rev. Matthew Johnson and José Jiménez of the YLO, among others):

Listen to Richard Vission discuss the murders of Bruce and Eugenia Johnson:

The unsolved murders of Bruce and Eugenia Johnson, which occurred in September 1969, devastated church members and Young Lords activists. Yet Young Lords members and their supporters continued their work both inside and outside of the church. They faced another crisis at the end of the next year, however, when Jiménez and a number of Young Lords leaders went “underground” to avoid continued police repression. Jiménez was certainly no stranger to police harassment. Yet by late 1970 he was facing an extended prison sentence that had resulted from charges that he had stolen lumber from a Lincoln Park urban renewal site–Young Lords activists had hoped to use this lumber to complete renovations to the church basement that had been ordered by the city. Over the next two years, Jiménez was joined by a number of other Young Lords leaders in clandestine training on a farm near Tomah, Wisconsin. Those leaders who remained in Lincoln Park soon found that they lacked the resources to effectively mobilize the movement’s dwindling base.

By early 1971 the Young Lords movement was no longer a force in Lincoln Park, in large part because key leaders had left the city. Nevertheless, a number of activists involved with the Young Lords and the People’s Church’s continued their service. “The daycare center continued for a while, the pantry continued for a while, and the feedings continued for a while,” Matthew Johnson explained on the 2013 walking tour. The displacement of poor and working-class residents in Lincoln Park also continued, undermining the need for these programs in Lincoln Park.

Johnson concluded: “The covenant that the cadre [People’s Church activists] had made with the Young Lords was to try to hold the church open and available for as long as possible. And they hung in there for four years. Early in 1973, they concluded that someday there will be a People’s Church, somewhere, but it wasn’t going to happen on this corner. And so they decided to sell the building… and they decided that it was time to die.”

The Impact of the Black Panther Party on the Development of the Young Lords Organization

Jiménez and other Young Lords leaders were deeply impacted by the rise of Black Power politics in the late 1960s. The work of the Black Panther was particularly influential, and the organization became a model for the Young Lords as it developed into a political group. Jiménez and other Young Lords leaders considered the Black Panthers to be the “vanguard party” in a growing US revolutionary movement. Accordingly, the Young lords adopted the Black Panther Party’s ideology, rhetoric, organizational structure, and community service programs. Doing so brought state repression, eventually driving the Young Lords underground.

The Black freedom struggle had impacted Young Lords leaders even before the group became political. Jiménez, for example, had begun to feel more drawn to the Black liberation movement while in the Cook County House of Corrections in the spring of 1968. While Jiménez sat isolated in a cell on April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. Jiménez later remembered watching and reflecting upon the injustice as large numbers of young Black men streamed by his cell, presumably arrested during the subsequent riots. Thanks to a jail trustee who was a Black Muslim, Jiménez soon began to read the words of King, Malcolm X, and other Black activists during his sixty-day sentence.

After his release from jail in the summer of 1968, Jiménez enrolled in an ex-offenders program at Argonne National Laboratories, where he secured a job as a janitor and participated in General Educational Development (GED) classes. Located roughly twenty-five miles southwest of Chicago, this research facility was operated by the University of Chicago for the US Department of Energy. Principally run by a civil rights activist named Mike Lawson— an experienced teacher who had marched in Selma and participated in the CFM— Argonne’s ex-offenders program had already worked with young people from a number of gangs, including the Disciples, the Black P. Stone Nation, and the Young Lords. In late August 1968, Lawson brought Jiménez and others in the program on a “field trip” to observe demonstrations against the Democratic National Convention. His curiosity piqued, Jiménez returned again over the following days, during which time he would first encounter national Black Panther Chairman Bobby Seale.

Jiménez listened as national Black Panther Chairman Bobby Seale urged the crowd to defend themselves against the “pigs.” Meanwhile, police gathered on the outskirts of the park. Wanting to avoid returning to jail, Jiménez decided to make a hasty exit.

“So as I try to walk away,” Jiménez later remembered, “these police from the eighteenth district recognized me. You know they had been busting me all my life.” Instead of harassing Jiménez, however, they greeted him by his nickname. “Cha Cha! How you doing Cha Cha?” the officers asked, as if they were old friends. “I’m doing fine,” he nervously responded, “I’m just trying to get out of here.” (Jiménez interviewed by Mike, 2014).

Later that evening, after the police began to enforce the park’s eleven p.m. curfew, police officers attacked and beat protesters, chasing many of them into the adjacent Old Town neighborhood.

Jiménez began communicating with national Black Panther leaders in the fall of 1968, and early on conceived of the Young Lords as modeled after the Black Panthers. Yet before early 1969 he had not been in contact with Chicago area Black Panthers. The two groups finally came together in February 1969, largely as a result of a massive protest the Young Lords had staged at the eighteenth District Police Station. Among the people that had showed up to the scheduled police-community workshop that evening were dozens of Young Lords members donning purple berets and carrying signs. The Young Lords had arrived together in a school bus that was owned by one of Jiménez’ neighbors. Their signs, which they taped to the walls behind them as they lined the back of the auditorium, contained messages such as “Hands Off Cha Cha,” “Young Lords Serve and Protect,” “City Law Does Not Permit Pigs on Streets,” “Power by the People and for the People,” “Pigs Need Sports Centers to Keep Them Off the Streets and End the Violence,” and “Viva Young Lords.” They had come to protest the harassment of Young Lords leaders by local police. They also hoped to counteract rumors (which they believed the police had been spreading) that the Young Lords was still a gang and posed a threat to area senior citizens. Jiménez later remembered grabbing the microphone at one point and explaining that the Young Lords was not a threat and was there to help the community.

Clipping from front page of the March 1969 issue of YLO, the Young Lords newspaper. Click here for PDF of March 1969 YLO newspaper.

Hampton was impressed by what he heard about this demonstration, and so he and a few other Panthers went to Lincoln Park one evening looking for Young Lords leaders. He was initially directed to try the street corner in front of the Armitage Avenue Methodist Church (later to become the People’s Church). This was a known hangout of the Young Lords since its days as a gang. There Hampton encountered several members of the Young Lords along with members of the Latin Kings (arguably the city’s largest “Latin” gang at the time), who took him and the other Panthers to a nearby apartment where Jiménez and other Young Lords leaders were gathered. Jiménez later remembered that after a brief discussion about Puerto Rico, everyone settled down for a nice evening of conversation, laughter, and relaxation. Jiménez recalled: “It was an evening of camaraderie building and fellowship.”

The Young Lords and the Illinois Black Panthers began to work together after that initial meeting. In addition to holding political education classes together, Jiménez later remembered that the Young Lords often acted as security for Black Panther events, and that Black Panther members did the same for Young Lords events. During this time Young Lords leaders also took direction from local and national Black Panther leaders. As Jiménez explained in an interview published in the June 7, 1969, issue of The Black Panther newspaper, “we see and we recognize the Black Panther Party as a vanguard party, a vanguard revolutionary party. And we feel that as revolutionaries we should follow the vanguard party.” For Jiménez and other Young Lords members, the Black Panther Party ideology affirmed their revolutionary potential as “lumpen” street youth and as colonized people. For Black Panther leaders, the Young Lords represented evidence of the validity of their analysis and the explosive potential of their methods. Drawing its members and leaders from what they identified as a colonized urban lumpenproletariat class, the Young Lords represented a manifestation among Puerto Ricans of the Black Panther Party’s vision for Black street youth.

Clipping from June 7, 1969 The Black Panther newspaper, featuring interview with José “Cha Cha” Jimenez.

The Rainbow Coalition

As Fred Hampton and other Black Panther members grew closer with the Young Lords in early 1969, a Panther field marshal named Robert “Bob” E. Lee began surreptitiously working with a group of white Appalachian migrant youth in Chicago’s Uptown area. They were members of the Young Patriots Organization, a group that grew out of the earlier community organizing efforts of activists participating in a Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) sponsored project called Jobs or Income Now (JOIN). In the mid-1960s, JOIN activists engaged in anti-racist agitation among Uptown’s poor white communities. They also organized a welfare union to fight for welfare rights, and provided direct services for Uptown’s poor and working-class residents. The Young Patriots was founded by a small group of poor whites that included former JOIN members Doug Youngblood and Junebug Boykin. It grew to include a number of southern born whites, such as Hy Thurman and Andy Keniston, among others. Despite the Confederate battle flag patches sewn on their jean jackets and berets (an act that leaders later publicly regretted), Young Patriots members proclaimed themselves to stand against racism. After several meetings with the Young Patriots, Bob Lee reported his activities to Fred Hampton.

Hampton supported an alliance with the Young Patriots, but there was some resistance from a number of other Black Panther members. Understandably, several Panthers questioned the Young Patriots’ use of the Confederate battle flag and they wondered what joining forces with these self-proclaimed “hillbillies” really meant for their movement. Young Lords members also debated the idea of allying with the Young Patriots at length before they decided to move forward with a partnership. Despite some trepidation among the rank-and-file members, in early June 1969, the Illinois Black Panthers, the Young Lords, and the Young Patriots announced the formal creation of an alliance between their groups known as the Rainbow Coalition (a term coined by Hampton). The formation of the Rainbow Coalition did lead to some internal dissent within each group, with several Black Panther members quitting their organization in protest. Lee later dismissed these critics: “Some didn’t like the Patriots; some just didn’t like white people in general. To tell the truth, it was a necessary purging” (Sonne and Tracy, Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Power, 80).

Despite early misgivings, the Rainbow Coalition can generally be considered a success. As a result of this alliance, poor and working-class white, Black, and Latin youth came together for marches, direct action protests, community survival programs, and political education classes. Members of each group also provided security for each other’s events. The Rainbow Coalition also had a profound impact beyond the material support it provided for poor and working-class people in Chicago, as it demonstrated the revolutionary potential of cross-racial working-class alliances. In the words of Bob Lee, “the Rainbow Coalition was just a code word for class struggle” (Sonne and Tracy, Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Power, 80).

Clipping from June 7, 1969 The Black Panther newspaper, featuring image of press conference announcing the formation of the Rainbow Coalition.

Repression Against the Black Panthers and the Young Lords

The Young Lords was not the only Chicago street group to embrace political and community organizing in the 1960s. Inspired by local Civil Rights activism and an ascendant Black Power movement, a number of the city’s Black gangs (e.g. Disciples, Vice Lords, and Black P. Stone Nation) began engaging in protest activities in the mid-1960s. They also worked with charitable foundations to establish community service and jobs training programs. After the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party was founded in 1968, its leaders sought to coordinate with these street groups. City leaders, however, perceived the organizing of these groups as a threat to Mayor Richard J. Daley’s local Democratic Party machine. In 1969 Daley launched a so-called “war on gangs” to disrupt and undermine the work of these various organizations. In conjunction with secret FBI COINTELPRO operations, local police repression severely hampered the work of the Black Panthers and Black street groups in Chicago. The Young Lords also became a target in the city’s so-called war on gangs and the group’s leaders faced ongoing police harassment. This state repression helped drive the Young Lords underground in late 1970.

On May 9, 1969, Mayor Daley and State’s Attorney Edward Hanrahan officially declared a “war on gangs,” despite the fact that rates of gang violence had dropped to their lowest point in years and meaningful peace had been established between the city’s largest Black and Latin street groups. Hanrahan argued that the war on gangs was a necessary response to the continued “intimidation” and “extortion” practiced by the city’s gangs. Critics have suggested that the war on gangs was really an effort to put a stop to independent political and community organizing activities among Black and Latinx communities in Chicago. Perhaps the civic engagement of these street groups was perceived by city leaders as a threat to the Daley political machine. Daley likely recalled his own days as a member of the Hamburg Athletic Club, a group of young Irish-Americans on Chicago’s South Side that Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Royko wryly described as “handy with a brick.” Like other groups that moved from street brawls to politics—including most prominently the Irish-based Ragen’s Colts—Daley’s gang eventually became an integral part of the Democratic Party machine (even launching his own political career in the 1920s). Royko summed up Daley’s possible analysis in his classic unauthorized biography of the mayor: “There lay the danger of the black gangs. Blacks had been killing each other for years without inspiring any great concern in City Hall. But these young toughs could be dictating who their aldermen would be if he didn’t stop them. And the Black Panthers, a more sophisticated though smaller group, was even more dangerous. They had set up a free-food program in the ghetto and had opened a health clinic that was superior to those of his own health department.”

The Mayor’s office applied substantial pressure to the charitable foundations that supported groups such as the Vice Lords and the P. Stones, forcing most of them to cancel the funding of community projects already in operation. Through its Gang Intelligence Unit (GIU), the Chicago police also stepped up its harassment of street groups as well as the Panthers and the Young Lords, engaging in countless arrests. The mounting legal costs and time spent in jail drained resources from and undermined leadership within these groups. In the fall of 1969, Vice Lords leader Bobby Gore and P. Stone spokesperson Leonard Sengali were arrested and indicted on murder charges. While Sengali was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing, Gore ended up serving eleven years in prison based on spurious evidence for a crime he maintained he did not commit.

All of these actions severely undermined the effectiveness of grassroots Black and Latinx political and community organizing efforts in Chicago’s poorest areas. Predictably, with access to quality jobs and political power firmly established as off-limits, most of these groups reverted to gang activities. As one Vice Lords member later said, “Once Bobby went down, guys didn’t have jobs…and there was money to be made selling drugs.” The P. Stones also reverted back to gang activities as the group’s community programs were shut down and drugs flooded into the city’s South Side ghettos in the 1970s.

The Illinois Black Panthers also came under heavy fire in the War on Gangs. In addition to being targeted by Hanrahan’s GIU, the Panthers faced ongoing harassment from both the FBI and the city’s Red Squad (an anti-subversive police unit that had its roots in the famed 1886 Haymarket affair). The harassment culminated in a deadly early morning raid on December 4, 1969, when Chicago police (accompanied by GIU officers and materially aided by an undercover FBI agent) murdered Illinois Black Panther chairman Fred Hampton and Mark Clark as they slept in their apartment. Though the Illinois Panthers had suffered a devastating blow, it continued organizing. Fallout from the raid would eventually damage Hanrahan’s political career and cost the city millions in legal settlements. Yet no officers or public officials were ever charged for the murders.

Clipping from January 1970 issue of YLO newspaper: “I Came Down From the Mountain to the Valley…,” obituary and tribute to Fred Hampton. Click here for a PDF copy of the January 1970 issue of YLO.

Listen to Richard Vission discuss the assassination of Fred Hampton:

Like the Illinois Black Panthers and Chicago’s Black gangs, the Young Lords also suffered from severe state repression. Jiménez later described getting arrested as “a way of life.” In addition to almost daily harassment from the police, Young Lords leaders were under constant surveillance. Jiménez later recalled that police officers sat in cars parked twenty four hours a day in front of the People’s Church. “I mean they would change shifts there in front of our church,” he laughed in an interview.

On the morning of December 4, 1969, at nearly the same time that Chicago police were executing Fred Hampton in his West Side apartment, an attempt was made to firebomb the People’s Church in Lincoln Park. The Young Lords newspaper reported that, “This racist attempt against the Puerto Rican community failed nevertheless because some brothers that were passing by saw the flames near the rear entrance and quickly put them out.” Jiménez also later characterized the influx of heroin and other drugs into Lincoln Park in the late 1960s and early 1970s as a form of repression against the Young Lords movement. “There was substance abuse just starting,” he remembered, “but the police were arresting people. And all of a sudden when the Young Lords became political, they stopped arresting them. They wanted the drugs to be in the neighborhood…They flooded it, and there was an open air drug market in the next block. And so that affected our work.” (Jiménez interviewed by Mike, 2014).

With drugs pervading the neighborhood, Jiménez facing an extended jail sentence, and Puerto Ricans continuing to be displaced from Lincoln Park, several Young Lords leaders decided to take the organization “underground” in late 1970. Spending most of the next two years on a farm near Tomah, Wisconsin, a small group of young revolutionaries lived on the farm and engaged in daily training and study. “Basically, from early in the morning until late at night they studied,” Jiménez later remembered of the training school’s participants. As they worked to sharpen their analysis, they also remained in contact with the Black Panthers, which had begun a process of retrenchment under a Maoist influenced concept of consolidating and building a revolutionary base in the Bay Area.

In late 1972 Young Lords leaders made the decision to come out of hiding and resume above ground organizing. “It was decided that I would turn myself in,” Jiménez remembered, “and they would use that as a way to build the organization.” While Jiménez served nine months in jail, the Young Lords began the process of building a new base among Puerto Ricans in Chicago’s Lakeview and Uptown areas. It was towards that end that Jiménez twice ran as a candidate for alderman in Chicago, while Black Panther Chairman Bobby Seale simultaneously ran for mayor of Oakland.

Listen to three episodes of History is Revolting, featuring Richard Vission:

1 Response

  1. December 25, 2020

    […] of our weekly radio show History is Revolting, we discussed the events of August 23, 1969, when the Young Lords attempted to hold an “open house” and street festival at the People’s Church, […]

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