Young Lords

The Young Lords in New York


Young Lords

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“¡Basta ya!”—”Enough!” was the feeling of Young Lords member Mickey Melendez and other East Harlem activists.

It was the summer of 1969, and the group had blocked traffic on 110th Street with piles of garbage to protest inadequate sanitation services. They had already asked the city for brooms to clean their neighborhood’s streets and, when refused, they went ahead and took them.

The “garbage offensive” was the first campaign of the city’s Young Lords Organization, a radical “sixties” group led by Puerto Rican youth, African Americans, and Latinx New Yorkers. New York’s Young Lords, although originally part of a national organization, reflected the lived experiences of Puerto Ricans in New York City. The group mounted eye-catching direct action campaigns against inequality and poverty in East Harlem, the South Bronx, and elsewhere.

Many of their campaigns emphasized the need for increased health resources for Puerto Ricans, African Americans, and other communities of color in New York. These campaigns called for improved sanitation services, lead paint detection, free breakfasts for children, testing for tuberculosis, and safe reproductive rights for women. One of the largest campaigns targeted Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx, long known for its decrepit building and inadequate care.

They also called for revolutionary changes to U.S. society and national independence for Puerto Rico—through any means necessary. The Young Lords changed their name and emphasis in 1972, after grappling with internal differences and government surveillance. But in three short years, they had equipped their members with lifelong organizing and media skills and achieved lasting victories in health and education in New York and beyond.

Key Events

Global Year    Local
U.S. forces invade Puerto Rico as part of the Spanish American War; Puerto Rico becomes a United States territory in 1900 1898  
30 years after the Jones-Shafroth Act gives partial U.S. citizenship to Puerto Ricans born after 1898, Operation Bootstrap propels mass migration from Puerto Rico to the mainland, largely to New York 1947  
Young Lords Organization starts in Chicago; later allies with the Black Panther Party and others to form the Rainbow Coalition 1968  
  1969 The New York branch of the Young Lords Organization is founded; garbage initiative and other campaigns are launched
  1970 Young Lords and others occupy Lincoln Hospital; separate from Chicago branch and become the Young Lords Party
Young Lords Party opens a branch in Puerto Rico, which lasts about a year 1971  
  1972 Young Lords Party in New York ceases operations, becomes Puerto Rican Revolutionary Worker’s Organization
  1976 Puerto Rican Revolutionary Worker’s Organization ceases to exist; a new Lincoln Hospital opens in the Bronx
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