We Joined Others Who Were Poor: the Young Lords, the Black Freedom Struggle, and the “Original” Rainbow Coalition

Abstract

This article examines the role that the modern Civil Rights and Black Power Movements played in shaping Puerto Rican organizing in the U.S., namely the evolution of the Young Lords of Chicago and the creation of the “Original” Rainbow Coalition.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Multiple sources illustrate this. Gina Pérez cites a 1940s study by Elena Padilla that illustrated the problems and abuses of domésticas in Chicago. The island newspaper El Mundo referenced this study in a subsequent article.

  2. 2.

    I use the term “ethnic Mexican” following the lead of Maricela Chávez whose definition “follow[s] historian David G. Gutiérrez’s usage, [in reference] to those of Mexican ancestry or heritage and who live in the United States regardless of citizenship, generation, or immigrant status.” See: Marisela Rodríguez Chávez, “Despierten hermanas y hermanos!:women, the Chicano movement, and Chicana feminisms in California, 1966-1981,” (PhD diss., Stanford University, 2004) 20. I use the terms Mexican, Mexican-American, or Chicana/o, in cases where a historical document uses the terms or an individual self-identifies as such.

  3. 3.

    These relations were not always positive. Initially there were tensions between Appalachian youth and Puerto Ricans. However, the late 1960s heralded cooperative efforts between them, as illustrated later in this article.

  4. 4.

    A young Richard J. Daley was a member of the Hamburgs, a gang implicated in the violence of a 1919 riot that lasted three days, claimed the lives of 38, and injured 537. The Commission tasked with investigating the riot found that most of those killed, injured and jailed were Black. The Commission further stated that the white gangs, often identified as athletic clubs, were the perpetrators of the violence. Additional twentieth century European gangs in Chicago included the Aylwards, Our Flag, Standard, Polish Black Spots, and the Westsiders.

  5. 5.

    This refers to the influence of, and the dissemination of, information by civil rights groups and leaders of the Black Power Movement. At the university level, Black Studies and Afro American Studies preceded the creation of Puerto Rican Studies courses or programs. For many urban youth, Black history and Black poets and writers often became the gateway to learning Puerto Rican history. This is illustrated by the experiences of Cha Cha Jiménez as well as other Young Lords.

  6. 6.

    The headline of a YLO newspaper article helps illustrate this point. It reads: “Malcolm Spoke for Puerto Ricans.” This statement resonated with many YLO members in different branches.

  7. 7.

    Older organizations such as CORE and the NAACP should also be recognized. The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) was established in 1942 as a “direct action,” multi-racial organization that organized boycotts, sit-ins, and an early “Freedom Ride,” prior to the 1950s. The NAACP led the charge in confronting discrimination in the courts.

  8. 8.

    Affiliation here used within the context of attending meetings, participating in SNCC actions, or being a member. Personal conversations with named individuals c. 1970.

  9. 9.

    Several Washington Post articles between 1940 and 1942 also noted the Nationalist Party’s position on the draft and reported the jailing of Nationalists who refused to serve.

  10. 10.

    Although there were much earlier precedents to the use of posters and imagery promoting political causes, the Cuban art of the mid 1960s and 1970s were a major influence in the proliferation of political messages by grassroots organizations in the US and Puerto Rico. Note the use of posters and printed broadsides in the United States during the American Revolution and the production of European, American, and Cuban lithographs during the mid to late nineteenth century. The prints and posters of José Guadalupe Posada chronicled early twentieth century Mexican politics, and served as purveyors of news and revolutionary fervor during the era of the Mexican Revolution.

  11. 11.

    Photographer Carlos Flores captured many of the existing images of the Young Lords during their gang days in Chicago. From his collection we are able to witness the social aspect of the gang. Rather than male-centered imagery, the portraits that Flores presents showcase the young men and women of a community setting. Without identifying them as members of the gang, it would be difficult to deduce that they were gang members from these portraits.

  12. 12.

    The Church of Three Crosses appears in multiple sources as one of the churches that provided a space for community engagement and discussion.

  13. 13.

    José Cha Cha Jiménez, Pat Devine, and DePaul University provided interviews and materials for the making of this documentary, “The Garden Walk of Protest.” Two sources give a different date for the Johnsons’ deaths. Williams says September 28, 1969, was the date of death, while the documentary reports it as September 30, 1969.

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Correspondence to Martha M. Arguello.

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Arguello, M.M. We Joined Others Who Were Poor: the Young Lords, the Black Freedom Struggle, and the “Original” Rainbow Coalition. J Afr Am St 23, 435–454 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12111-019-09453-7

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Keywords

  • Young Lords Organization
  • “Original” Rainbow Coalition
  • Puerto Rican
  • Black Power
  • Chicago and Urban Removal