Against the backdrop of America’s escalating urban rebellions in the 1960s, an unexpected cohort of New York radicals unleashed a series of urban guerrilla actions against the city’s racist policies and contempt for the poor. Their dramatic flair, uncompromising vision, and skillful ability to link local problems to international crises riveted the media, alarmed New York’s political class, and challenged nationwide perceptions of civil rights and black power protest. The group called itself the Young Lords.
Utilizing oral histories, archival records, and an enormous cache of police records released only after a decade-long Freedom of Information Law request and subsequent court battle, Johanna Fernández has written the definitive account of the Young Lords, from their roots as a street gang to their rise and fall as a political organization. Led predominantly by poor and working-class Puerto Rican youth, and consciously fashioned after the Black Panther Party, the Young Lords confronted race and class inequality and questioned American foreign policy. Their imaginative, irreverent protests and media conscious tactics won significant reforms and exposed U.S. mainland audiences to the country’s quiet imperial project in Puerto Rico. In riveting style, Fernández demonstrates how the Young Lords redefined the character of protest, the color of politics, and the cadence of popular urban culture in the age of great dreams.
Johanna Fernández is assistant professor of history at Baruch College of the City University of New York and editor of Writing on the Wall: Selected Prison Writings of Mumia Abu-Jamal.