The Young Lords

A Radical History

By Johanna Fernández

480 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 34 halftones, notes, index

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-5344-0
    Published: February 2020
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-5345-7
    Published: December 2019

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Awards & distinctions

2021 Frederick Jackson Turner Award, Organization of American Historians

2021 Merle Curti Social History Award, Organization of American Historians

2021 Liberty Legacy Foundation Award, Organization of American Historians

2020 New York City Book Awards, The New York Society Library

2021 American Book Award, Before Columbus Foundation

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 socialist vision for a new society, skillful ability to link local problems to international crises, and uncompromising vision for a new society 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 surveillance files 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 Chicago street gang to their rise and fall as a political organization in New York. Led by poor and working-class Puerto Rican youth, and consciously fashioned after the Black Panther Party, the Young Lords occupied a hospital, blocked traffic with uncollected garbage, took over a church, tested children for lead poisoning, defended prisoners, fought the military police, and fed breakfast to poor children. Their imaginative, irreverent protests and media conscious tactics won reforms, popularized socialism in the United States and exposed U.S. mainland audiences to the country’s quiet imperial project in Puerto Rico. Fernández challenges what we think we know about the sixties. She shows that movement organizers were concerned with finding solutions to problems as pedestrian as garbage collection and the removal of lead paint from tenement walls; gentrification; lack of access to medical care; childcare for working mothers; and the warehousing of people who could not be employed in deindustrialized cities. The Young Lords’ politics and preoccupations, especially those concerning the rise of permanent unemployment foretold the end of the American Dream. 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.

About the Author

Johanna Fernández is associate 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.
For more information about Johanna Fernández, visit the Author Page.

Reviews

"Like so many other organizations in the United States that were both leftist and radical, the Young Lords' history has been removed from most recollections of the period known as the Sixties until now. Fernandez's work is a bold, brilliant and engaging challenge to this omission."--CounterPunch

“An exhaustive and enlightening study of [the Young Lords’] history [that] makes the case for their influence as profound thinkers as well as highly capable street activists. . . . Fernández’s [book] distinguishes itself by providing solid, incredibly detailed historical research. . . . It also places them in the context of the political and social debates that shaped the era and reveals how so much of their activism centered on the same issues—housing, health, education, and the marginalization of women, the LGBTQ community, and the working poor—that we face today.”--The Nation

“The Young Lords Party lasted essentially two years (1969–70) with an active membership of less than 3,000, yet as this book shows, its brief but spectacular history is worth studying and particularly poignant in the time of Black Lives Matter.”--CHOICE

“The definitive work on this political organization and tells the fascinating story with rich detail and narrative drama.”--Criminal Law & Criminal Justice Books

"ANot only scholars and students but also activists would benefit from reading this book, for, aside from the fascinating history itself, one can glean lessons on how to organize from the failures and successes of the Young Lords."--H-Socialisms

"Johanna Fernández has not only produced the definitive history of the Young Lords; she also has single-handedly shifted our understanding of the post-1968 political landscape. Richly documented, beautifully written, and brutally honest, this book moves the Young Lords from the margins of the New Left and Puerto Rican nationalism to the very epicenter of global struggles against racism, imperialism, and patriarchy and for national self-determination, medical justice, reproductive rights, and socialism. A work as monumental and expansive as the Young Lords’ vision of revolution."--Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists during the Great Depression