“The Young Lords in Lincoln Park”
Final Report: Student Summer Scholars Program, 2012
José “Cha-Cha” Jiménez
Liberal Studies Department, Grand Valley State University
In the fall of 1968 in Chicago, Patricia Devine and Dick Vision, members of a church organization called the Concerned Citizens of Lincoln Park approached me to see if I could help them bring people to an upcoming housing meeting of the Lincoln Park Community Conservation Council. At the time, I was still president of a loose knit street gang, the Young Lords. I had recently come out of jail and wanted to get back with my girlfriend and daughter and settle down. During the day I was studying for my G.E.D. while also working as a janitor at the Argonne National Laboratory in an ex-offender program. It was not an easy task to get a group of relatively undisciplined young people to attend a formal, political meeting. Convincing them bruised not only my ego, but my face. But when the evening of the meeting arrived, about 40 young people from the neighborhood showed up. The young people were quiet, to avoid police detection, walking in small groups one behind another, traveling down Armitage Avenue for about six blocks to 2020 North Larrabee Street. Once inside they stopped and gazed briefly at a glass and wooden display that showed their neighborhood with vacant spaces in placed where their homes currently stood. In the meeting hall were about nine, white males, well-dressed sitting at a folding table at the front of the room. Barely ten other people sat on folding chairs in the audience. From our perspective, this did not look much like a public, professional meeting at all. They were meeting in private, secluded in a tiny back hall room. These were the representatives appointed by Mayor Richard J. Daley. Most were also members of the Old Town Triangle Association or the Lincoln Park Conservation Association, which later joined and consolidated. The official Community Conservation Council, whose meeting we attended that night, had little, collective decision-making power; they primarily followed the directives of George Stone, a surrogate of Lewis Hill, the top urban renewal man for the city of Chicago. Members of the Council prided themselves on being “urban renewal professionals,” but they were only there to legitimize and rubber stamp the mayor’s fifty-year Master Plan to destroy the “blighted, deteriorating areas of Lincoln Park, and areas near downtown and the lakefront.” This would increase the city’s tax base and their property values. In Lincoln Park the so-called blighted areas were primarily Puerto Rican homes, churches, businesses, and gathering spaces. These same groups had already successfully displaced the large barrio of Puerto Ricans from where Carl Sandburg Village Complex now stands, Old Town, and later, the primarily African American Cabrini-Green Homes. Only one Puerto Rican was named to the Lincoln Park Community Conservation Council, Felix Silva, a Caballero de San Juan (Knight of St. John) member. But Mr. Silva handed in his resignation publically, making it clear that he stood with his Puerto Rican brethren. His resignation letter was published in the first edition of the Young Lords’ newspaper.1 Before the Young Lords successfully blocked the meeting and left the building, they told the Council that they could not meet there again until there were “Blacks, Latinos, and poor Whites on the Council.” To make their point, they trashed the place. Chairs were thrown against the walls, windows were broken, toilets and sinks were pulled from their pipes, and the wooden and glass display was broken into pieces. The emotional action was spontaneous; I was the only one who was arrested days later. But the action of these youth marked the beginning of a movement within Lincoln Park to save the Puerto Rican and poor areas of the city – a movement that grew to encompass all sectors of that neighborhood and eventually lead to the...
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