East Harlem’s First Spanish United Methodist Church is a central site in the history of the Young Lords Party–a radical Puerto Rican youth organization modeled on the Black Panthers. Now known widely as the “people’s church,” it is fixed in the public consciousness as a symbol of community empowerment.
In 1969, during a varied protest campaign–including publicly burning garbage in response to poor sanitation services–the Young Lords repeatedly requested and were denied permission to operate a daycare program out of the First Spanish United Methodist Church. After several tense encounters with parishioners and violent clashes with police in the church, the Young Lords forcibly took over the building. For 11 days they used it as a site for health testing, food programs, poetry readings, and lessons in Puerto Rican and black history. Known ever since as “the people’s church,” the modern (1966) red brick church continues to serve an active Latino population.
The Young Lord’s other legacies in East Harlem include the founding of two key Latino institutions: El Museo del Barrio and El Taller Boricua. Daily News columnist and former Young Lords Party Deputy Minister of Information Juan Gonzalez described the influence of the party this way: “Before the Lords, Puerto Ricans and other Hispanics were an invisible minority. After our founding, a whole generation experienced a cultural awakening.”