Places that Matter

First Spanish United Methodist Church

Martha Cooper
Martha Cooper
The center of a political movement, known as "the people's church"
Place Details »

Place Matters Profile

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."

Sources:

Kaufman, Michael T. "8 Hurt, 14 Seized in a Church Clash." New York Times, December 8, 1969.

Kaufman, Michael T. "105 Members of Young Lords Submit to Arrest, Ending 11-Day Occupation of Church in East Harlem." New York Times, January 8, 1969.

New York Times. "Young Lords Defy Take-Over Order." January 5, 1970.

Time Magazine. "House of Lords." January 12, 1970.