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Young Lords remember martyrs and march for the future

By Tom Burke

Black Panther Party Cubz Chairman Fred Hampton Jr. speaks at site of People's Ch

Chicago, IL – A standing room only crowd filled the Holy Covenant United Methodist Church on September 29 to commemorate Reverend Bruce Johnson and Eugenia Johnson. The reverend and his wife Eugenia were remembered for supporting the Young Lords and their role in the struggle against poverty, war and oppression. They were savagely murdered in their own home 50 years ago, stabbed to death, during a U.S. government campaign of repression known as COINTELPRO or the Counterintelligence Program.

Ministers of the United Methodist Church, the Bishop of Chicago’s Episcopal Church and leaders from the Presbyterian McCormick Seminary honored the couple’s commitment to equality, justice and peace. Those who knew the martyred couple best spoke with reverence for their commitment to humanity and their dedication and love for their children and each other.

During the church service, it became clear the radical Christian ideas espoused by Reverend Bruce Johnson were both a challenge and an inspiration to many. Those honoring him continue to try to live up to his ideas. It was during the Young Lords occupation of the McCormick Seminary in May of 1969 that Reverend Bruce Johnson stepped forward to offer aid and solidarity to the Young Lords. It was only a few months later he and his wife were killed.

Along with the many women ministers who spoke, DePaul professor Jacqueline Lazu explained the history of the Young Lords. DePaul was one of the three big institutions involved in displacing people. Professor Lazu said, “Every day I think about how I came to teach at DePaul and how I benefit from the struggle of the Young Lords to open up access for Puerto Ricans.”

Young Lords founder Jose “Cha Cha” Jimenez said, “We are here today, to remember and honor the Reverend Bruce Johnson and Eugenia. They are our martyrs. Along with Black Panther Chairman Fred Hampton and Mark Clark who were killed two months later. They gave their lives, as did Young Lords Manuel Ramos and Jose “Pancho” Lind. The Young Lords led our neighborhood struggle against displacement of poor people by the big developers.”

Pat Devine, a religious and community organizer related, “70,000 people were forced out of the Lincoln Park neighborhood in four years, as developers made land grabs and built housing for only the wealthiest in Chicago.”

After the memorial mass, nearly 100 people marched through the Lincoln Park neighborhood to the former site of People’s Church. People’s Church is where Reverend Bruce Johnson hosted the Young Lords. “We ran a day care center, breakfast program for school children and organized protests and occupations to stop the displacement of our community. We also rallied to free Puerto Rico!” Jimenez said.

Tony Baez, Young Lord Minister of Education, said “Their deaths made us more serious as revolutionaries and propelled us forward. Young Lords went on to organize in other parts of society and in many other cities where Puerto Rican people lived.”

The march ended with a rally at People’s Church. “We honor their sacrifice. We will be Young Lords until the day we die! Free Puerto Rico!” proclaimed Jose “Cha Cha” Jimenez.

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