The brevity and sensational theatrics of the occupation, and its role in shaping Latinx civil rights politics, has until recently remained an untold story. Part of the problem is that in the immediate aftermath evangelical news outlets like Christianity Today disregarded their importance calling the Young Lords a “gang” that trashed churches and advocated violence all while the governing body of the Methodist Church denomination called the occupation a “campaign of harassment.” In reality, the occupation ignited an important debate between religious leaders and activists about the responsibility of institutions to their surrounding communities. But perhaps what many did not expect was that the occupation would become a staging ground for a Nuyorican identity that in the 1970s became both a political and cultural force in New York City. From the Nuyorican Poets Café to the progressive evangelical group “Acción Civica,” the occupation of the First Spanish Methodist Church left an important legacy that we believe deserves an important place at the American Historical Association in 2020. This is all the more important given that the AHA will take place during the 50th anniversary of the occupation in the very city the occupation occurred. We believe that this overlap will attract participants both from the AHA and the city of New York.
This roundtable will bring together former Young Lords activists, the current Pastor of the First Spanish Methodist Church, and three historians who have written about the movement to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the church occupation that turned a small Latinx mainline Protestant church into “the People’s Church” in 1969 and 1970. Each of our invited guests have confirmed and are eager to participate: Juan Gonzalez and Iris Morales (former Young Lords activists), Dorlimar Lebron Malave (current pastor of First Spanish Methodist Church), Johanna Fernandez (Assistant Professor of History, Baruch College), Jorge Juan Rodríguez V (Ph.D. Candidate in History, Union Theological Seminary), Felipe Hinojosa (Associate Professor of History, Texas A&M University).