The Young Lords’ Occupation of Lincoln Hospital

The 1960s and into the 1970s saw a radical shift in consciousness for American youth, particularly in the inner cities of the nation. Oppressed Americans, mainly minorities, across the country took to the streets to protest against the injustices they faced. The public health violations in Lincoln Hospital were among these injustices that often lead to medical complications and even death for primarily black and Latino New Yorkers. The Young Lords, a radical civil rights organization comprised of mainly Puerto Ricans, took over the Nurse’s Residence building at Lincoln Hospital in July of 1970 in an attempt to bring light to the maltreatment of oppressed New Yorkers. Although controversial, their actions were essential for the improvement of the hospital and the community around it, as it caused the city to refocus its priorities regarding public health.

Lincoln Hospital located in the South Bronx, New York
Lincoln Hospital today

Lincoln Hospital is located on 234 East 149th street in the South Bronx, New York. It is a member of the NYC Health + Hospitals health care system. Its emergency room receives about 144,000 visits annually and has 362 beds in service.[1] Located in the South Bronx, it spans five full city blocks and serves the entire community, as well as Upper Manhattan. The current facility was opened on March 28, 1976, after undergoing major construction for over forty years.

The health needs of black and Latino New Yorkers living in slums were not treated as a priority for the city’s officials in this era. Prior to the Young Lords’ public health activism between 1969 and 1970, the members of the NYC Board of Health did not classify renovations of residential buildings to prevent lead paint poisoning as a,“real health problem.”[2] Lincoln Hospital had been notorious for neglecting its patients, especially for causing its child patients to receive lead poisoning. One of the breaking points for the Young Lords was the death of Carmen Rodriguez, at the hands of the hospital’s own negligence. Rodriguez had sought an abortion at Lincoln Hospital. Once a drug addict, she had suffered various illnesses that afflicted many in her community, like asthma, anemia, and a severe heart condition. The doctors never bothered to check her medical history chart and administered her drugs that could not be given to patients with heart conditions. As a result, she died three days later on July 20, 1970 at 31 years old.[3] Furthermore, lead poisoning in children had become an epidemic with 600 cases being recorded in November 1968 over the course of ten months, 3 resulting in fatalities.[4] This occurred even though lead-based paint was banned in residential buildings in New York City in 1960. The Young Lords, and other black and Puerto Rican New Yorkers who had suffered health complications due to the city’s negligence, decided that taking matters into their own hands was the only way to get the city’s leaders to address the life threatening public health crisis.

The seven demands presented by the Young Lords to Lincoln Hospital
The seven demands presented by the Young Lords to Lincoln Hospital

In July of 1970, the Young Lords decided to take control of the crisis. Threatened with budget cuts, the hospital had been known as the “Butcher Shop” by local residents for its ill treatment of patients. Joined by the Health Revolutionary Unity Movement (HRUM) and the Think Lincoln Committee, the Young Lords occupied the hospital for twelve hours and demanded better health care and hospital services to the people of the community. Among the demands were: no cutbacks in services or jobs, free food and a day care center for patients and their kids who wait hours to be attended, construction of the new Lincoln Hospital to be completed quickly, and the immediate formation of a community-worker board to control the policies and practices of the hospitals, like door-to-door preventative care emphasizing lead poisoning, anemia, drug addiction, and tuberculosis. The Young Lords negotiated with the hospital’s officials and other representatives of the city’s Health and Hospital Corporation. However, after the negotiations were made, a police officer disguised in civilian clothing had allegedly tried to seize one of the members of the Young Lords, resulting in the negotiations being called off by the party. Around 5:30 PM, the Young Lords removed the Puerto Rican flag, “which they had hoisted over the building, and filed out” peacefully.[5] Two members, Pablo Yoruba Guzman, the minister of information, and Louis Alvarez Perez, his bodyguard were arrested as they left the building.

The Young Lords’ occupation of the hospital dramaticized its disastrous conditions, but placed the crisis into the political spotlight of the city. As a result of their takeover, over a hundred news articles reported the controversies over the hospital’s conditions. City officials were pressed to meet these demands and eventually, the takeover gave way to the passage of anti-lead poisoning legislation in New York in the early 1970s.[6] Later that year, they launched the People’s Program at Lincoln Hospital, which was a methadone detoxification program run entirely by volunteers. The Young Lords’ demands gave way for significant improvements at Lincoln Hospital since it was the only source of medical care for many South Bronx residents. Most notably, the hospital was scheduled for renovation over twenty years prior to the takeover, yet it was only after the Young Lords’ activism did the city accelerate its reconstruction, and eventually opened a new Lincoln Hospital just six years later.

Although there is still much to do in improving public health, the Young Lords paved the way in not only raising awareness to the critical situation at Lincoln Hospital, but directly attempted to aid the community of neglected New Yorkers. Due to their efforts against public health injustices, the city began to prioritize the medical necessities, especially the lead poisoning crisis that was prevalent not only at Lincoln Hospital, but throughout black and Latino communities. Ultimately, their activism should not go unnoted because their selfless actions proved to be momentous for thousands of New Yorkers.

[1] “About Lincoln.” NYC Health HospitalsLincoln. Accessed May 11, 2019.

[2] Colgrove, James Keith., and James Keith. Colgrove. “Public Health and the People.” In Epidemic City: The Politics of Public Health in New York, 48. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2011.

[3] Blanchard, Sessi Kuwabara. “How the Young Lords Took Lincoln Hospital, Left a Health Activism Legacy.” Filter. October 30, 2018. Accessed May 11, 2019.

[4] Fernandez, Johanna. “Between Social Service Reform and Revolutionary Politics: The Young Lords, Late Sixties Radicalism and Community Organizing in New York.” In Freedom North: Black Freedom Struggles Outside the South, by Jeanne Theoharis, Komozi Woodard, and Matthew Countryman, 270. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

[5] Narvaez, Alfonso A. “Young Lords Seize Lincoln Hospital Building.” The New York Times. 15 July 1970. The New York Times. 23 Mar. 2019 <>.

[6] Fernandez, Johanna. “Chapter 7: The Young Lords and the Social and Structural Roots of Late Sixties Urban Radicalism.” In Civil Rights in New York City: From World War II to the Giuliani Era, by Clarence Taylor, 146. New York: Fordham University Press, 2013.