Young Patriots: Vanguard of the Dispossessed

Noel Lopez

Advisor: Debra Lattanzi Shutika, PhD, Department of English

Committee Members: Mark Jacobs, Eric Anderson

Enterprise Hall, #318
January 21, 2020, 02:00 PM to 04:00 PM


The Young Patriots were a group of young and displaced Appalachians living in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood in the 1960s. In 1968, the Young Patriots went from being political organizers to members of the Rainbow Coalition, a pact for political unity with Young Lords (Puerto Ricans), the Black Panthers (African Americans) and the Young Patriots. Despite the impact of the Young Patriots within their community, and the distinctiveness of their relationship with the Panthers, the story of the Young Patriots is largely unknown. This dissertation examines the research question of what led to the Young Patriot’s omission in the larger radical resistance narrative of the 1960s.

To understand the political foundation of the Young Patriots, the dissertation explores the political and social factors of northern migration and its consequences; as well as how Appalachians perceived themselves and were perceived by others. Additionally, the dissertation explores the subject of the Young Patriots through the lens of collective memory theory, which is used to better understand how disparate groups construct a communal identity; how social institutions can attack, distort, or reform that communal identity; and, finally, how memory can be maintained.

The research was collected via multiple ethnographic methods, a research methodology referred to as a rapid ethnographic assessment procedure (REAP). The methods included transect walks, semi-structured interviews (a form of participatory oral histories, guided through an active-listening interaction between interviewer and interviewee), archival research of the Young Patriots’ historical narrative in primary source materials; and field notes. Some of the key themes this study sought to address were 1) memory: how Young Patriots, and their partners, view their identity and role in the American radical narrative; and significance: the legacy of the Young Patriots amongst its members, the community, and its former partners.

The work is less about presenting the “true” history of the Young Patriots. The story of the Young Patriots has been recorded. What has not been studied is the story of the displacement of the memory of the Patriots in the public narrative. Results indicate that a number of factors united to displace the memory of the Patriots, including 1) external pressures, from the government, to disband inter-racial / radical efforts; 2) displacement of the “Hillbilly Haven” - migration of Appalachians away from Uptown; 3) white assimilation; 4) the omission of the Young Patriots story from Uptown institutions, and 5) the fact that the Young Patriots never fully entered the national consciousness. By exploring, and writing about these factors, it is my hope that this work adds to the discourse on late 60s racial politics, especially the perception of the Black Panthers as an anti-white organization and assumptions about Appalachians by revealing a radical history that goes beyond unionization. The dissertation subverts the common assumptions about race and cultural relations between Southern (Appalachians) and African American communities, expanding the areas of Appalachian and African American studies. In addition, the research offers a more complex understanding of the New Left and Black Panthers Party (BPP) movements in America. This project will be useful in giving academics primary source data, in the form of the dissertation and digital archive. However, this project’s findings are not just for an academic audience. The people involved in developing and interacting with the Patriots are now separated by personal, political, and geographic reasons.  Ingrained in my ethnographic methodology is working with informants to co-author the project, giving primacy to their voices through the use of oral histories and developing a multimedia archive that gives more depth to the subject.  Through this work, I have had an opportunity to collect the stories from some of the people who were there, in their own words, before their voices fade away.