The Rainbow Coalition
The cities of the 1960s were extremely segregated by both race and class. While city mayors partnered with the real estate industry to invest in middle-class White neighborhoods and suburbs, the ghettos and barrios were starved of needed resources. Young people living under these conditions organized to fight for an end to poverty and police brutality in their urban communities. Frustrated with the persistence of White supremacy after a decade of fighting for civil rights, African Americans created the Black Panther Party, and Puerto Ricans created the Young Lords.
These groups argued that crime and gang violence were the result of the lack of resources in their neighborhoods. The Young Lords and the Panthers joined with other groups of poor and working-class Whites and people of color, such as the Chicano Brown Berets, to form an interracial coalition. They called it the Rainbow Coalition.
The coalition tried to broker treaties between rival gangs, and fought for affordable housing, healthcare and equal access to basic sanitation services and fair policing. Hunger was a major focus of their efforts. Most schools at the time only served free lunch, but not breakfast, and so poor and working-class kids were showing up to school hungry and not ready to learn.
In 1969 the Black Panthers started the Free Breakfast for Children program, which ultimately spread nationwide, serving breakfast in church basements to over 10,000 kids. The Young Lords and other coalition groups started similar programs to feed kids in their communities. These programs were so popular and successful that the FBI considered them a threat to national security. They used federal agents and the local police to shut down free breakfast, as a part of their larger campaign to silence the young activists of the Rainbow Coalition.
Their efforts can inspire us today to come together in solidarity to reclaim and fight for access to the resources our communities deserve. Join us in the journey of addressing this unfinished business. #StillNotEqual