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Richie Pérez Papers

Identifier: MSS 172

Scope and Contents

The Richie Pérez Papers help chronicle the political trajectory and organizing efforts of one the Puerto Rican communities most dedicated advocates and activists. Moreover, they help document grassroots efforts at combating police brutality and racially motivated violence, and community struggles for the betterment of social and economic conditions for Puerto Ricans, Latinos and other people of color in New York City.

A multifaceted collection, highlights of the papers include extensive materials on the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights and the Justice Committee, numerous files on local community organizations and initiatives, as well as a solid collection of leftist and Latino focused newspapers. In addition, contained is a large selection of audiocassettes, videocassettes and photographs which help capture the visual and aural vibrancy of the political and social movements to which Pérez was dedicated to throughout his career.

The materials in this collection span the years from 1918 to 2006 with the bulk concentrating on the years 1970 to 2004. They consist of correspondence, memoranda, photographs, flyers, clippings, programs, videocassettes, audiocassettes, slides, CDs, DVDs and artifacts. The folders are arranged alphabetically and the documents are arranged chronologically. The materials are in both Spanish and English.


  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1970-2004
  • Creation: 1918-2006


Conditions Governing Access

Open to researchers with some restrictions. Available for personal research or educational instruction only without written consent of donor.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright held by Martha Laureano.

Biographical / Historical

“Revolutionary leader,” “urban warrior,” “soldier in the struggle,” these are but a few of the expressions used to describe Richie Pérez by friends and acquaintances upon his untimely death in 2004. A longtime advocate for the Puerto Rican community, Pérez was considered by many to be the activist par excellence whose commitment to the struggle for human rights and social justice never wavered. Whether advocating for community control of public schools in his early years as a teacher at James Monroe High School in the Bronx, working for Puerto Rican independence or organizing and teaching against media racism, Pérez demonstrated an unshakeable dedication to the fight against discrimination and the struggle for social and political change. Consistently on the frontlines, Pérez’s commitment to empowerment for marginalized communities cast a wide net and included a concern for not only Puerto Ricans and other Latinos, but also for the rights of women, gays and lesbians and African Americans. He continued to fight against social inequalities until his passing and in the process helped lay the groundwork for a more progressive social and political environment in New York City.

Born on December 3, 1944 to Tony and Ann Pérez, Richard (Richie) Pérez was raised in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx. He graduated from Morris High School in 1961 and attended Hunter College in the Bronx (now known as Lehman College), where he received a Bachelors of Science in 1965. Originally interested in studying English, Pérez instead studied economics and business. Shortly after graduating from college, he taught at James Monroe High School in the Soundview section of the Bronx. He remained there from 1965-1970, teaching stenography and typing, while also advocating for decentralization and local community control of school boards. Up until this juncture Pérez had thought of himself as a “Kennedy style liberal” who saw political change as a product of individuals working within a traditional political system. After witnessing the social and political upheavals taking place around him in the late 1960s, as well as the unequal social and economic conditions of his students, he came to the conclusion that it was organized individuals pushing for social change who could be the most effective.

In 1969, at the age of 25, Pérez received a Masters of Arts in Business Education from New York University. That same year he joined the Young Lords Party, a national organization dedicated to the empowerment of the Puerto Rican community. The New York Chapter of the Young Lords provided a vehicle for Pérez’s increasingly radical political stance, his desire for a greater knowledge of Puerto Rican history and helped hone his organizational acumen by building on work he had already begun with the Black Panthers on an antiheroin campaign in the South Bronx. Starting as a youth and student organizer, Pérez eventually became Minister of Information for the Young Lords, edited the organization’s publication, Palante, and helped open an office in the South Bronx. His involvement with the Young Lords lasted well into the 1970s, a break with the organization occurring only when internal fighting, rumored to have been instigated by the FBI’s COINTELPRO, caused individual factions to turn on each other and for the organization to self-destruct.

As part of an effort by the Young Lords to send activists into the colleges and universities to organize youth, Pérez returned to teaching in 1973. Garnering a position at Brooklyn College as a faculty member in the Puerto Rican Studies Department, he soon became embroiled in the struggle for the appointment of a new Chairperson. A member of the search committee, Pérez and his colleagues sought to appoint María Sánchez, who they felt had a more thorough knowledge of the urban Puerto Rican population in the schools than Elba Lugo de Luis-Deza, the candidate the then President of Brooklyn College John Kellner wanted to put in place. The struggle that ensued set a precedent for his stay at the university. Pérez’s time at Brooklyn College was filled with conflicts and culminated in an irreconcilable break with the administration due to his ongoing organizing efforts among his students against cuts in financial aid, funding to ethnic studies programs and the elimination of remedial classes and special admissions programs. He was also faculty advisor to the left-leaning student group the Puerto Rican Alliance and was a member of the Revolutionary Collective and the Anti-Bakke Decision Coalition. Participating in the takeover of campus facilities and accused of physically assaulting staff members and students at demonstrations, Pérez was ultimately suspended from his teaching duties and barred from the campus in 1978. He defied the ban and continued to teach until he was arrested on criminal trespassing charges. Eventually released, Pérez was nonetheless charged with “conduct unbecoming a Brooklyn College faculty member” as well as a number of other violations. In August 1978, he was dismissed from his position as an Instructor by a closed session meeting of the Board of Higher Education, a decision which was heavily protested by his supporters.

It was towards the end of his tenure at Brooklyn College, in October 1977, that Pérez and fellow activists like Vicente “Panama” Alba and Mickey Meléndez, acting under the auspices of the Committee for the Freedom of the Puerto Rican Nationalists, organized a takeover of the Statue of Liberty. Slated as a protest against the incarceration of Puerto Rican nationalists in U.S. prisons, among them Lolita Lebrón, Rafael Cancel Miranda, Oscar Collazo and Irving Flores, the takeover also sought to critically address the troubled economic and social conditions in which most Puerto Ricans found themselves and to advocate for Puerto Rican independence. Indeed, the activists involved in the takeover believed the incarceration of the Puerto Rican nationalists to be a direct extension of U.S. policy in Puerto Rico and its impact on the sovereignty of the island and its inhabitants. Arriving in the morning, the group of activists held the Statue of Liberty for over nine hours, only coming down when U.S. Parks Service Police made their way into the monument and after Pérez and his cohorts had draped a Puerto Rican flag across the crown of the statue. Those arrested went to court and were fined one hundred dollars each, fines which were ultimately paid by a fundraising concert held at Hunter College starring musician Eddie Palmieri. Within a year of the takeover, President Jimmy Carter released the four imprisoned nationalists.

Unable to immediately return to teaching after his controversial stint at Brooklyn College, Pérez became increasingly involved in organizational efforts within the Puerto Rican community. Starting in 1980, he joined forces with a broad coalition of over twenty-five community organizations, among them the United Bronx Parents, the Union of Patriotic Puerto Ricans and the United Tremont Trades to form the Committee Against Fort Apache. Created to protest the film “Fort Apache: The Bronx,” and what the committee members perceived as the film’s racist representation of African Americans and Puerto Ricans in the South Bronx, the Committee Against Fort Apache was an example of a grassroots effort to alter and contest the public perception and representation of the group’s communities, both among the general public and in the media. Organizing demonstrations, call-in protests, pickets and numerous community outreach activities, the committee sought not only to raise awareness of the prejudiced content of the film/script and original book, but to take to task those involved in the making of the film, particularly politically liberal actors Paul Newman and Ed Asner, for their complicity in further perpetuating racist stereotypes. In addition, as Pérez himself points out in his article on the subject “Committee Against Fort Apache: The Bronx Mobilizes Against the Multinational Media,” the committee was also interested in using the actions against the film as a unifying agent between the African American and Puerto Rican communities in the South Bronx, as a way to educate the community about media stereotyping and as a mechanism for developing the community’s ability to use the media for its own ends.

Although not successful in stopping the making of the film, the committee managed to disrupt the process, raise awareness about the issues surrounding the film and in mobilizing hundreds of people, in multiple cities, to picket the film once it was released. In existence for only a year, the Committee Against Fort Apache’s foregrounding of the issue of media racism set a precedent, influencing other film projects and promoting public discourse around the issue. Moreover, his work on the committee influenced Pérez greatly and inaugurated a new phase in his scholarly interests and activism that followed him into what became his next big project: the founding of the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights.

Established in 1981, the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights (NCPRR) was born of the First National Puerto Rican Convention, a gathering of 500 delegates from organizations based in New York and other states in the Northeast and beyond, which was held at the Paul Robeson Intermediate School in the South Bronx in April. At this convention it was determined that a national organization uniting communal efforts towards fighting multiple forms of discrimination against Puerto Ricans was needed. Charged with a number of priorities, among them the equitable distribution of funds for social services, universal health care, an end to sterilization abuse and an immediate withdrawal of the U.S. Navy from the island of Vieques, this organization sought to unify the diverse ideological perspectives, religious persuasions and methodological approaches of various organizations in order to more effectively combat what they perceived as an ensuing socio-economic crisis precipitated by the right-wing policies of the Reagan administration. Rather than having improved, the social, political and economic conditions of Puerto Ricans had instead worsened since the 1960s, thus the reasoning behind the First National Puerto Rican Convention that the tide could only be stemmed with the collaboration of all stake holders.

Pérez for his part also brought the issues of media racism and stereotyping that had been of concern to the Committee Against Fort Apache and the Puerto Rican Institute for Media Advocacy (PRIMA) into the convention. In the following years, Pérez served in many positions within the NCPRR, including Vice-Chair of the New York State Council, Vice President of the New York chapter and National Vice President in 1994, as well as leading numerous voter participation campaigns. In 1985, he authored the first of what became a series of reports titled “The Status of Puerto Ricans in the United States,” which he presented at the Third National Puerto Rican Convention in June 1985 in Philadelphia, PA. This series of studies mapped the terrain of Puerto Rican life, examining the ways in which their socio-economic and political position had been the determining factor in their continued marginalization in American society. In particular, Pérez’s report looked at the specific impact of the Reagan administration’s policies on the Puerto Rican community and the extent to which they were undermining any gains the community had made in the previous twenty years.

This report, in turn, became the galvanizing force behind the planning for a march on Washington, D.C. for Puerto Rican social and economic equality. Taking place on October 4, 1986, the National Puerto Rican March for Justice, although spearheaded by the NCPRR, gathered diverse elements of the Puerto Rican community to protest civil rights violations, cutbacks in funding to federal programs and an overall climate of prejudice and hostility towards Puerto Ricans. Scheduled to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty, the planners of the march thought it ironic that a symbol inviting the underprivileged and marginalized immigrant to the U.S. could be celebrated in the midst of what was then one of fiercest backlashes against the social and economic reforms of the post-Civil Rights era. Moreover, the 1980s had been touted as the “Decade of the Hispanic” which supposed great advances for Latino communities in the U.S. that had yet to materialize and whose claims flew in the face of facts demonstrating ever worsening conditions for the Puerto Rican community.

That same year, Pérez, with the institutional backing of the NCPRR, was one of the driving forces behind the organization of the Latino Coalition for Justice. Formed in July 1986 after two Puerto Rican youths were attacked by a group of Italian and Eastern European youths in the Belmont section of the Bronx, the coalition was made up of numerous organizations and individuals intent on providing support in the form of legal and medical assistance to victims of police brutality and racial violence. Furthermore, it was looking to organize grassroots campaigns, educate the general public on institutional racism and racial violence, and to promote solidarity, coalition-building and progressive legislative measures. Initially planning a march against the attacks in Belmont that helped spur its founding, the Coalition also participated in campaigns against racial violence in Howard Beach, Queens, and throughout the five boroughs. Moreover, it served as a training ground for Pérez’s future efforts to organize against the ongoing police brutality in New York and helped him formulate an agenda which came to be closely identified with his future activism.

One of Pérez’s most notable accomplishments during his time at the NCPRR was the founding and development of the Justice Committee in 1988. Following up on the work of the Latino Coalition for Racial Justice, the Committee was also a product of a mandate from the First Puerto Rican Convention to end racial violence against minorities and discrimination and abuse on the part of the police, the courts and the prison system. Organizing demonstrations, rallies and contributing to the building of grassroots movements around victims of police brutality, the Justice Committee played an increasingly important role in bringing to light blatant civil rights violations committed against African Americans and Latinos by the New York City Police Department. Moreover, it cultivated a broader analytical perspective that located culpability for these crimes not just among the police officers themselves, but in the climate and structural setting that allowed for bias crimes to be acceptable in society and government. Thus, not only was the New York City Police Department taken to task for its methods, including the profiling of minorities and abuse of power, but also city officials and entire communities were held accountable for the racism they perpetuated. In addition, it endeavored to initiate and support legislative initiatives that sought to curb future acts of violence and civil rights violations.

Much of the Justice Committee’s work in the 1980s and 90s concerned individual cases of police brutality and racially motivated violence. This included advocating on behalf of the victim’s families in court, organizing demonstrations in support of the cases and educating the larger public on the nature and extent of police brutality. Justice Committee members were also a constant media presence, being well aware of the need to have a hand in controlling the narrative about the cases being detailed to the public. Although eventually expanding their work into other areas, such as immigration, the Committee’s commitment to working against police brutality and engagement with larger issues of human rights continued into the twenty-first century, with the cases of Amadou Diallo, Malcolm Ferguson and Santiago Villanueva. In time breaking away from the NCPRR, an independent Justice Committee continued to be the locus of Pérez’s activism and to function under his leadership until his passing, with its mission expanding to include advocacy work with other Latinos and people of color, as well as women, gays and lesbians.

In conjunction with his work on the Justice Committee, Pérez spent the better part of 20 years working at the Community Service Society (CSS). One of the oldest non-profit organizations in New York City to address issues of poverty and community empowerment, the scope of CSS’s concerns was expansive and included housing, health care, income security, education and community development. Tackling these issues from multiple fronts, the organization was also committed to research and policy analysis, advocacy, litigation and program development. Initially helping direct and supervise the organization of voter registration drives geared towards educating, mobilizing and empowering disenfranchised communities in the political process, as Director of the Voter Participation Project, Pérez eventually held multiple positions within CSS, including Director of Organizational Development and Director of Community Development, finally serving as Director of Political Development. In this capacity, he continued to advocate for voter participation, but also became involved in issues of electoral reform, redistricting, language rights, additional efforts at community empowerment and mobilization, and in organizing youth and prison inmates. CSS proved to be a fruitful forum for Pérez’s ongoing activism and commitment to social justice issues and provided a platform for his organizational efforts in New York. Indeed, so entwined was his work both with the Justice Committee and CSS, that his office on East 22nd Street was the center of planning and activity for both.

Although barred from teaching in the City University of New York after his activities on the campus of Brooklyn College, Pérez’s pedagogical activities never ceased. He continued to lecture and speak on college campuses throughout his professional career, and eventually made his way back into the CUNY system, teaching courses at Hunter College in the 1980s and 90s while working as a college counselor and recruiter in the Bronx. In addition, Pérez took on teaching stints at the College of New Rochelle, Empire State College and the Center for Legal Education and Urban Policy, conducting courses on mass media, U.S. social policy and the history of labor and the Civil Rights Movement. He is noted also for designing courses for prospective law students at The City College of New York’s Urban Legal Studies Program. Coinciding with his pedagogical interests, Pérez published several articles including “The Storming of “Fort Apache” in The Independent (1983), “Committee Against Fort Apache: The Bronx Mobilizes Against the Multi-National Media” in Cultures in Contention (1985) and “From Assimilation to Annihilation: Puerto Rican Images in U.S. Films” in Latin Looks: Images of Latinos and Latinas in U.S. Media (1997). A chronicling of his organizing activities, these articles also helped Pérez formulate a theoretical stance behind his activist efforts, to bring to the forefront issues of Puerto Rican representations in film (a practically invisible field of theoretical concern) and served as useful classroom tools in Puerto Rican Studies and film and media studies courses in universities throughout the U.S. Moreover, Pérez strove to historically contextualize media racism, noting that a deeper understanding of stereotypical representations of Puerto Ricans in film could only come about with the knowledge of Puerto Rico’s political and economic relationship to the United States.

In the following years, Pérez continued to organize against police brutality and with his advocacy work at the Community Service Society, and to also engage with such issues as environmental racism and the incarceration of African American and Latino youth. Being all too aware of the need to push those in power to consider the rights of marginalized communities, he was a constant presence at rallies, demonstrations, protests and peace vigils, all in the hope of altering and affecting the conditions surrounding their treatment, and the rights and civil liberties accorded to them. Pérez frequently spoke on behalf of victims of police brutality and racism, and aligned himself with many other local, national and international movements against injustice and social inequities. Ever the visionary, he recognized the interconnected nature of the struggles for the rights of women, gays and lesbians, and was supportive of the fight for human rights here and abroad.

Richie Pérez died on March 27, 2004 from prostate cancer at the age of 59. A fixture on the political scene, his dedicated work on issues of police brutality, human rights, social justice and Puerto Rican independence served as an inspiration for several generations of activists and community organizers, and spurred many on to political action. A scholar and activist, his insight and political praxis left an indelible mark on organizing efforts in New York, and will continue to serve as an impressive example to future generations of activists and live on in the many movements and organizations to which he contributed his efforts.

Sources / Fuentes:

Boricua Tributes, Richard Pérez (1944-2004),, Accessed 12/10/2007

“El legendario activista: La Lucha de Richie Pérez sigue pa’lante,” ElDiario/La Prensa Online, 2008, Accessed 1/14/08

“Longtime Activist, Richie Perez, Honored at City Hall,” Lamb, Donna, Greenwich Village Gazette,, Accessed 12/11/07

NALIP Conference Guest Biographies, Richard Perez,, Accessed 12/11/07

“New York Loses Longtime Civil and Human Rights Activist,”, Accessed 12/10/07

“Richie Perez, Advocate for People of Color,”, Accessed 12/10/07

The Richie Perez Scholarship Award,, Accessed 12/11/07

Note: Biographical information was also derived from the collection


22 Cubic Feet

Language of Materials


Spanish; Castilian


The Richie Pérez Papers are an important resource for the study of political activism and grassroots organizing on the part of Puerto Ricans and their allies in New York City over the past forty years. In addition, they provide insightful documentation on anti-police brutality movements and on a number of community organizations. The materials in this collection consist of personal documents, clippings, articles, photographs, speeches, certificates, flyers, correspondence, audiocassettes, videocassettes, slides, CDs, DVDs and artifacts.


The collection is divided into the following series:

I. Biographical and Personal Information

II. Correspondence

III. National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights 1. Justice Committee

IV. Subject Files

V. Organizations

VI. Writings and Publications

VII. Photographs

VIII. Audiovisual

IX. Artifacts

Other Finding Aids

Alternate guide to this collection prepared as part of the Ventana al Pasado/Window of the Past project, and is available on the website of the New York State Archives.

English / Spanish bilingual finding aid is available, see external documents.

Separated Materials

Slides transferred to Centro General Slide Collection.

Processing Information

Processed with a grant from a congressional directed initiative sponsored by Congressman José Serrano and administered by the Institute for Museum and Library Services. Funding was also provided by the Council of the City of New York.


Richie Pérez Papers
Mario H. Ramírez with the assistance of Melisa Panchano and Silvia Rodríguez.
September 2008
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Processed with a grant from a congressional directed initiative sponsored by Congressman José Serrano and administered by the Institute for Museum and Library Services. Funding was also provided by the Council of the City of New York.

Repository Details

Part of the Archives of the Puerto Rican Diaspora Repository

Silberman Building, Hunter College
2180 Third Ave. Rm. 122
New York New York 10065

About the Collections

Our collections consist of personal papers from prominent Puerto Rican artists, elected officials, social activists, writers, as well as the records of community-based organizations. Our largest collection, the Offices of the Government of Puerto Rico in the United States (OGPRUS) Records, measures approximately 2,900 cubic feet and contains an extraordinary amount of information regarding Puerto Rican migrants and the government institutions established to assist them. The collections date from the 1890s to the present, and document Puerto Rican communities in the Northeast, Midwest, Florida, California and Hawaii.