No Color Line Drawn in Cuba

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A Graphic Description-Condition in the Pearl of the Antilles-American Prejudice Cannot Exist There-A Catholic Priest Vouches for the Accuracy of Statement.

The article we reprint from the New York Sun touching the status of the Colored man in Cuba was shown to Rev. Father Walter R. Yates, Assistant pastor of St. Joseph’s Colored Church.

A Planet reporter was informed that Father Yates had resided in that climate for several years and wished his views.

“The Sun correspondent is substantially correct,” said the Reverend gentleman. “Of course, the article is very incomplete, there are many omissions, but that is to be expected in a newspaper article.”

It would take volumes to describe the achievements of men of the Negro, or as I prefer to call it, the Aethiopic Race, not only in Cuba, but in all the West Indies, Central and South America, and in Europe especially in Sicily, Spain and France.

“By achievements I mean success in military, political, social, religious and literary walks of life. The only thing I see to correct in the Sun’s article, continued the Father, is in regard to population. ‘A Spanish official told me that the census figures were notoriously misleading. The census shows less than one-third colored. That is said not to be true. As soon as a man with African blood, whether light or dark, acquires property and education, he returns himself in the census as white. The officials humor them in this petty vanity. In fact it’s the most difficult thing in the world to distinguish between races in Cuba. Many Spaniards from Murcia, for instance, of undoubted noble lineage are darker than Richmond mulattoes.’”

May I ask you, Father Yates, to what do you ascribe the absence of Race prejudice in Cuba?
“Certainly. In my humble opinion it is due to Church influence. We all know the effect on our social life of our churches. Among Catholics all men have always been on equal footing at the Communion rail. Catholics would be unworthy of their name, i.e. Catholic or universal were it not so.”

“Even in the days when slavery was practiced this religious equality and fellowship was fully recognized among Catholics.”

Did you know there is an American Negro Saint? He was born in Colon, Central America, and is called Blessed Martin De Porres. His name is much honored in Cuba, Peru, Mexico and elsewhere. He wore the white habit of a Dominican Brother. The Dominicans are called the Order of Preachers.

Christ Died for All. Father Donovan has those words painted in large letters over the Sanctuary in St. Joseph’s Church. It is simply horrible to think that some self-styled Christian sectarians act as if Christ died for white men only.

Matanzas, Cuba, Jan. 20.–Not least among the problems of reconstruction in Cuba is the social and political status of the colored “man and brother.” In Cuba the shade of a man’s complexion has never been greatly considered, and one finds dusky Othellos in every walk of life. The present dispute arose when a restaurant keeper from Alabama refused a seat at his public table to the mulatto Colonel of a Cuban regiment. The Southerner was perfectly sincere in the declaration that he would see himself in a warmer climate than Cuba before he would insult his American guests “by seating a ‘nigger’ among them!” To the Colonel it was a novel and astonishing experience, and is of course deeply resented by all his kind in Cuba, where African blood may be found, in greater or less degree, in some of the richest and most influential families of the island.

Colored Belles There
In Havana you need not be surprised to see Creole belles on the fashionable Prado–perhaps Cuban-Spanish. Cuban-English or Cuban-German blondes–promenading with Negro officers in gorgeous uniforms; or octoroon beauties with hair in natural crimp, riding in carriages beside white husbands or lighting up an opera box with the splendor of their diamonds. There was a wedding in the old cathedral the other day, attended by the elite of the city, the bride being the lovely young daughter of a Cuban planter, the groom a burly Negro. Nobody to the manor born has ever dreamed of objecting to this mingling of colors; therefore when some newly arrived foreigner declares that nobody but those of his own complexion shall eat in a public dining room, there is likely to be trouble.

The War Began
When the war began the population of Cuba was a little more than one-third black; now the proportion is officially reckoned as 525,684 colored, against 1,631,600 white. In 1898 two Negroes were serving as secretaries in the Autonomist Cabinet. The last regiment that Blanco formed was of Negro volunteers, to whom he paid–or, rather, promised to pay, which is quite another matter, considering Blanco’s habit–the unusual hire of $20 a month, showing his appreciation of the colored man as a soldier. If General Weyler evinced any partiality in Cuba, it was for the black Creole. During the ten years’ war, his cavalry escort was composed entirely of colored men. Throughout his latest reign in the island he kept black soldiers constantly on guard at the gates of the government palace. While the illustrated papers of Spain were caricaturing: the insurgents as coal-black demons with horns and forked toe nails, burning cane fields and butchering innocent Spaniards, the Spanish General chose them for his bodyguards.

One of the Greatest Generals
One of the greatest Generals of the day, considering the environment, was Antonio Maceo, the Cuban mulatto hero, who, for two years, kept the Spanish army at bay or led them a lively quickstep through the western provinces to the very gates of Havana. As swift on the march as Sheridan or Stonewall Jackson, as wary and prudent as Grant himself, he had inspirations of military genius whenever a crisis arose. It is not generally known that Martinez Campos, who owed his final defeat at Colisea to Maceo, was a second cousin of this black man. Maceo’s mother, whose family name was Grinan, came from the town of Mayari where all the people have Indian blood in their veins. Col. Martinez del Campos, father of General Martinez Campos, was once Military Governor of Mayari. While there he loved a beautiful girl of Indian and Negro blood, who belonged to the Grinan family, and was first cousin to Maceo’s mother. Martinez Campos, Jr., the future General and child of the Indian girl was born in Mayari. The Governor could not marry his sweetheart, having a wife and children in Spain, but when he returned to the mother country he took the boy along. According to Spanish law, the town in which one is baptized is recognized as his legal birthplace, so it was easy enough to legitimatize the infant Campos. He grew up in Spain, and when sent to Cuba as Captain-General, to his everlasting credit be it said, that one of his first acts was to hunt up his mother. Having found her, old and poor, he bought a fine house in Campo Florida, the aristocratic suburb of Havana, established her there and cared for her tenderly till she died. The cousins, though on opposite sides of the war, befriended each other in many instances, and it is said that more than once Captain-General Campos owed his life to his unacknowledged relative.

His Brother Captured
The latter’s half brother, Jose Maceo, was captured early in the war and sent to the African prison, Centa; whence he escaped later on with Quintín Bandera and others of his staff. The last named Negro Colonel is to-day a prominent figure. “Quintin Bandera” means “fifteen flags,” and the appellation was bestowed upon him by his grateful countrymen after he had captured fifteen Spanish ensigns. Everybody seems to have forgotten his real name, and Quintin Bandera he will remain in history. While in the African penal settlement the daughter of a Spanish officer fell in love with him. She assisted in his escape and fled with him to Gibraltar. There he married his rescuer. She is of Spanish and Moorish descent, and is said to be a lady of education and refinement. She taught her husband to read and write and feels unbounded pride in his achievements.

The noted General Jesus Rabi, of the Cuban Army, is of the same mixed blood as the Maceos. Another well-known Negro commander is General Flor Crombet, whose patriotic deeds have been dimmed by his atrocious cruelties. Among all the officers now swarming Havana none attracts more admiring attention than General Ducasse, a tall, fine-looking mulatto, who was educated at the fine military school of St. Cyr. He is of extremely polished manners and undeniable force of character, can make a brilliant address and has great influence among the masses. To eject such a man as he from a third rate foreign restaurant in his own land would be ridiculous. His equally celebrated brother, Col. Juan Ducasse, was killed last year in the Pinar del Rio insurrection.

Colored Men’s Achievements
Besides these sons of Mars, Cuba has considered her history enriched by the achievements of colored men in peaceful walks of life. The memory of Gabriel Concepcion de la Valdez the mulatto poet, is cherished as that of a saint. He was accused by the Spanish government of complicity in the slave insurrection of 1844 and condemned to be shot in his native town, Matanzas. One bright morning in May he stood by the old statue of Ferdinand VII. in the Plaza d’Armas, calmly facing a row of muskets, along whose shining barrels the sun glinted. The first volley failed to touch a vital spot. Bleeding from several wounds, he still stood erect, and, pointing to his heart, said in a clear voice, “Aim here!” Another mulatto author, educator and profound thinker was Antonio Medina, a priest and professor of San Basilio the Greater. He acquired wide reputation as a poet, novelist and ecclesiastic, both in Spain and Cuba, and was selected by the Spanish Academy to deliver the oration on the anniversary of Cerantes’ death in Madrid. His favorite Cuban pupil was Juan Gaulberto Gomez, the mulatto journalist, who has been imprisoned time and again for offences against the Spanish press laws. Señor Gomez, whose home is in Matanzas, is now on the shady side of 40, a spectacled and scholarly looking man. After the peace of Zanjon he collaborated in the periodicals published by the Marquis of Sterling. In ’79 he founded in Havana, the newspaper La Fraternidad, devoted to the interest of the colored race. For a certain fiery editorial he was deported to Centa and kept there two years. Then he went to Madrid and assumed the management of La Tribuna and in 1890 returned to Havana and resumed the publication of La Fraternidad.

Another Exile
Another beloved exile from the land of his birth is Señor Jose White. His mother was a colored woman of Matanzas. At the age of 16 Jose wrote a mass for the Matanzas orchestra and gave his first concert. With the proceeds he entered the Conservatory of Paris, and in the following year won the first prize as violinist among thirty-nine contestants. He soon gained an enviable reputation among the most celebrated European violinists, and, covered with honors, returned to Havana in January of ’75. But his songs were sometimes of liberty, and in June of the same year the Spanish government drove him out of the country. Then he went to Brazil, and is now President of the Conservatory of Music of Rio Janeiro.
One might go on multiplying similar incidents. Some of the most eminent doctors, lawyers and college professors in Cuba are more or less darkly “colored.” In the humble walks of life one finds them everywhere, as carpenters, masons, shoemakers and plumbers. In the few manufacturies of Cuba a large proportion of the workmen are Negroes especially in the cigar factories. In the tanneries of Pinar del Rio most of the workmen are colored, also in the saddle factories of Havana, Guanabacoa, Cardenas and other places. Although the insurgent army is not yet disbanded, the sugar-planters get plenty of help from their ranks by offering fair wages.–New York Sun.

Facts about Porto Rico told in Short Paragraphs
Porto Rico, the beautiful island which General Miles is taking under the American flag, has an area of 3,530 square miles. It is 107 miles in length and 37 miles across. It has a good telegraph line and a railroad only partially completed.

The population, which is not made up of so many Negroes and mulattoes as that of the neighboring islands, is about 900,000. Almost all of the inhabitants are Roman Catholics.

It is a mountainous island, and contains forty seven navigable streams. The roads are merely paths beaten down by cattle.

Exports in 1887 were valued at $10,181,291; imports, $10,198,006.

Gold, copper, salt, coal and iron abound.
The poorer classes live almost entirely on a variety of highland rice, which is easily cultivated, as it requires no flooding.

One of the principal industries is grazing. St. Thomas is the market for fresh meat.

Corn, tobacco, sugar, coffee, cotton and potatoes constitute the principal crops.

There are no snakes, no beasts of prey, no noxious birds nor insects in the island.

The trees and grass are always green.

Rats are the great foe of the crops.

The natives often live to be one hundred years old.

The most beautiful flower on the island is the ortegon, which has purple blossoms a yard long.

Hurricanes are frequent on the north coast and very destructive.

Mosquitoes art the pest of the island.

Spanish is the language spoken, and education is but little esteemed.

Every man, no matter how poor, owns a horse and three or four gamecocks.

The small planter is called “Xivaro.” He is the proud possessor of a sweet-heart, a gamecock, a horse, a hammock, a guitar and a large supply of tobacco. He is quick tempered but not revengeful, and he is proverbially lazy.

Hospitality is the rule of the island. The peasants are astonished and hurt when offered money by travellers. San Juan Harbor is one of the best in the West Indies, and is said to be the third most strongly fortified town in the world, Halifax being the strongest and Cartagena, Spain, the second.

Ponce de Leon, between 1509 and 1518 killed off the natives.

The De Leon palace, built in 1511, is of great interest to tourists.

The climate is warm but pleasant. At night thick clothing is found comfortable.

All visiting and shopping are done after sundown.

Slavery was abolished in 1873.

The women are rather small and delicately formed. Many of them are pretty and they are all given to flirtation.

Men and women ride horseback alike. Wicker baskets to carry clothes or provisions, are hung on either side of the horse’s shoulders. Back of these baskets the rider sits.

It is the custom of travelers on horseback to carry a basket handled sword a yard and a quarter long, more as an ornament than as a means of defense.

The observance of birthdays is an island fashion that is followed by every one.

A Governor, appointed by the Crown, manages affairs. His palace is at San Juan, the capital, a town that has 24,000 inhabitants.

Upon the Rio Grande are prehistoric monuments that have attracted the attention of archaeologists.
Following the Spanish custom, men are imprisoned for debt.

In the towns houses are built with flat roofs, both to catch water and to afford the family a small roof garden.

All planters have town houses where they bring their families during the carnival season.
San Juan is filled with adventurers, gamblers, speculators and fugitives from justice.–New York World.



MLA Source Citation:

Johnson, Edward A. History of Negro Soldiers in the Spanish-American War, and other items of Interest. 1899. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 29 July 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/military/no-color-line-drawn-in-cuba.htm - Last updated on Mar 7th, 2013


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