Friday, February 1, 2008

Black History Month: Did you know?


Did you know that one of the first Presidents of Mexico was a man of African decent? His name was Vicente Guerrero. Read about him below.

Vicente Guerrero

Vicente Guerrero, a mulatto ex-slave, was the George Washington and Abraham Lincoln combined of Mexico. He freed his country and then freed its slaves. Guerrerowas born an Ixtla, Mexico, in 1782 of mixed white and Negro parentage with an Indian strain. His father, Juan Pedro Guerrero, and his mother, Guadelupe Saldena, were both of humble origin, the lowest of the low, degraded by law, custom, and prejudice. No Negro woman could wear any kind of ornamentation, jewels, trinkets, or linen.

Guerrero started life as mule driver. Unlike Abraham Lincoln, he hadn't the slightest opportunity to learn to read or write. He was nearly forty before he knew a letter of the alphabet. But within his breast was an unquenchable desire for freedom and a spirit of love and justice for his fellow man.

Therefore when the struggle for Mexican Independence began in 1810, led by a valiant, Hidalgo, he was one of the first to enlist. The upper-class Mexicans who oppressed by Spain. They could not trade with foreign countries and Mexican manufacture was forbidden.

When Hidalgo planted grapevines to make his own wine, government officials tore them up. Wine had to be imported from Spain, with a high tax. At this time, also, Mexico was ordered to pay a tribute of an additional $45 million to Spain. The grievances of the American colonists against George III were insignificant compared to those of Mexico against the King of Spain.

Declaring Mexican independence, hidalgo had called upon all his countrymen to follow him. Guerrero distinguished himself so well in the first battle that he was made a captain. In the first stage of the struggle the Mexicans were successful, but Spain, sending reinforcements from home, soon crushed the insurgents. One by one the leading Mexicans - Hidalgo, Allende, Aldama, Jiminez, Mina - were slain or made prisoner. The remainder accepted the king's pardon - all except Guerrero, who fought on.

Villasenor says of him, "Forsaken by fortune, betrayed, without money, without arms, with only his willl-power left, he was at this time of desolation and despair, the only supporter of the cause of independence, displaying valor, prudence, profound sagacity, indefatigable activity and heroic constancy." "Even in the darkest days of the long revolution," says Rives, "he was the leader of a little body of unconquered men, who kept alive the cause of independence."

The government, in an effort to win Guerrero, sent his father Pedro to offer him lands and wealth. But Guerrero scorned the offer. He had pledged himself no rest until the hated Spaniard had been driven into the sea.

Spain sent her best general, Iturbide, against him. Guerrero defeated him in two battles. Itubide, who secretly had resolved to desert Spain and make himself master of Mexico and had been winning over the army to himself by bribes, now made overtures to Guerrero, promising to revolt against Spain provided he had Guerrero's support. The latter, not seeing through his duplicity, consented. Joining hands, the two defeated General Santa Ana, Spanish commander. Iturbide was named President of Mexico, Guerrero stepping aside though he was the more popular of the two.

As ruler, Iturbide showed his true colors. He proclaimed himself emperor and with the landed classes continued the exploitation of the masses of ignorant natives who had born the brunt of the struggle for independence.

Guerrero thereupon declared war against Iturbide, captured him, and had him shot. Another was elected president with Guerrero as vice president. But the struggle between the landed classes and the masses went on. The opposing sides carried on their activities through freemasonry, which had lately been introduced into Mexico.

The rich were in the Scottish rite; the poor, the York rite. Guerrero was head of the Yorks. At the next presidential election the candidates were Guerrero and Pedraza, the former bakced by the common people, the latter by the rich. Pedraza won, ten electors declaring for him against eight for Guerrero.

Revolt over the nation followed. The York's issued a proclamation naming Guerrero president. It said, "The name of the hero of the South is echoed with indescribable enthusiasm everywhere. His valor and constancy combined have engraved themselves upon the hearts of the Mexican people. He is the image of their of their felicity. They wish to confide to him the delicate and sacred task of the executive power." Finally the government surrendered and Guerrero became president in April, 1825.

Guerrero at once set about improving the conditions of the masses, composed of Indians, half-breeds, and Negroes. He ordered schools to be built, established free libraries - reading had been forbidden - proclaimed religious liberty, established a coinage system, suspended the death penalty, and took other steps far in advance of his time.

His most important act was the abolition of slavery. Though inspired by the Constitution of the United States, he went further than that document. He ordered the immediate release of every slave in Mexico. The estimated number of Negro slaves was 10, 595 blacks and 1050 mulattoes, with Guerrero's native state containing the largest number . The remainder were Indians and half-breeds, some of whom had a Negro strain.

The Mexican constitution, which is as liberal a document as has ever been penned, was much of it the work of Guerrero. One of its clauses read, "All inhabitants, whether White, African, or Indian, are qualified to hold office." Guerrero's emanicipation proclamation was put into effect almost without resistance because it did not entail great economic loss to the rich, except in one state, namely Texas.

The Texans were chiefly Americans who had migrated into mexico with their slaves to escape antislavery agitation in the United States. They made it clear that they would not give up their slaves without a struggle and Guerrero, who was busy fighting his enemies in Mexico City, was forced to leave them alone. Later Texas revolted and joined the American Union partly because of the emancipation decree of this Negro president. The Texans knew that the temper of the Mexican masses was against slavery and that they would be forced to give in sooner or later.

Guerrero's rise to the presidency increased the position of the wealthy and the landed classes and they used every means in their power to pull him down. Bancroft says, "They could not bear the power to pull him down.

Bancroft says, "They could not bear the sight of one of Guerrero's race occupying the presidential chair and ruthlessly destroyed a government whose only faults were excessive clemency and liberalism." Strode says, "Because of his lack of education, his country manners and his reputed Negro blood, he was held in contempt by the upper-class society of the capital. The conservatives chose to regard him as a triple-blooded outsider."

He might have won their approval, however, had he been willing to become their tool and give them a free hand with the masses. This he would not do and tried to win them over to his side by liberal arguments and generous dealing, which proved a total failure. Uniting against him, they drove him from office.

Guerrero, as in the days when he was fighting for independence, took once more to the mountains, where for the next four years he defeated every force sent against him even though his strength had been determined by a bullet that had lodged in his chest while fighting Iturbide.

Finally his rival, General Bustamente, took him by treachery. He gave a ship captain, Pucaluga, a friend of Guerrero, $13,000 to lure Guerrero to his ship. There Guerrero was made prisoner and executed after a mock trial. His death was followed by nationwide revolt. Bustamente was driven from the presidency and saved his life only by flight. Picaluga was executed.

A pension was paid Guerrero's window; honors were conferred on other members of his family; and cities and a state were named in his honor. In 1842 his body was removed to Mexico City and interred there. Parkes says, "Guerrero was an uneducated man of mixed Spanish, Indian and Negro descent of a singularly generous and kindly disposition."

"Guerrero," says Bancroft, was possessed of a gentleness and magnetism that inspired love among his adherents; while his swarthy face, resonant voice, and flashing eye made him an object of profound respect even among his enemies."


Have you heard of Vincente Guerrero before?
Are you surprised that Mexico had a President of African decent?

Text Attribution: World's Great Men of Color, Volume II, by J.A. Rogers

4 comments:

Villager said...

I had never heard this story until today. Thank you very much for sharing it...

peace, Villager

wisdomteachesme said...

neither did i.
but i do admit, there is a LOT that i don't know for one reason or another
and trying to absorb as much as i can :D

thanks mdc...and look for some sisters- so we can get Herstory to all the women and men that just don't know the truth about our people.

i encourage you to continue to discover and use your tools wisely in order to strengthen your light!

mrshadow33 said...

It is nice to talk to some else who has read the classic two volume set by J.A. Rogers. I first read about Vicente Guerrero when I was in high school and I was blown away. Another good book that covers the African pressence in Mexico is They Came Before Columbus by Ivan Van Sertima.

Mes Deux Cents said...

Villager,

I'm glad to return the favor! :)

_____________________________________

WTM,

I'm sure there will be a few posts on our sisters this month.

___________________________________

Mr S,

Thanks, I'll check that book out. It sounds interesting.
___________________________________
___________________________________

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About Me

West Coast, United States
African American, Poet?, Vegetarian, Music lover, Agoraphobic, Social Phobic

My Favorite Poet

My Favorite Poet
Staceyann Chin

My Favorite Track Athlete

My Favorite Track Athlete
Christine Arron