Authored by Toni Liberty
Vito Marcantonio, New York Congressional Representative of the 18th Congressional District, from East Harlem was an advocate for Puerto Rican civil rights, social justice, and independence. This photograph is part of a larger collection of speeches, documents and photographs collected and donated to the Center for Migration Studies of New York after being published in a book, I Vote My Conscience, dedicated to remembering the Congressman’s selfless acts in the political arena until his untimely and sudden death in 1954.1 Pictured left, in the dark suit holding a hat, Marcantonio stood before Congress in May 1939 to say,
“My interest in Puerto Rico is due not only to the fact that I represent the largest Puerto Rican constituency, of which I am proud but also to defend the most exploited victims of a most devastating imperialism. I have no personal or political axe to grind, nor have I any relatives to protect on the payroll of the government of Puerto Rico. I have no rights, nor any interest in the politics of the island. That is the business of no one but the people of Puerto Rico. I have a right, however, to defend the people of Puerto Rico against ‘exploitation, tyranny and betrayal.’ I have a right as a Member of Congress to fight for their economic and social welfare, and to fight for their liberties. Puerto Rico is a part of the United States, and until its status is changed it is our duty to give as much sympathetic treatment to Puerto Rico and its problems as we do to the problems of any of the people in the United States.”2
Marcantonio served his Congressional District during the years 1934-1936 and again during 1938-1950. This picture represents Marcantonio’s arrival in Puerto Rico, where Nationalist sympathizers led by the City Manager of San Juan, Jesus Benitez Castro, greeted him. On August 3, 1936 he joined attorney Gilberto Conception de Garcia to defend the Nationalist leader, Pedro Albizu Campos.
Campos was charged with “a conspiracy to insurrect against the government of the United States,” or treason.3 His trial was unfairly judged by a fixed jury made up of people devoted to Puerto Rican Governor Winthrop and those with economic interests tied into the Wall Street market. Campos was convicted and sentenced to serve ten years in an Atlanta, Georgia jail.
Marcantonio was the voice of Puerto Rico’s misrepresented nationalists. The Congressman plead to Congress that the Puerto Rican government and police intimidation of the Nationalist Party be subdued and controlled, such that Puerto Rico could become independent.4
1. Mary Brown, “ Inventory Vito Marcantonio Records.” (Center for Migration Studies of New York, Inc. Archives Finding Aid, New York, 1998).
2. I Vote my Conscience: Debates, Speeches and Writings of Vito Marcantonio 1935-1950. Ed. Annette T. Rubinstein and Associates. (New York: Book Craftsmen Associates, Inc., 1956), 373.
3. Ibid., 391.
4. Ibid., 414.
1. Brown, Mary, “ Inventory Vito Marcantonio Records.” Center for Migration Studies of New York, Inc. Archives Finding Aid, New York, 1998.
2. I Vote my Conscience: Debates, Speeches and Writings of Vito Marcantonio 1935-1950. Ed. Annette T. Rubinstein and Associates. (New York: Book Craftsmen Associates, Inc., 1956), 373-414.