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Another Story About Racism

Let me tell you a story about racism. The first actual afro-latino valedictorian of Harvard Law School, Pedro Albizu Campos graduated in 1921. He graduated while simultaneously studying Literature, philosophy, Chemical Engineering, and Military Science. He was fluent in six modern and two classical languages: English, Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Italian, Latin, and ancient Greek.

Pedro was denied the valedictorian distinction by a professor who delayed his final grade to keep him from having the highest grade point average in the 1921 class. They wanted to avoid the "embarrassment" of having a black Puerto Rican be the valedictorian of one of the most prestigious law schools in the country.

Pedro Albizu Campos turned down a Supreme Court clerkship, multiple prestigious firm offers, and plum government appointments to go back to Puerto Rico and practice poverty law. Instead of making himself wealthy, he worked for folks and often receive payment in the form of chickens from poor farmers. He then began to lead the nascent independence movement of Puerto Rico. For this, he was targeted by Hoover's FBI and eventually thrown in prison for leading the independence movement. At the time, it was illegal to fly the Puerto Rican flag.

Pedro Albizu Campos suffered for years in prison and was subject to horrific torture and human experiments. They experimented on him using radiation. This was at a time where the U.S. military deliberately exposed Puerto Rican men to mustard gas to see how it affected them. He later suffered a stroke after a decade in prison and was pardoned and released only to die months later in 1965.

This is only a very brief retelling of this story. Racism is baked into the DNA of the United States government and how it's treated Puerto Rican people. Having a law degrees from an Ivy League school doesn't protect you when you go against the system. I recommend you read the book The War Against All Puerto Ricans to get a better picture of his life.


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