The history of Puerto Rico began with the settlement of the archipelago of Puerto Rico by the Ortoiroid people between 3000 and 2000 BC. Other tribes, such as the Saladoid and Arawak Indians, populated the island between 430 BC and 1000 AD. At the time of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World in 1492, the dominant indigenous culture was that of the Taínos. The Taíno peoples numbers went dangerously low during the latter half of the 16th century because of exploitation by Spanish settlers, the war they waged on the Taíno, and diseases introduced by the invaders.

Located in the northeastern Caribbean, Puerto Rico formed a key part of the Spanish Empire from the early years of the exploration, conquest and colonization of the New World. The island was a major military post during many wars between Spain and other European powers for control of the region in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. The smallest of the Greater Antilles, Puerto Rico was a stepping-stone in the passage from Europe to Cuba, Mexico, Central America, and the northern territories of South America. Throughout most of the 19th century until the conclusion of the Spanish–American War, Puerto Rico and Cuba were the last two Spanish colonies in the New World; they served as Spain’s final outposts in a strategy to regain control of the American continents. These two possessions, however, had been demanding more autonomy and had pro-independence movements since the start of the movements in 1808. Realizing that it was in danger of losing its two remaining Caribbean territories, the Spanish Crown revived the Royal Decree of Graces of 1815. The decree was printed in Spanish, English and French in order to attract Europeans, with the hope that the independence movements would lose their popularity and strength with the arrival of new settlers. Free land was offered to those who wanted to populate the islands on the condition that they swear their loyalty to the Spanish Crown and allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church.

In 1898, during the Spanish–American war, Puerto Rico was invaded and subsequently became a possession of the United States. The first years of the 20th century was marked by the struggle to obtain greater democratic rights from the United States. The Foraker Act of 1900, which established a civil government, and the Jones Act of 1917, which made Puerto Ricans U.S. citizens, paved the way for the drafting of Puerto Rico’s Constitution and its approval by Congress and Puerto Rico voters in 1952. However, the political status of Puerto Rico, a Commonwealth controlled by the United States, remains an anomaly.

Taíno village at Tibes Indigenous Ceremonial Center in Ponce, Puerto Rico
The settlement of Puerto Rico began with the establishment of the Ortoiroid culture from the Orinoco region in South America. Some scholars suggest that their settlement dates back 4000 years.[2] An archeological dig at the island of Vieques in 1990 found the remains of what is believed to be an Ortoiroid man (named Puerto Ferro man) which was dated to around 2000 BC. The Ortoiroid were displaced by the Saladoid, a culture from the same region that arrived on the island between 430 and 250 BC.

Between the seventh and 11th centuries, the Arawak are thought to have settled the island. During this time the Taíno culture developed, and by approximately 1000 AD, it had become dominant. Taíno culture has been traced to the village of Saladero at the basin of the Orinoco River in Venezuela; the Taíno migrated to Puerto Rico by crossing the Lesser Antilles.

At the time of Columbus’ arrival, an estimated 30 to 60 thousand Taíno Amerindians, led by the cacique (chief) Agüeybaná, inhabited the island. They called it Boriken, “the great land of the valiant and noble Lord”.[5] The natives lived in small villages led by a cacique and subsisted on hunting, fishing and gathering of indigenous cassava root and fruit. When the Spaniards arrived in 1493, the Taíno were already in conflict with the raiding Carib, who were moving up the Antilles chain. The Taíno domination of the island was nearing its end, and the Spanish arrival marked the beginning of their extinction. Their culture, however, remains part of that of contemporary Puerto Rico. Musical instruments such as maracas and güiro, the hammock, and words such as Mayagüez, Arecibo, iguana, and huracán (hurricane) are examples of the legacy left by the Taíno.

Spanish rule (1493–1898)

Beginning of colonization
Christopher Columbus, the explorer credited with the discovery of Puerto Rico
On September 25, 1493, Christopher Columbus set sail on his second voyage with 17 ships and 1,200–1,500 men from Cádiz.[6] On November 19, 1493 he landed on the island, naming it San Juan Bautista in honor of Saint John the Baptist. The first settlement, Caparra, was founded on August 8, 1508 by Juan Ponce de León, a lieutenant under Columbus, who was greeted by the Taino Cacique Agüeybaná and who later became the first governor of the island.[7] Ponce de Leon was actively involved in the Higuey massacre in Puerto Rico. In 1508, Ponce de Leon was chosen by the Spanish Crown to lead the conquest and exploitation of the Tainos Indians for gold mining operations.[8] The following year, the settlement was abandoned in favor of a nearby islet on the coast, named Puerto Rico (Rich Port), which had a suitable harbor. In 1511, a second settlement, San Germán was established in the southwestern part of the island. According to the “500TH Florida Discovery Council Round Table”, on March 3, 1513, Juan Ponce de León, organized and commenced an expedition (with a Crew of 200-including Women and Free Blacks) departing from “Punta Aguada” Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico was the historic 1st gateway to the discovery of Florida which opened the doors to the advanced settlement of the USA. They introduced Christianity, Cattle, Horses, Sheep, the Spanish language and more to the land (Florida) that later became the United States of America, 107 years before the Pilgrims landed. During the 1520s, the island took the name of Puerto Rico while the port became San Juan.

The Spanish settlers established the first repartimiento system, under which natives were distributed to Spanish officials to be used as slave labor. On December 27, 1512, under pressure from the Roman Catholic Church, Ferdinand II of Aragon issued the Burgos’ Laws, which modified the repartimiento into a system called encomiendas, aimed at ending the exploitation. The laws prohibited the use of any form of punishment toward the indigenous people, regulated their work hours, pay, hygiene, and care, and ordered them to be catechized. In 1511, the Taínos revolted against the Spanish; cacique Urayoán, as planned by Agüeybaná II, ordered his warriors to drown the Spanish soldier Diego Salcedo to determine whether the Spaniards were immortal. After drowning Salcedo, they kept watch over his body for three days to confirm his death. The revolt was easily crushed by Ponce de León and within a few decades much of the native population had been decimated by disease, violence, and a high occurrence of suicide.

The Roman Catholic Church, realizing the opportunity to expand its influence, also participated in colonizing the island. On August 8, 1511, Pope Julius II established three dioceses in the New World, one in Puerto Rico and two on the island of Hispaniola under the archbishop of Seville. The Canon of Salamanca, Alonso Manso, was appointed bishop of the Puerto Rican diocese. On September 26, 1512, before his arrival on the island, the first school of advanced studies was established by the bishop. Taking possession in 1513, he became the first bishop to arrive in the Americas. Puerto Rico would also become the first ecclesiastical headquarters in the New World during the reign of Pope Leo X and the general headquarters of the Spanish Inquisition in the New World.

As part of the colonization process, African slaves were brought to the island in 1513. Following the decline of the Taíno population, more slaves were brought to Puerto Rico; however, the number of slaves on the island paled in comparison to those in neighboring islands.[14] Also, early in the colonization of Puerto Rico, attempts were made to wrest control of Puerto Rico from Spain. The Caribs, a raiding tribe of the Caribbean, attacked Spanish settlements along the banks of the Daguao and Macao rivers in 1514 and again in 1521 but each time they were easily repelled by the superior Spanish firepower. However, these would not be the last attempts at control of Puerto Rico. The European powers quickly realized the potential of the newly discovered lands and attempted to gain control of them.

The first school in Puerto Rico and the first school in the United States after Puerto Rico became a US territory, was the Escuela de Gramatica (Grammar School). The school was established by Bishop Alonso Manso in 1513, in the area where the Cathedral of San Juan was to be constructed. The school was free of charge and the courses taught were Latin language, literature, history, science, art, philosophy and theology.

European threats
Further information: Military history of Puerto Rico#Europeans fight over Puerto Rico
View across the bay of San Juan of Fort San Felipe del Morro
Sparked by the possibility of immense wealth, many European powers made attempts to wrest control of the Americas from Spain in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Success in invasion varied, and ultimately all Spanish opponents failed to maintain permanent control of the island. In 1528, the French, recognizing the strategic value of Puerto Rico, sacked and burned the southwestern town of San Germán. They also destroyed many of the island’s first settlements, including Guánica, Sotomayor, Daguao and Loíza before the local militia forced them to retreat. The only settlement that remained was the capital, San Juan. French corsairs would again sack San Germán in 1538 and 1554.

Spain, determined to defend its possession, began the fortification of the inlet of San Juan in the early 16th century. In 1532, construction of the first fortifications began with La Fortaleza (the Fortress) near the entrance to San Juan bay. Seven years later the construction of massive defenses around San Juan began, including Fort San Felipe del Morro astride the entrance to San Juan bay. Later, Fort San Cristóbal and Fort San Jerónimo—built with a financial subsidy from the Mexican mines—garrisoned troops and defended against land attacks. In 1587, engineers Juan de Tejada and Juan Bautista Antonelli redesigned Fort San Felipe del Morro; these changes endure. Politically, Puerto Rico was reorganized in 1580 into a captaincy general to provide for more autonomy and quick administrative responses to military threats.

On November 22, 1595, English privateer Sir Francis Drake—with 27 vessels and 2,500 troops—sailed into San Juan Bay intending to loot the city.[18] Even though San Juan was set ablaze, they were unable to defeat the forces entrenched in the forts. Knowing Drake had failed to overcome the city’s defenses by sea, on June 15, 1598, the Royal Navy, led by George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland, landed troops from 21 ships to the east in Santurce. Clifford and his men met Spanish resistance while attempting to cross the San Antonio bridge (from an area known today as Condado) into the islet of San Juan. Nonetheless, the British conquered the island and held it for several months. They were forced to abandon the island owing to an outbreak of dysentery among the troops. The following year Spain sent soldiers, cannons, and a new governor, Alonso de Mercado, to rebuild the city of San Juan.

The 17th and 18th centuries saw more attacks on the island. On September 25, 1625, the Dutch, under the leadership of Boudewijn Hendrick (Balduino Enrico), attacked San Juan, besieging Fort San Felipe del Morro and La Fortaleza. Residents fled the city but the Spanish, led by Governor Juan de Haro, were able to repel the Dutch troops from Fort San Felipe del Morro. In their retreat the Dutch set the city ablaze. The fortification of San Juan continued; in 1634, Philip IV of Spain fortified Fort San Cristóbal, along with six fortresses linked by a line of sandstone walls surrounding the city. In 1702, the English assaulted the town of Arecibo, located on the north coast, west of San Juan, with no success. In 1797, the French and Spanish declared war on the United Kingdom. The British attempted again to conquer the island, attacking San Juan with an invasion force of 7,000 troops and an armada consisting of 64 warships under the command of General Ralph Abercromby. Captain General Don Ramón de Castro and his army successfully resisted the attack.

Amidst the constant attacks, the first threads of Puerto Rican society emerged. A 1765 census conducted by Lt. General Alejandro O’Reilly showed a total population of 44,883, of which 5,037 (11.2%) were slaves, a low percentage compared to the other Spanish colonies in the Caribbean. In 1786 the first comprehensive history of Puerto Rico—Historia Geográfica, Civil y Política de Puerto Rico by Fray Iñigo Abbad y Lasierra—was published in Madrid, documenting the history of Puerto Rico from the time of Columbus’ landing in 1493 until 1783. The book also presents a first hand account of Puerto Rican identity, including music, clothing, personality and nationality.

In 1779, Puerto Ricans fought in the American Revolutionary War under the command of Bernardo de Gálvez, who was named Field Marshal of the Spanish colonial army in North America. Puerto Ricans participated the capture of Pensacola, the capital of the British colony of West Florida and the cities of Baton Rouge, St. Louis and Mobile. The Puerto Rican troops, commanded by Brigadier General Ramón de Castro, helped defeat the British and Indian army of 2,500 soldiers and British warships in Pensacola.

Early 19th century
See also: Captaincy General of Puerto Rico#The Early Nineteenth Century: Revolutions and setbacks and Royal Decree of

Graces of 1815

Royal Decree of Graces, 1815, which allowed foreigners to enter Puerto Rico
The 19th century brought many changes to Puerto Rico, both political and social. In 1809, the Spanish government, in opposition to Napoleon, was convened in Cádiz in southern Spain. While still swearing allegiance to the king, the Supreme Central Junta invited voting representatives from the colonies. Ramón Power y Giralt was nominated as the local delegate to the Cádiz Cortes. The Ley Power (“the Power Act”) soon followed, which designated five ports for free commerce—Fajardo, Mayagüez, Aguadilla, Cabo Rojo and Ponce—and established economic reforms with the goal of developing a more efficient economy. In 1812, the Cádiz Constitution was adopted, dividing Spain and its territories into provinces, each with a local corporation or council to promote its prosperity and defend its interests; this granted Puerto Ricans conditional citizenship.

On August 10, 1815, the Royal Decree of Grace was issued, allowing foreigners to enter Puerto Rico (including French refugees from Hispaniola), and opening the port to trade with nations other than Spain. This was the beginning of agriculture-based economic growth, with sugar, tobacco and coffee being the main products. The Decree also gave free land to anyone who swore their loyalty to the Spanish Crown and their allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church. Thousands of families from all regions of Spain (particularly Asturias, Catalonia, Majorca and Galicia), Germany, Corsica, Ireland, France, Portugal, the Canary Islands and other locations, escaping from harsh economic times in Europe and lured by the offer of free land, soon immigrated to Puerto Rico. However, these small gains in autonomy and rights were short lived. After the fall of Napoleon, absolute power returned to Spain, which revoked the Cádiz Constitution and reinstated Puerto Rico to its former condition as a colony, subject to the unrestricted power of the Spanish monarch.

The integration of immigrants into Puerto Rican culture and other events changed Puerto Rican society. On June 25, 1835, Queen María Cristina abolished the slave trade to Spanish colonies. In 1851, Governor Juan de la Pezuela Cevallos founded the Royal Academy of Belles Letters. The academy licensed primary school teachers, formulated school methods, and held literary contests that promoted the intellectual and literary progress of the island.
In 1858, Samuel Morse introduced wired communication to Latin America when he established a telegraph system in Puerto Rico. Morse’s oldest daughter Susan Walker Morse (1821–1885), would often visit her uncle Charles Pickering Walker who owned the Hacienda Concordia in the town of Guayama. Morse, who often spent his winters at the Hacienda with his daughter and son-in-law, who lived and owned the Hacienda Henriqueta, set a two-mile telegraph line connecting his son-in-law’s hacienda to their house in Arroyo. The line was inaugurated on March 1, 1859 in a ceremony flanked by the Spanish and American flags. The first lines transmitted by Morse that day in Puerto Rico were:

“Puerto Rico, beautiful jewel! When you are linked with the other jewels of the Antilles in the necklace of the world’s telegraph, yours will not shine less brilliantly in the crown of your Queen!”

Minor slave revolts had occurred in the island during this period, However the revolt planned and organized by Marcos Xiorro in 1821, was the most important of them all. Even though the conspiracy was unsuccessful, he achieved legendary status among the slaves and is part of Puerto Rico’s folklore.[29]

Struggle for sovereignty
Main article: Grito de Lares
The last half of the 19th century was marked by the Puerto Rican struggle for sovereignty. A census conducted in 1860 revealed a population of 583,308. Of these, 300,406 (51.5%) were white and 282,775 (48.5%) were persons of color, the latter including people of primarily African heritage, mulattos and mestizos. The majority of the population in Puerto Rico was illiterate (83.7%) and lived in poverty, and the agricultural industry—at the time, the main source of income—was hampered by lack of road infrastructure, adequate tools and equipment, and natural disasters, including hurricanes and droughts. The economy also suffered from increasing tariffs and taxes imposed by the Spanish Crown. Furthermore, Spain had begun to exile or jail any person who called for liberal reforms.

The Revolutionary flag of Lares
“The first Puerto Rican Flag” used in the unsuccessful Grito de Lares (Lares Uprising)
On September 23, 1868, hundreds of men and women in the town of Lares—stricken by poverty and politically estranged from Spain—revolted against Spanish rule, seeking Puerto Rican independence. The Grito de Lares (“Lares Cry” or “Lares Uprising”) was planned by a group led by Dr. Ramón Emeterio Betances, at the time exiled to the Dominican Republic, and Segundo Ruiz Belvis.[31] Dr. Betances had founded the Comité Revolucionario de Puerto Rico (Revolutionary Committee of Puerto Rico) in January 1868. The most important figures in the uprising were Manuel Rojas, Mathias Brugman, Mariana Bracetti, Francisco Ramirez Medina and Lola Rodríguez de Tió. The uprising, although significant, was quickly controlled by Spanish authorities.

Following the Grito de Lares revolt, political and social reforms occurred toward the end of the 19th century. On June 4, 1870, due to the efforts of Román Baldorioty de Castro, Luis Padial and Julio Vizcarrondo, the Moret Law was approved, giving freedom to slaves born after September 17, 1868 or over 60 years old; on March 22, 1873, the Spanish National Assembly officially abolished, with a few special clauses,[34] slavery in Puerto Rico. In 1870, the first political organizations on the island were formed as two factions emerged. The Traditionalists, known as the Partido Liberal Conservador (Liberal Conservative Party) were led by José R. Fernández, Pablo Ubarri and Francisco Paula Acuña and advocated assimilation into the political party system of Spain. The Autonomists, known as the Partido Liberal Reformista (Liberal Reformist Party) were led by Román Baldorioty de Castro, José Julián Acosta, Nicolás Aguayo and Pedro Gerónimo Goico and advocated decentralization away from Spanish control.[35] Both parties would later change their names to Partido Incondicional Español (Unconditional Spanish Party) and Partido Federal Reformista (Reformist Federal Party), respectively. In March 1887, the Partido Federal Reformista was reformed and named the Partido Autonomista Puertorriqueño (Puerto Rican Autonomist Party); it tried to create a political and legal identity for Puerto Rico while emulating Spain in all political matters. It was led by Román Baldorioty de Castro, José Celso Barbosa, Rosendo Matienzo Cintrón and Luis Muñoz Rivera.

Flag flown by Fidel Vélez and his men during the “Intentona de Yauco” revolt
Leaders of “El Grito de Lares”, who were in exile in New York City, joined the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Committee, founded on December 8, 1895, and continued their quest for Puerto Rican independence. In 1897, Antonio Mattei Lluberas and the local leaders of the independence movement of the town of Yauco, organized another uprising, which became known as the “Intentona de Yauco”. This was the first time that the current Puerto Rican was unfurled in Puerto Rican soil. The local conservative political factions, which believed that such an attempt would be a threat to their struggle for autonomy, opposed such an action. Rumors of the planned event spread to the local Spanish authorities who acted swiftly and put an end to what would be the last major uprising in the island to Spanish colonial rule.

The struggle for autonomy came close to achieving its goal on November 25, 1897, when the Carta Autonómica (Charter of Autonomy), which conceded political and administrative autonomy to the island, was approved in Spain. In the past 400-plus years, after centuries of colonial rule, Práxedes Mateo Sagasta, the Prime Minister of Spain granted the island an autonomous government on November 25, 1897 in the empire’s legislative body in Cádiz, Spain, and trade was opened up with the United States and European colonies. The charter maintained a governor appointed by Spain, who held the power to veto any legislative decision he disagreed with, and a partially elected parliamentary structure. That same year, the Partido Autonomista Ortodoxo (Orthodox Autonomist Party), led by José Celso Barbosa and Manuel Fernández Juncos, was founded. On February 9, 1898, the new government officially began. Local legislature set its own budget and taxes. They accepted or rejected commercial treaties concluded by Spain. In February 1898, Governor General Manuel Macías inaugurated the new government of Puerto Rico under the Autonomous Charter which gave town councils complete autonomy in local matters. Subsequently, the governor had no authority to intervene in civil and political matters unless authorized to do so by the Cabinet. General elections were held in March and on July 17, 1898 Puerto Rico’s autonomous government began to function, but not for long.

Invasion of 1898
Main article: Puerto Rican Campaign
Puerto Rican and Spanish troops in Guayama
In 1890, Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, a member of the Navy War Board and leading U.S. strategic thinker, wrote a book titled The Influence of Sea Power upon History in which he argued for the creation of a large and powerful navy modeled after the British Royal Navy. Part of his strategy called for the acquisition of colonies in the Caribbean Sea which would serve as coaling and naval stations and which would serve as strategical points of defense upon the construction of a canal in the Isthmus. Since 1894, the Naval War College had been formulating plans for war with Spain and by 1896, the Office of Naval Intelligence had prepared a plan which included military operations in Puerto Rican waters.

On March 10, 1898, Dr. Julio J. Henna and Robert H. Todd, leaders of the Puerto Rican section of the Cuban Revolutionary Party, began to correspond with United States President William McKinley and the United States Senate in hopes that they would consider including Puerto Rico in the intervention planned for Cuba. Henna and Todd also provided the US government with information about the Spanish military presence on the island. On April 24, Spanish Minister of Defense Segismundo Bermejo sent instructions to Spanish Admiral Cervera to proceed with his fleet from Cape Verde to the Caribbean, Cuba and Puerto Rico.[37] In May, Lt. Henry H. Whitney of the United States Fourth Artillery was sent to Puerto Rico on a reconnaissance mission. He provided maps and information on the Spanish military forces to the US government that would be useful for an invasion.

The Spanish-American War broke out in late April. The American strategy was to seize Spanish colonies in the Atlantic — Puerto Rico and Cuba — and their possessions in the Pacific — the Philippines and Guam. On May 10, Spanish forces at Fort San Cristóbal under the command of Capt. Ángel Rivero Méndez in San Juan exchanged fire with the USS Yale under the command of Capt. William C. Wise. Two days later on May 12, a squadron of 12 US ships commanded by Rear Admiral William T. Sampson bombarded installations at San Juan. On June 25, the USS Yosemite blocked San Juan harbor. On July 18, General Nelson A. Miles, commander of US forces, received orders to sail for Puerto Rico and to land his troops. On July 21, a convoy with nine transports and 3,300 soldiers, escorted by USS Massachusetts, sailed for Puerto Rico from Guantánamo.[37] General Nelson Miles landed unopposed at Guánica, located in the southern coast of the island, on July 25, 1898 with the first contingent of American troops. Opposition was met in the southern and central regions of the island but by the end of August the island was under United States control.

On August 12, peace protocols were signed in Washington and Spanish Commissions met in San Juan on September 9 to discuss the details of the withdrawal of Spanish troops and the cession of the island to the United States. On October 1, an initial meeting was held in Paris to draft the Peace Treaty and on December 10, 1898, the Treaty of Paris was signed (ratified by the US Senate February 6, 1899). Spain renounced all claim to Cuba, ceded Guam and Puerto Rico and its dependent islets to the United States, and transferred sovereignty over the Philippines to the United States and in turn was paid $20,000,000 ($550 million in 2013 dollars) by the U.S. General John R. Brooke became the first United States military governor of the island.
United States rule (1898–present)

Military government
Raising the US Flag over San Juan, October 18, 1898.
After the ratification of the Treaty of Paris of 1898, Puerto Rico came under the military control of the United States of America. This brought about significant changes: the name of the island was changed to Porto Rico (it would be changed back to Puerto Rico in 1932) and the currency was changed from the Puerto Rican peso to the United States dollar. Freedom of assembly, speech, press, and religion were decreed and an eight-hour day for government employees was established. A public school system was begun and the U.S. Postal service was extended to the island. The highway system was enlarged, and bridges over the more important rivers were constructed. The government lottery was abolished, cockfighting was forbidden, and a centralized public health service established. Health conditions were poor at the time, with high rates of infant mortality and numerous endemic diseases.

The 45-star flag, used by the United States during the invasion of Puerto Rico, was also the official flag of Puerto Rico from 1899 to 1908.

The beginning of the military government also marked the creation of new political groups. The Partido Republicano (Republican Party) and the American Federal Party were created, led by José Celso Barbosa and Luis Muñoz Rivera, respectively. Both groups supported annexation by the United States as a solution to the colonial situation. The island’s Creole sugar planters, who had suffered from declining prices, greeted U.S. rule, hoping to gain access to the North American market.

Disaster struck in August 1899, when two hurricanes ravaged the island: Hurricane San Ciriaco on August 8, and an unnamed hurricane on August 22. Approximately 3,400 people died in the floods and thousands were left without shelter, food, or work.[44] The effects on the economy were devastating: millions of dollars were lost due to the destruction of the majority of the sugar and coffee plantations.

Foraker Act of 1900
The first Supreme Court of Puerto Rico, established in 1900
The military government in Puerto Rico was short lived; it was disbanded on April 2, 1900, when the U.S. Congress enacted the Foraker Act (also known as the Organic Act of 1900), sponsored by Senator Joseph B. Foraker. This act established a civil government and free commerce between the island and the United States. The structure of the insular government included a governor appointed by the president, an executive council (the equivalent of a senate), and a legislature with 35 members, though the executive veto required a two-thirds vote to override. The first appointed civil governor, Charles Herbert Allen, was inaugurated on May 1, 1900.  On June 5, President McKinley appointed an Executive Council which included five Puerto Rican members and six U.S. members. The act also established the creation of a judicial system headed by the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico and allowed Puerto Rico to send a Resident Commissioner as a representative to Congress. The Department of Education was subsequently formed, headed by Dr. M. G. Brumbaugh (later governor of Pennsylvania). Teaching was conducted entirely in English with Spanish treated as a special subject. However, both Spanish and English were official languages in the island. On November 6, the first elections under the Foraker Act were held and on December 3, the first Legislative Assembly took office. Federico Degetau took office in Washington as the first Resident Commissioner from Puerto Rico on March 14, 1901. The Foraker Act, (with the influence of a fearful progressive) placed a limit of 500 acres (2.0 km2) as the amount of land that any one person was allowed to own. This part of the Act was not enforced and, thus, Puerto Rico’s agricultural economy was transformed into a sugar monoculture economy. American sugar companies had an advantage over the local sugar plantation owners. The local plantation owner could only finance his operations at local banks which offered high interest rates compared to the low rates that the American companies received from the commercial banks in Wall Street. This factor, plus the tariffs now imposed, forced many of the local sugar plantation owners to go bankrupt or to sell their holdings to the more powerful sugar companies. Sugar was considered one of the few strategic commodities in which the United States was not fully self-sufficient.

The new political status sparked the creation of more political groups on the island. In 1900, the Partido Federal (Federal Party) and the Partido Obrero Socialista de Puerto Rico (Socialist Labor Party of Puerto Rico) were founded. The former campaigned for Puerto Rico to become one of the states in the United States while the latter followed the ideals of the Socialist Labor Party of America. Four years later, in 1904, Luis Muñoz Rivera and José de Diego restructured the American Federal Party into the Partido Unionista de Puerto Rico (Unionist Party of Puerto Rico) with the intention of fighting against the colonial government established under the Foraker Act. In 1909, Rosendo Matienzo Cintrón, Manuel Zeno Gandía, Luis Lloréns Torres, Eugenio Benítez Castaño, and Pedro Franceschi founded the Partido Independentista (Independence Party). It was the first political party whose agenda was the independence of Puerto Rico.

The status quo was again altered in 1909 when the Foraker Act, due to weaknesses and a small crisis in Puerto Rico’s government, was modified by the Olmsted Amendment. This Amendment placed the supervision of Puerto Rican affairs in the jurisdiction of an executive department to be designated by the president.[48] In 1914, the first Puerto Rican officers, Martin Travieso (Secretary) and Manuel V. Domenech (Commissioner of Interiors), were assigned to the Executive Cabinet, allowing islanders a majority. A 1915 delegation from Puerto Rico, accompanied by the Governor Arthur Yager, traveled to Washington, D.C. to ask Congress to grant the island more autonomy. This delegation and speeches made by Resident Commissioner Luis Muñoz Rivera in Congress, coupled with political and economic interests, led to the drafting of the Jones-Shafroth Act of 1917 (Jones Act).

Jones Act of 1917

Main article: Jones-Shafroth Act

The Jones Act was approved by the U.S. Congress on December 5, 1916, and signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson on March 2, 1917.[49] The law made Puerto Rico a United States territory which is “organized but unincorporated.” Puerto Ricans were also collectively given a restricted U.S. citizenship. This implied that Puerto Ricans in the island did not have full American citizenship rights, such as the right to vote for Electors for the president of the United States.[50] via the Jones Act.[49] The Act allowed conscription to be extended to the island, sending 20,000 Puerto Rican soldiers to the United States Army during the First World War. The Act also divided governmental powers into three branches: executive (appointed by the President of the United States), legislative, and judicial. The legislative branch was composed of the senate, consisting of 19 members, and a house of representatives, consisting of 39 members.[49] The members of the legislature were freely elected by the Puerto Rican people. A bill of rights, which established elections to be held every four years, was also created. The Act also made English the official language of the Puerto Rican courts.

On October 11, 1918, an earthquake occurred, with an approximate magnitude of 7.3 on the Richter scale, accompanied by a tsunami reaching 6.1 metres (20 ft) in height. The epicenter was located northwest of Aguadilla in the Mona Passage (between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic). This earthquake caused great damage and loss of life at Mayagüez, and lesser damage along the west coast. Tremors continued for several weeks.
As a consequence of the Jones Act and the establishment of elections, a new political party, the Partido Nacionalista de Puerto Rico (Puerto Rican Nationalist Party), was founded on September 17, 1922. In the 1930s, the Nationalist Party, led by Pedro Albizu Campos withdrew from political participation and increased conflict arose between their adherents and the authorities.

On October 23, 1935, A student assembly was held at the University of Puerto Rico, where Albizu Campos was declared “persona non grata”. It was requested that Governor Blanton Winship provide and place armed police officers on the grounds of the university in case the situation turned violent. This responsibility pertained to Colonel Elisha Francis Riggs, the U.S. appointed Police Chief. A couple of police officers spotted what they believed to be a suspicious looking automobile and asked the driver Ramón S. Pagán, who was accompanied by his friend Pedro Quiñones, for his license. A fight between the men in the car and the police soon followed which resulted in the death of four nationalist and one bystander. On February 23, 1936, two Nationalists Hiram Rosado and Elias Beauchamp, in retaliation for the “Rio Piedras Massacre,” killed Police Chief Riggs in San Juan. They were apprehended and summarily executed at police headquarters. On July 31, 1936, Pedro Albizu Campos, Juan Antonio Corretjer, Clemente Soto Vélez and other Nationalists were sentenced to six to 10 years in federal prison.

Picture by journalist Carlos Torres Morales of the Ponce Massacre, March 21, 1937

You may watch newsreel scenes of the Ponce Massacre here
On March 21, 1937, a peaceful march was organized by the Nationalist Party to commemorate the ending of slavery in Puerto Rico by the governing Spanish National Assembly in 1873. The police, under the orders of General Blanton Winship, the US-appointed colonial Governor of Puerto Rico, opened fire at the peaceful Puerto Rican Nationalist Party parade, bringing about what came to be known as the “Ponce Massacre”: 19 people (including two policemen) were killed and over 100 were wounded.[53] On July 25, 1938, a little over a year after the Ponce massacre, Governor Winship ordered a military parade take place in the city of Ponce in celebration of the American invasion of Puerto Rico. Such celebration customarily took place in San Juan, the capital of the colonial government. At the parade, an attempt was made to assassinate Winship, allegedly by members of the Nationalist Party. It was the first time in Puerto Rico’s long history that an attempt had been made against a governor. Although Winship escaped unscathed, a total of 36 people were wounded, including a colonel in the National Guard and the Nationalist gunman.

Establishment of the Commonwealth

From 1948 to 1952 it was a felony to display the Puerto Rican flag in public; the only flag permitted to be flown on the island was the flag of the United States.

In the years after World War II, social, political and economical changes began to take place that have continued to shape the island’s character today. The late 1940s brought the beginning of a major migration to the continental United States, mainly to New York City. The main reasons for this were an undesirable economic situation brought by the Great Depression, as well as heavy recruitment made by the U.S. armed forces and U.S. companies.[54][55] Political changes began in 1946 when President Truman designated the first Puerto Rican, Commissioner Resident Jesús T. Piñero, to serve as island governor. On June 10, 1948, Piñero, signed the infamous “Ley de la Mordaza” (Gag Law) or Law 53 as it was officially known, passed by the Puerto Rican legislature presided by Luis Muñoz Marín on May 21, 1948, which made it illegal to display the Puerto Rican Flag, sing a patriotic song, talk of independence and to fight for the liberation of the island. It resembled the anti-communist Smith Law passed in the United States.

The U.S. Congress passed an act allowing Puerto Ricans to vote for their own governor and the first elections under this act were held on November 2, 1948. Luis Muñoz Marín, president of the Puerto Rican Senate, successfully campaigned and became the first democratically elected Governor of the island on January 2, 1949.

El Imparcial headline: “Aviation (US) bombs Utuado” during Nationalist revolts

On July 4, 1950, President Harry S. Truman signed Public Act 600, which allowed Puerto Ricans to draft their own constitution establishing their own internal government structures and renaming the body politic as the “Commonwealth of Puerto Rico”, not unlike the name of the bodies politic of Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Kentucky, in English and “Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico” in Spanish. Muñoz Marín’s reversal on not pursuing Puerto Rican Independence angered some Puerto Ricans.

On October 30, 1950, a group of Puerto Rican nationalists, led by Pedro Albizu Campos, staged several local attacks, known as the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party Revolts of the 1950s, the most successful of which is known as the Jayuya Uprising. The revolts included an attack on the governor’s mansion, La Fortaleza, and the next day at Blair House, where two nationalists tried to storm in to assassinate United States President Harry S. Truman. These acts led Muñoz to crack down on Puerto Rican nationalists and advocates of Puerto Rican independence. The actions by both Muñoz and the United States’ Government would later be determined as infringing on constitutional rights.

In February, 1952, the Constitution of Puerto Rico was approved by voters in a referendum, and a federal law approved it, subject to striking Sec. 20 of Article II and adding text to Sec. 3 of Article VII of the final draft, amendments that were finally ratified in November of that year., and the island organized as the Estado Libre Asociado (Commonwealth of Puerto Rico). That same year marked the first time that the Flag of Puerto Rico could be publicly displayed, after having been criminalized by the Popular Democratic Party-controlled government in 1948. In March 1954, four Nationalists fired guns from the visitors gallery in the US House of Representatives at the Capitol, to protest the lack of Puerto Rican independence.

Luis A. Ferré founded Estadistas Unidos (United Statehooders), an organization to campaign for statehood in the 1967 plebiscite, after the Statehood Republican Party chose to boycot the vote. On July 23, 1967, the first plebiscite on the political status of Puerto Rico was held. Voters overwhelmingly affirmed continuation of Commonwealth status (Commonwealth–60.4% Statehood–39%; Independence–0.6%).[61] Other plebiscites have been held to determine the political status of Puerto Rico, in 1993 and in 1998. Both times, although by smaller margins, the status quo has been upheld. In 2012, a majority voted to reject the current status and to become a state.
As the U.S. Constitution empowers Congress and not the people of a teritory to catalyze admission as a state or change of status, legally the island remains a territory of the United States, under congressional supervision. After the 1967 plebiscite, the Partido Nuevo Progresista (New Progressive Party or New Party for Progress) was organized under Ferré’s leadership. The party campaigned for Puerto Rico to become the 51st state of the Union. Luis A. Ferré was elected governor on November 5, 1968, with 43.6% of the vote, the first time a pro-statehood governor had received a plurality. The New Progressive Party, the Popular Democratic Party, and the Independence Party constitute the current political status-based registered political parties in the island.

Economic history

Coffee was a major industry before the 1940s. Arabica beans were introduced to the island in 1736. Production soared in the central mountainous area after 1855 because of cheap land, a low-paid and plentiful workforce, good credit facilities, and a growing market in the U.S., Spain and Europe. Decline set in after 1897, and the end came with a major hurricane in 1928 and the 1930s depression. While coffee declined, sugar and tobacco grew in importance, thanks to the large mainland market.

The island’s social and economic structure modernized after 1898, with new infrastructure such as roads, ports, railroads and telegraph lines, and new public health measures. The high infant mortality death rate of the late 19th century declined steadily, thanks in large measure to basic public health programs.

Land tenure did not become concentrated in fewer hands, but incomes increased as American agribusiness and capital investments arrived. The land tenure system in the firm control of local farmers (small, medium, and large).[65] After 1940 dairying became an industry second only to sugar, and had a higher dollar output than the better-known traditional crops – coffee and tobacco.

In the 1920s, the economy of Puerto Rico boomed. A dramatic increase in the price of sugar, Puerto Rico’s principal export, brought cash to the farmers. As a result the island’s infrastructure was steadily upgraded. New schools, roads and bridges were constructed. The increase in private wealth was reflected in the erection of many residences, while the development of commerce and agriculture stimulated the extension of banking and transport facilities. However, the economic growth would come to a screeching halt in 1929 when the New York stock market crashed and the worldwide Great Depression began.

This period of prosperity came to an end with the onset of the Great Depression. At the time, agriculture was the main contributor to the economy.[67] Industry and commerce slowed during the 1930s as well. The problems were aggravated when on September 27, 1932, Hurricane San Ciprián struck the island. Exact figures of the destruction are not known but estimates say that 200–300 people were killed, more than a thousand were injured, and property damage escalated to $30–50 million ($500 million to $840 million as of 2013).

The agricultural production, the principal economic driver for the island, came to a standstill. Under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, a Puerto Rican Reconstruction Administration was authorized. Funds were made available for construction of new housing, infrastructure, including transportation improvements and other capital investment to improve island conditions. In 1938, a new federal minimum wage law was passed, establishing it at 25 cents an hour. As a consequence, two-thirds of the island’s textile factories closed because they could not be profitable while paying workers at that level.

Since 1945

After World War II, large numbers of young people migrated to the mainland’s industrial cities for work and remitted dollars back to their families. In 1950 Washington introduced Operation Bootstrap, which greatly stimulated economic growth from 1950 until the 1970s. Due to billions of dollars of corporate investments, the growth rate was 6% for the 1950s, 5% for the 1960s, and 4% for the 1970s. Puerto Rico became one of the most affluent economies in Latin America. But, it had to import 80% of its food.

Operation Bootstrap was sponsored by governor Muñoz Marín. It was coupled with agrarian reform (land redistribution) that limited the area that could be held by large sugarcane interests. Operation Bootstrap enticed US mainland investors to transfer or create manufacturing plants by granting them local and federal tax concessions, but maintaining the access to mainland markets free of import duties. Another incentive was the lower wage scales in the densely populated island. The program accelerated the shift from an agricultural to an industrial society.  The 1950s saw the development of labor-intensive light industries, such as textiles; later manufacturing gave way to heavy industry, such as petrochemicals and oil refining, in the 1960s and 1970s.Muñoz Marín’s development programs brought some prosperity for an emergent middle class. The industrialization was in part fueled by generous local incentives and freedom from federal taxation, while providing access to continental US markets without import duties. As a result, a rural agricultural society was transformed into an industrial working class. Manufacturing activity, however, has been burdened by electicity rates two- to three-times the average in the United States.

Newsreel scenes in Spanish of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party Revolts of the 1950s here
Present-day Puerto Rico has become a major tourist destination and a leading pharmaceutical and manufacturing center, as well as a major financial center for the Caribbean.

Puerto Rico continues to struggle to define its political status. Even though Puerto Rico was granted the right to draft its own Constitution, approved in 1952, it remains an unincorporated organized territory of the United States. Its ambiguous status continues to spark political debates which dominate Puerto Rican society. Economically, Puerto Rico has recently seen its credit rating downgraded to one notch above non-investment grade by the main credit rating agencies, with the possibility of more downgrades happening in the near future. This has led to fiscal measures to reduce government spending, increase revenues and balance the budget, and the implementation in 2006 and expansion in 2013 of a 7% sales tax.


Exclusion of Blacks From Juries Raises Renewed Scrutiny

Exclusion of Blacks From Juries Raises Renewed Scrutiny
SHREVEPORT, La. — Here are some reasons prosecutors have offered for excluding blacks from juries: They were young or old, single or divorced, religious or not, failed to make eye contact, lived in a poor part of town, had served in the military, had a hyphenated last name, displayed bad posture, were sullen, disrespectful or talkative, had long hair, wore a beard.
The prosecutors had all used peremptory challenges, which generally allow lawyers to dismiss potential jurors without offering an explanation. But the Supreme Court makes an exception: If lawyers are accused of racial discrimination in picking jurors, they must offer a neutral justification.
“Stupid reasons are O.K.,” said Shari S. Diamond, an expert on juries at Northwestern University School of Law. Ones offered in bad faith are not.
Carl Staples was rejected as a prospective juror in a 2009 death penalty case in Caddo Parish. Credit Brandon Thibodeaux for The New York Times
In Louisiana’s Caddo Parish, where Shreveport is the parish seat, a study to be released Monday has found that prosecutors used peremptory challenges three times as often to strike black potential jurors as others during the last decade.
Carl Staples was rejected as a prospective juror in a 2009 death penalty case in Caddo Parish. Credit Brandon Thibodeaux for The New York Times
That is consistent with patterns researchers found earlier in Alabama, Louisiana and North Carolina, where prosecutors struck black jurors at double or triple the rates of others.
In Georgia, prosecutors excluded every black prospective juror in a death penalty case against a black defendant, which the Supreme Court has agreed to review this fall.
“If you repeatedly see all-white juries convict African-Americans, what does that do to public confidence in the criminal justice system?” asked Elisabeth A. Semel, the director of the death penalty clinic at the law school at the University of California, Berkeley.
As police shootings of unarmed black men across the country have spurred distrust of law enforcement by many African-Americans, the new findings on jury selection bring fresh attention to a question that has long haunted the American justice system: Are criminal juries warped by racism and bias?
Some legal experts said they hoped the Supreme Court would use the Georgia case to tighten the standards for peremptory challenges, which have existed for centuries and were, until a 1986 decision, Batson v. Kentucky, considered completely discretionary. (Judges can also dismiss potential jurors for cause, but that requires a determination that they are unfit to serve.)
But many prosecutors and defense lawyers said peremptory strikes allow them to use instinct and strategy to shape unbiased and receptive juries. “I’m looking for people who will be open, at least, to my arguments,” said Joshua Marquis, the district attorney in Astoria, Ore.
Jeff Adachi, San Francisco’s elected public defender, said peremptory challenges promote fairness.
“You’re going to remove people who are biased against your client,” he said, “and the district attorney is going to remove jurors who are biased against police officers or the government.”
Reprieve Australia, a group that opposes the death penalty and conducted the Caddo Parish study, said the likelihood of an acquittal rose with the number of blacks on the jury.
No defendants were acquitted when two or fewer of the dozen jurors were black. When there were at least three black jurors, the acquittal rate was 12 percent. With five or more, the rate rose to 19 percent. Defendants in all three groups were overwhelmingly black.
Excluding black jurors at a disproportionate rate does more than hurt defendants’ prospects and undermine public confidence, said Ursula Noye, a researcher who compiled the data for the report.
“Next to voting,” she said, “participating in a jury is perhaps the most important civil right.”
‘It Dashes Your Hopes’
Prospective jurors arriving at the courthouse here walk past a towering monument to the Confederacy, featuring grim likenesses of four Confederate generals.
Carl Staples, a 63-year-old African-American, recalled how the monument made him feel when he reported for jury duty.
“It dashes your hopes,” he said, taking a break at the gospel radio station where he works as an announcer. “It has its roots in the ideology of white supremacy.” He said much the same thing during jury selection in a 2009 death penalty case, and that played a part in his dismissal for cause.
Caddo Parish is 48 percent black, and 83 percent of the defendants in the new study were black. But the typical 12-member criminal jury had fewer than four blacks on it, the report said.
Much of the gap had nothing to do with peremptory strikes. Of the 8,318 potential jurors in the study, which reviewed 332 trials from 2003 to 2012, only 35 percent were black.
Professor Diamond suggested reasons for this. Blacks may be less likely to be on jury lists that are drawn from voter registration records, less likely to appear when called, more likely to qualify for hardship exemptions and more likely to be disqualified for felony convictions.
Still, prosecutors here used peremptory strikes against 46 percent of the black potential jurors who remained, and against 15 percent of others. In 93 percent of trials, prosecutors struck a higher percentage of blacks than of others.
Dale Cox, the parish’s acting district attorney, said jury selection was more art than science and could not be quantified. “Statistics can be misleading,” he said. “There could be any number of variables that would explain those strikes that have nothing whatsoever to do with race.”
Dale Cox, the parish’s acting district attorney, denied any improper conduct in jury selection practices. Credit Brandon Thibodeaux for The New York Times
The study’s findings, though, were in keeping with data from around the country.
In a five-year period ending in 2010, according to a lawsuit, prosecutors in Houston and Henry Counties in Alabama used peremptory strikes to remove 82 percent of eligible black potential jurors from trials in which the death penalty was imposed.
There can be good reasons for that, said Kent S. Scheidegger, a lawyer with the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which generally supports prosecutors.
“Opposition to the death penalty is much more common among black people, polls regularly show,” he said. Striking jurors for hesitation about capital punishment is legitimate, he continued, adding that it is largely balanced ”by defense lawyers doing exactly the same thing the other way.”
In 2012, a state trial judge in North Carolina found that prosecutors in his state had created a “cheat sheet” of race-neutral reasons to offer when challenged. Among the choices were “air of defiance,” “arms folded” and monosyllabic responses.
The judge, Gregory A. Weeks of Cumberland County Superior Court in Fayetteville, endorsed a study by law professors at Michigan State University examining the trials of the state’s death row inmates in 2010. It found that prosecutors had struck 53 percent of black potential jurors and 26 percent of others.
“The probability of this disparity occurring in a race-neutral jury selection process is less than one in 10 trillion,” Judge Weeks wrote.
In Caddo Parish, the new study said, Mr. Cox struck black jurors at 2.7 times the rate of others over the course of 22 trials. (Mr. Cox recently expressed unusual enthusiasm for the death penalty.)
He denied any improper conduct, and noted that he had never had a conviction questioned by a court or reversed because of his jury selection practices.
He added that it was not always clear whether black jurors helped or hurt the prosecution.
“The defendant on trial may be African-American and the victim is African-American,” he said. “That is a scenario that is 90 percent of our cases here in Shreveport. So you can see right away I want African-Americans on the jury, by and large, because they are the voice of the victim.”
Of the 12 prosecutors who handled at least 20 trials, 10 were white. The highest dismissal rate was held by Brian H. Barber, a white former prosecutor who struck five times as many blacks as others. Now a judge, he did not respond to requests for comment.
Circling the Word ‘Black’
When the Supreme Court hears the death-penalty case from Georgia, Foster v. Chatman, No. 14-8349, it could reshape the ways juries are selected.
The case arose from the 1987 trial of Timothy T. Foster, an African-American facing the death penalty for killing a white woman, Queen Madge White. Prosecutors worked hard to exclude blacks from the jury.
In notes that did not surface until decades later, they marked the names of black prospective jurors with a B. They highlighted those names in green. They circled the word “black” where potential jurors had noted their race on questionnaires.
They ranked the black prospective jurors in case “it comes down to having to pick one of the black jurors,” as the prosecution’s investigator put it in a draft affidavit at the time.
There was no need for that, though. Prosecutors struck all four black potential jurors.
When challenged, Stephen Lanier, the lead prosecutor, offered lots of reasons for the strikes. All the prospects were said to be some combination of confused, incoherent, hostile, disrespectful and nervous. Three did not make enough eye contact. A 34-year-old black woman was too close in age to the defendant, who was 19. (The prosecution did not challenge eight prospective white jurors age 35 or under.)
“All I have to do is have a race-neutral reason,” Mr. Lanier said, “and all of these reasons that I have given the court are racially neutral.” The judge rejected the defense’s objection.
After Mr. Foster was convicted, Mr. Lanier urged the all-white jury to impose a death sentence to “deter other people out there in the projects.” The jury did so.
David McClatchey, a public defender, at the Caddo Parish Courthouse. Credit Brandon Thibodeaux for The New York Times
Mr. Foster, who has spent decades on death row, is seeking a new trial.
Troubling evidence of bias led the Supreme Court to adopt the race restriction in jury selection nearly three decades ago.
In a concurrence in the Batson decision, Justice Thurgood Marshall said it was a necessary step to combat “common and flagrant” race discrimination, citing statistics from Louisiana, Missouri, South Carolina and Texas. But he called for “banning peremptories entirely.”
More recently, Justice Stephen G. Breyer has expressed concerns about peremptory challenges, writing in a 2005 concurrence that they seemed “increasingly anomalous in our judicial system.”
He noted that England had eliminated peremptory challenges but “continues to administer fair trials based largely on random jury selection.”
But other lawyers and scholars have argued for more limited changes to the system.
Some say allowing fewer peremptory challenges — three, say, instead of the 12 each side gets in Louisiana — could combat the worst abuses.
Abbe Smith, a law professor at Georgetown, would go further.
“Simply put,” she wrote last year in The Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics, “prosecutors have abused the privilege of exercising peremptory challenges and should lose it.”
Selection in Action
Shreveport, in the northwest corner of Louisiana, was once a booming oil town. Its downtown is now dotted with empty storefronts, and among the few bright spots in its struggling economy are casinos and the occasional film or television production lured by tax breaks.
The courthouse is a grand affair, though, with marble walls and bronze fixtures. But the courtroom in which Frederick Dudley’s jury was selected this month was charmless and modern, with a low ceiling and fluorescent lights.
Race may have played a role in the proceedings, but not always in predictable ways. Mr. Dudley, a 26-year-old black man with dreadlocks, had rejected his court-appointed lawyer’s advice to plead guilty to armed robbery in exchange for a 10-year sentence. He asked Judge Katherine Dorroh, who is white, for a new lawyer. She told Mr. Dudley that he was free to hire a lawyer but that otherwise he was stuck with David McClatchey, a white public defender.
The lawyers questioned prospective jurors in groups of 14. “I happen to represent a young man who is African-American,” Mr. McClatchey said. “If you were in deliberations and someone said something prejudiced, would you speak up?” Thirteen people, both black and white, said they would. “No,” said a white woman. “Their opinion is theirs.” Neither side challenged her, and she was seated.
The prosecutor, Treneisha Hill, who is black, asked many more questions. “Tell me one thing about you that would make you a good juror for this case and one thing that wouldn’t,” she said. The jurors responded to the second part of her query with common themes.
They were worried about crime. They did not want to miss work. A white woman said she might not be able to be fair because her husband had recently been robbed at gunpoint. “He was an African-American man,” the juror said, glancing at Mr. Dudley. “I look at him and think, ‘Were you the one who held a gun to my husband’s head?’”
Mr. McClatchey used a peremptory strike to dismiss her. “It’s like cutting the mold off the cheese,” he later explained.
In the end, he used nine peremptory challenges, three of them to strike blacks. The prosecutors used four, only one to strike a black potential juror, a young man with dreadlocks, much like the defendant’s.
That did not surprise J. Antonio Florence, a defense lawyer here not involved in the case. “Young black men,” he said, “have absolutely no chance of getting on a jury.”
The final panel — 12 plus an alternate — included six black members, all women. Mr. McClatchey said those demographics could work against him, as the black jurors might identify with the prosecutor rather than with his client. “They’ve gotten smart,” he said of recent hiring practices by the district attorney’s office.
But the jury never sat. Mr. Dudley pleaded guilty the next day and was sentenced to 12 years in prison the next week. Mr. McClatchey said his client’s decision to plead was wise, as “he was obviously guilty.”
“Because of the nature of the case,” he added, “the jury selection was very basic.”



1010061_407171976058856_1640440624_nWhile many may think this image has been altered, it was not. This is an actual photo taken on October 25, 1977 when a group of unarmed Puerto Rican activists gathered to protest demanding the release of Puerto Rican Nationalist prisoners. This was an act of symbolism illustrating their hopes of freedom and independence in putting an end to the discrimination that Puerto Ricans were enduring.
On November 5, 2000, Puerto Rican activist, Alberto de Jesús Mercado, better known as Tito Kayak, along with five other protesters went to the top of the Statue of Liberty in New York City where he bravely placed the Puerto Rican flag on the statue’s crown. On June 13, 2005, Kayak was arrested at the United Nations headquarters in New York City for attempting to switch the United Nations banner with the Puerto Rican flag, while the United Nations Special Committee met to discuss the political state of the island. Prior to this, Kayak wanted the U.S. military out of Vieques since the bombings were causing extreme harm to the natives, deteriorating the health of the residents and even killing civilians. Kayak and his supporters successfully completed their mission. The U.S. Navy departed from Vieques in 2003. Kayak has done time for trespassing and hanging the Puerto Rican flag in places where it was not welcome. With the state doing everything they possibly could to incriminate him, his lawyer stated that under the First Amendment Kayak has the right to freedom of self-expression. Face to face with adversity, Kayak did not back down. In his own words, he made it clear to a judge, “You can put me in jail, but there are many Puerto Rican women and men who will follow in fighting for a just cause. Do you know what the saying on my shirt, ‘Bieké o Muerte,’ means? Well, they do, and they will fight from their hearts as I do for our liberation from colonial occupation.”
From December 11, 1898 to 1952 the Puerto Rican flag was outlawed. It was considered a crime to display the Puerto Rican flag in public. The only banner allowed in Puerto Rico during that period was the American flag.


Did slaves build the White House?

Construction on the President’s House began in 1792 in Washington, D.C., a new capital situated in sparsely settled region far from a major population center. The decision to place the capital on land ceded by two slave states-Virginia and Maryland-ultimately influenced the acquisition of laborers to construct its public buildings. The D.C. commissioners, charged by Congress with building the new city under the direction of the president, initially planned to import workers from Europe to meet their labor needs. However, response to recruitment was dismal and soon they turned to African Americans – enslaved and free – to provide the bulk of labor that built the White House, the United States Capitol, and other early government buildings.
Stonemason Collen Williamson trained enslaved people on the spot at the government’s quarry at Aquia, Virginia. Enslaved people quarried and cut the rough james-hoban-04-b1stone that was later dressed and laid by Scottish masons to erect the walls of the President’s House. The slaves joined a work force that included local white laborers and artisans from Maryland and Virginia, as well as immigrants from Ireland, Scotland, and other European nations.
A slave coffle passing the Capitol grounds, 1815, published in A Popular History of the United States, 1876.
The payroll shows that the government did not own slaves, but that it did hire them from their masters. Slave carpenters Ben, Daniel, and Peter were noted as owned by James Hoban.
National Archives and Records Administration

White Puerto Rican Migration and the Effacement of Blackness

10418988_683245528451498_3400728002257147410_nWhite Puerto Rican Migration and the Effacement of Blackness
By William Garcia
It was August 2009 when I was admitted to the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras and that what was when I first saw the amalgamation of a new breed of Puerto Rican I had never encountered before in my life, the guaynabit@s/blanquit@s. Most impoverished and working-class people in Puerto Rico call them guaynabit@s, guaynabich@s and/or blanquit@s; derivatives from the word blanquito, meaning white Puerto Ricans with money. I remembered that I heard those terms when I had been in the barrio of Sabana Seca in Toa Baja and somebody started saying “En poco le rompo la cara al guaynabito pendejo ese…” and also heard, “Ese es un blanquito de la YUPI…” I wondered what could a guyanabit@ or a blanquit@ be? Most of the guaynabit@s or blanquit@s were dressed in different styles: some were dressed like hipsters, others dressed like yuppies, followed by west coast-looking surfers while others dressed in European fashions. Most of them were the whitest Puerto Ricans I had ever seen in all my life and had no problem in taking pride in their whiteness.
Many of them spoke English very well but unlike New York Puerto Ricans they spoke like white Americans with the ‘bro’, ‘totally’ and ‘dude’ colloquialisms. They uttered the words, ‘like’ and ‘loca’, in the same sentence every time they spoke. I was impressed by the way they were speaking in Spanglish with an Anglo-American twist because it was these people who were supposed to hate Nuyorican Spanglish and be patriotic ‘Spanish Only’ Puerto Ricans. They behaved very similarly to U.S hipsters who talked about hipsters but never admitted they were the very hipsters they criticized. These blanquit@s were the same way, always criticizing upper-class people without looking in the mirror.
There I was with an old New York Yankees fitted baseball cap, a long white t-shirt, and my crusty Nike sneakers. My black skin covered in tattoos wanted to disappear in thin-air like Chevy Chase in the movie Invisible Man. It was obvious that they enjoyed a good chunk of white supremacy and privilege and didn’t mix with Puerto Ricans of darker hues even if Puerto Rican nationalism stressed that we were all mixed. One could tell that most of the professors at UPR-Rio Piedras came from the same blanquit@/guyanabit@ stock, which probably did not think much of me either, even though they never gave me an unfair grade and even to this day I am grateful for that. It might have been because they had the privilege of being color-blind. Most of those professors also refrained from talking about blackness, stateside Puerto Ricans or anything that questioned their privileged gatekeeping, prophetic intellectual identity and above all; archetypical Puerto Rican identity. I would spend five more years defending the Puerto Rican diaspora and contemporary blackness in those classrooms which was usually rebutted by a simple silent treatment by the professor and the students.
It was surprising for me to see white privileged Puerto Ricans play plena, bomba, and salsa music considering that those are Afro-diasporic derived musical inheritances of black resistance.[1]This usurpation of black culture caused me frustration because I knew that black Puerto Rican culture was more than listening to salsa while getting drunk off of Medalla Lights on the Juan Ponce de Leon Blvd. I noticed that what acclaimed Afro-Puerto Rican scholar, writer and researcher, Isar Godreau argued was right: that there is a selective celebration of blackness in Puerto Rico. A selective blackness that was folklorized and distanced that does not require critically assessing inner-workings that contribute racial inequity and injustice.[2] In these academic spaces most black Puerto Ricans seemed more interested in being accepted as Puerto Rican first before being black and never spoke about racism and white supremacy, always reinforcing racial harmony.
Felipe Luciano’s publication A New Deal Between Stateside and Island Puerto Ricans: The View From a New York Rican (2012) predicted the problems with the ongoing smug institutional racism in Puerto Rico. He comments:
We’ve noticed that your professional class has been coming in droves to America, many with their bourgeois attitudes on class and race, their inability or unwillingness to deal with Black people and their occupation of top level positions in our cities based on their educational attainment. In the main they’ve done well, but, now, they’ve got to take a back seat. They’re hurting us.[3]
Nowhere is Luciano’s comments truer than experiencing it oneself in racist institutional spaces surrounded by blanquit@s/guaynabit@s. Only, in spaces that certainly contribute to glaring racial inequities in higher education and lack of black racial advancement, one has to find out exactly who are these blanquit@s/guaynabit@s that Feliciano mentions and how they came to be.
One of the most well documented and researched works on gated communities in Guaynabo City is Carlos Suarez-Carrasquillo’s dissertation Marketing and Gated Communities: A Case study of Guaynabo, Puerto Rico (2014), which examines the emergence of surveillance and luxury gated communities and its relationship to race and class. He posits,
Homogeneity can be accounted, for in these communities in the Puerto Rican context is dominated by income, and not surprisingly, the spheres of power that belongs for the most part to white Puerto Ricans. A clear example is how the term guaynabito has been gaining more prominence in popular conversations. This in my opinion certainly an offspring of the term blanquito which is how whiteness has been defined in the Puerto Rican context that not only includes race but income as well.[4]
Shockingly, however, over the past ten years white middle-class Puerto Rican migration to the United States is on the rise and continues to change the Puerto Rican landscape. The massive population decrease in Puerto Rico and the alarming reconfigurations of Puerto Rican destinations to mainly Florida, the Midwest amongst other regions requires an examination through an Afrolati@ lens and epistemology if we are to condemn black racism and continue anti-racist organizations that began in Latin America and the Caribbean in the 1970s. The term Afrolatin@ was reared in the United States with a transnational cross-fertilization between the United States and Latin American and the Caribbean. This movement stresses anti-black racism within the Latin@ communities themselves who stress a propensity to uphold mestizaje while upholding blackness at the bottom of the racial hierarchy.
What implication do these blanquit@s and guaynabit@s have in the way that transnational Puerto Ricanness is constructed? How does the Puerto Rican construction of whiteness and white supremacy reflect on the massive population decrease in recent years? Are these blanquit@s/guaynabit@s going to be in solidarity with marginalized folks in the U.S upon their arrival, or will they assimilate to U.S notions of whiteness?
The lack of sustained academic attention of this new wave of Puerto Ricans is worrisome from an Afro-latin@ epistemology. Puerto Rican racial politics is in deep connection with the whitewashing of Latinos in the United States in order to give them honorary whiteness. Despairingly, the significant academic and cultural politics of the Nuyorican movement, and Afrlolatin@ movements amongst other community initiatives by important figures like Tato Laviera, Miguel Pinero, Mariposa Rodriguez, Pedro Pietri followed by foregrounding works of scholars like Juan Flores, Miriam Jimenez, Jossiana Arroyo, amongst others, are under scrutiny by many Ivory towers in Puerto Rico and the United States. This reminds us that we have a strong base and our presence cannot be ignored, especially in mainland territory. The Afrolatin@ and Latinegr@s movements are in the rise and would benefit from analyzing the constructions of Puerto Rican whiteness and recent migrations. The crux of my argument suggests that with the increase of white Puerto Rican migration in mostly white American spaces intersected with the already racist culture and customs of Puerto Rican culture, Puerto Rican blanquit@s/guaynabit@s in the United States and the island will continue to efface the Afro-diasporic linkages of black cultural and political heritage of Puerto Rican culture supported by their dissociation with blackness.
According to the lauded Puerto Rican scholar, Juan Flores, more than just economic remittances result as a circular migration between countries of origin and the United States. Flores coined the term “cultural remittances” as the process that results from the cultural exchanges, interactions, and experiences Puerto Ricans have in the ebb and flows of migrations resulting in a fluid re-construction of Puerto Rican identity. Flores has investigated on how Puerto Rican migration from below, meaning; marginalized classes from the U.S and Puerto Rico have influenced Puerto Rican culture with the introduction of converged musical forms such as New York salsa and hip-hop amongst political movements. I predict that due to white Puerto Rican migrations toward predominantly white spaces will create cultural remittances that will rapidly increase the already racist establishment in Puerto Rico and the mainland. White U.S supremacy and racism can also become part of “cultural remittances” affecting Puerto Rico. Conversely, the racist baggage Puerto Ricans bring with them is also worrisome. Simply writing of blackness in Puerto Rico and the United States gives Puerto Rican academics the impression that race only has to do with blackness and nothing to do with whiteness making it fundamental to further investigate how whiteness affects the process of Puerto Rican migration, the construction of a new state-side Puerto Rican and development of racial politics.
White supremacy has increased exponentially in Puerto Rico since the island has experienced economic recession, severe population decrease and talks about statehood further alienating the Puerto Ricans Caribbean heritage. The same way social media creates groups of resistance through global hip-hop movements so has social and corporate media propagated the construction of guaynabitonness in Puerto Rico. Many scholars refuse to write about blanquit@s/guaynabit@s because scholars of them are in fact blanquit@s/guaynabit@s, an issue, which continues to diminish spaces for black introspection in the academy.
Construction of White Puerto Rican identities in the Island
Isar Goudreau argued at the Second Symposium of Arturo Alfonso Schomburg: Culture, Race and Gender (2014) at The University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras while accompanied by Miriam Jimenez: “Taino culture is explained thoroughly while black history starts in slavery without mentioning powerful African nations and cultures prior to resistance, capture and slavery.” Indeed, very seldom do Puerto Ricans in general ask the question: How did plena and bomba come to emerge? Was there a black consciousness taking place that created these Puerto Rican elements? Does blackness have to always be examined with a national lens or is African diaspora really credible? Do black Puerto Rican figures like Arturo Schomburg, Tego Calderón, and Mayra Santos-Febres have a black consciousness? How has it been obliterated and swept under the rug by a ruling white middle and upper-class by calling one a vende patria or a Boricua de embuste whenever one claims an existential right to have our reason to exist and recognized as black bodies. There is a white Puerto Rican history; it is called Puerto Rican history. There is white Puerto Rican poetry it is called Puerto Rican poetry. Puerto Rican culture has been unable to shepherd our people out of the wilderness of racism and inequality. U.S colonialism was resisted while simultaneously privileging whiteness and denying any charges of racism while controlling blackness through a nationalistic agenda.
In her book Locked In and Locked Out: Gated Communities in a Puerto Rican City (2013) Zaire Dinzey-Flores, investigates how spatial boundaries are deliberately delineated to enforce and reinforce boundaries of inequality based on social class and race.[5] Gates were erected during the 1970s and 80s, which led to more unequal segregation. Increasing fear of crime led to voluntarily erected gates for the rich and involuntary gates for the poor. The most famous epicenter known to harbor the construction of whiteness and gated communities in Puerto Rico is the city of Guaynabo.
White racialized homogeneity excludes black and low-income people. Guaynabo City was a microcosm and paradigmatic example of the future new waves of white Puerto Ricans that would immigrate to the United States in the 21st century. During the 1970s while the development of gated communities or controles de accesso was on the rise, so were low-income government housing projects. During this time there was a massive return migration from stateside Puerto Ricans usually seeking alternatives to post-industrial economic hardships. It was from these interstices that salsa, reggeaton, and hip-hop germinated, feminist and queer ideas fertilized and flourished into the eventual conduit of poor working-class and Afro-Puerto Rican identities. Institutional racism neglected working-class and black populations and sought to control a Puerto Rican national identity that stressed racial harmony. Puerto Rican became a race in itself that ignored racial hegemonies in the island further exacerbating equality for black people, which increased white privilege.
Institutions like El Instituto de Cultura, Department of Tourism and the University of Puerto Rico amongst other prestigious universities and government agencies are in part responsible for making sure the politics of exclusion within Puerto Rican identity went unmentioned. These universities very seldom teach Black Studies, African Diaspora studies, or Puerto Rican diaspora and migration, which further emphasizes how Puerto Ricanness should be envisioned—another project of white supremacy.
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White middle-class Puerto Ricans would benefit and appropriate the ideological social problems of the 1970s without the benefit of having to engage in self-criticism by scapegoating U.S colonialism as responsible for all the problems in the island, including racism. More compellingly, the crack-cocaine trade was attractive as a counter to poverty within the postindustrial cities of Puerto Rico. Furthermore, during the 1980s many black Puerto Ricans and Dominicans, particularly, young black men, were excluded from both the service and high tech industries that were developing in the island, leading to high unemployment rates among black youth.
The white Puerto Rican middle classes benefitted from these social inequalities and were recruited for well-to-do jobs by family members also colloquially known as palas, which goes unmentioned as a destructive economic element. These inequalities led to emerge of illegal activity as a primary conduit for economic survival amongst poor segments in Puerto Rico. Illicit activities like petty thievery, prostitution and even drug dealing had been a small part of the informal economy of segregated black spaces throughout the twentieth century. Reggaeton, a genre despised by most white middle-class Puerto Ricans would be an important representation of these lifestyles confronted and far removed historically and intellectually from the landscape of Puerto Rican epistemologies. After years of Puerto Ricans’ blatant dissociation with stateside Puerto Ricans for not being “real” Puerto Ricans, has now become a reality for themselves.
Massive Population Decrease 1990s-Present
Puerto Ricans in the island have been an important presence in more recent massive migrations to areas of the U.S. without previously established Puerto Rican communities, which some analysts read as brain drains and as a drastic population decrease. Puerto Rico has been experiencing a massive population decrease in the last fifteen years with a new type of Puerto Rican moving from Puerto Rico to the United States. Although many are poor working-class Puerto Ricans who are seeking a better life, an abundant white Puerto Rican population is also migrating to the United States. Unlike poor working-class Puerto Ricans, many guaynabitos have a strong academic background, enjoy white privilege in the U.S, and continue their studies and thrive among their white constitutes while working-class Puerto Ricans benefit from their whiteness and anti-black attitudes. Many of these white middle-class Puerto Ricans have white counterparts and are creating the new Americans. As Arlene Davila’s states in her book Latino Spin: Public Image and the Whitewashing of Race (2008):
In dispute is whether Latinos will mongrelize America, or become the new group on the route to whiteness, the new Italians or Irish Americans; or whether they will become the new “mainstream”, or perhaps, the new base for the Republican Party[6]
In the last decade various racist videos in YouTube have been uploaded by Puerto Ricans from the island to discuss “Boricuas Vs. Nuyoricans The Truth!” stressing the difference of white and sophisticated islanders in comparison with the ghetto uneducated stateside Puerto Ricans.[7] In her article Boricuas Vs. Nuyoricans–Indeed! (2008) Miriam Jimenz argues:
It is to this white identity that our amateur video-maker pays homage citing census figures and mitochondrial-DNA studies of University of Puerto Rico biologist Juan Carlos Cruz to “buttress” his argument that “real” Puerto Ricans owe their genetic and cultural mestizaje to European and indigenous peoples. And it is this understanding of a de-Africanized mestizaje that many Puerto Ricans cling to when they first arrive to the United States.[8]
The perils and advantages of these attacks underscores that not identifying as white is a clear indication that white Puerto Ricans want to continue to enjoy white privilege in the U.S while also claiming Puerto Rican identity through a racist agenda. Stateside Puerto Ricans who refuse to acknowledge their whiteness due to defiance to white Anglo supremacy also do a disservice to Puerto Rican equality due to lacking an acknowledgment of white privilege and multi-dimensionalities within Puerto Rican identity. This indoctrination has been ingrained in them since birth with hopes of forgetting powerful African empires, African slavery, black resistance, the aesthetic Caribbean transformations that resulted from it and also the black consciousness that lead to the creation of black culture. Many recently Puerto Rican migrations have settled in locations that tend to be predominantly inhabited by Anglo-Americans. According to Jorge Duany and Felix Matos’ investigation of Puerto Rican migration to Orlando, the media falsely portrays Puerto Ricans from the island as an educated middle-class, white collar, and from the suburbs while they conclude that many come from working-class backgrounds as well. Yet the report states:
In particular, Puerto Rican communities in Orlando differ significantly from their counterparts in other major U.S cities, such as New York, not only in their historical origins and settlement patterns, but also in their mode of economic, political and cultural incorporation. Economically, Puerto Ricans have been more successful in Central Florida than elsewhere, as measured by their income, occupational, residential and cultural incorporation.[9]
Duany’s and Matos’ 2000 census analysis in Florida also underscores:
More than two thirds classified themselves as white, the highest proportion of all states. Inversely a smaller proportion of Puerto Ricans identified themselves as black or some other race. According to the census, Island-born Puerto Ricans are more likely to describe themselves as white and less likely to describe themselves as black than mainland-born Puerto Ricans.[10]
These investigations are helpful but do not address white privilege and discrimination. Also, there is a possibility that due to living in the U.S south, a region known to be extremely racist, Puerto Ricans may identify as white as a protective measure. This also shows that although not all Puerto Ricans are identifying as white in the United States and prefer the option of ‘Puerto Rican’ or ‘other’ in the census, it tells us that discussion of race is still an unspoken issue in Puerto Rican culture. No longer can we allow racism and white supremacy in the Latino and black communities.
In September 2014, director and activist Cesar Vargas published an article: “The privilege of White Hispanic II, Facts, Stats and Cognitive Dissonance” arguing that white Latinos enjoy more privileges than Black or Afro-Latinos and more opportunities for upward mobility. He also underscores the white middle class complaining about alleged racism for not being white enough. However, Vargas argues:
Do you know what’s the biggest struggle white Latinos face according to these articles/blogs? Being confused for white and having to prove to other Latinos their Latino-ness. Seriously, if that is your biggest struggle then it would behoove you to reconsider your entire existence and why you think that should supersede any other issue we’re facing today.[11]
The article was an extension of his first version “The Privilege of White Latinos: Leaving Out the Rest” that infuriated many white and black Latin@s when it went viral in the Huffington post. He argues “People talk so much about Latin@s denying their blackness but bring up the term white Latino and you will see an extreme reaction, visceral attack by white Latin@s themselves”. [12] This exemplifies the extent to which white supremacy and racial harmony admonishes any pathway toward racial equality.
Puerto Rican diaspora research needs to focus on white supremacy in the island and the uncritical celebration of “Latin@ middle class” desires that is masked by the continuous mainstreaming of racism in the Latino media, color-blind ideology, and false pan-Latin homogeneous racial makeups. Arlene Davila’s research on the controversial transformations by El Museo del Barrio and other Latin@ institutions discussed in her book Latino Spin (2008) exemplifies how the gains of the Afro-Latin@ movement have begun to faltered due to white Latin@ establishments who are obsessed with “Latininzing” (aka whitewashing) our black identities.
During the 1970s a massive migration of stateside Puerto Ricans returned to Puerto Rico only to be mistreated and referred to as immoral, violent, Afrocentric, lazy, welfare-dependent and drug-addicted felons consumed by American values.[13] Ironically for white Puerto Ricans the script has flipped and now they are the ones who are moving to the United States and “consumed” by American values. In these times, new research agendas should focus on destabilizing any purity with Puerto Rican identity and asking on which side of the struggle with the U.S are they? Are they for white supremacy or are they for equality and justice for all? Will black Puerto Rican island scholars take off their anti-U.S. Black and Puerto Rican Studies blinders and help us achieve racial justice?
The recent white Puerto Rican migration to the United States is further co-opting Puerto Rican identity and culture into a larger project of whitening that, far from acquiring honorary whiteness, has contributed to the multiple marginalizations of Afro-Puerto Ricans, other Afro-Latin@s and people of color in general.[14] Many middle-class Puerto Ricans are strikingly reminiscent of Puerto Rican identity while embracing romanticized articulations of nationalism. More compellingly, it carries its white consciousness and culture through its racist efforts to diminish seeing the Puerto Rican experience through the black lens. Their lens provide a view that stems from European colonialism that perhaps will not leave its inherent influence that now has further spilled to the stateside eradicating strenuous years of counter-culture stemming from the Nuyorican movement to the Afrolatin@ movement.
Afro-Puerto Rican scholar and writer Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro published a short article suggesting that Puerto Rico should follow African studies in the United States amongst other countries.[15] Many Afro-Puerto Rican scholars refuse to deconstruct white supremacy and white privilege. While return Puerto Rican migrants in the 70s were treated harshly, our national identity loyalties obligate us to give white Puerto Ricans a break and a right to be as racist as they want to be simply because we are all colonial subjects. Sympathetically, matters of national belonging and a fear of becoming completely invisible and unaccounted for is the space of liminality that black Puerto Ricans live in.
The options are limited: Black Puerto Ricans in the island either confront white supremacy straight on using their voice and risk being completely obliterated from belonging to a Puerto Rican nationhood, or not take the risk and continue to enjoy a small piece of belonging within a liminal space. It is a space of having a social life in a very limited and marginal space. We need to explore the space of liminalities of national identity in order to understand their fears of confronting an identity that attempts to erase them completely. How do people make the best out of this space of liminality? What does it allow us to do? How can we position ourselves as black bodies in order to have some agency? It goes back to strategic exceptionalisms. If we are to unite against the U.S it will not be by upholding a flag that represents white supremacy.
As a colonial territory there is little inkling in criticizing our own people while achieving autonomy and belonging. Many black subjects that seek independence in the island are often supported by many white middle-class blanquit@s/guaynabit@s who want the same thing, resulting in leaving race in the back seat for another discussion. As a U.S colony there is fear to erode any hopes of achieving independence; hence the fear of critiquing racism and white supremacy. These multiple positionalities are in contradiction sometimes. I say it is time we continue to explore white supremacy and white privilege in Puerto Rico while understanding our own afro-diasporic and multiplicities of black consciousness. Not just our African heritage, like bomba and plena, but our black Afro-Caribbean and diasporic inheritance as well. We do not owe anything to blanquit@s/ guaynabit@s or any other white racist Puerto Ricans.
Miguel Pinero’s poem, A Lower East Side Poem, stresses he does not want be buried in Puerto Rico and instead prefers to be near the stabbing, shooting, gambling, fighting, and unnatural dying and pleads to have his ashes scattered throughout the Lower East Side. This poetic statement may be interpreted as a cognitive dissonance in Puerto Rico for its unpatriotic tone but I wonder: Where are these recently arrived Puerto Ricans going to want their ashes buried at?
William Garcia is an Afro-Nuyorican by way of Staten Island. He is an MA candidate in history at the university of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras. His research interests are Afro-Latino history, hip hop, and reggaeton in the Caribbean and Puerto Rican transnational migration. He is currently a bilingual elementary school teacher in Austin, TX.
Bonilla Eduardo, Racism Without Racists: Color Blind Racism & Racial Inequality in Contemporary America, (2010) Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Betances, Samuel, The Prejudice of Having no Prejudice in Puerto Rico. 1972.
Chaves, Linda, Out of the Barrio: Toward a New Politic of Hispanic Assimilation, (1991)
Duany, Jorge, Blurred Borders, Transnational Migration Between the Hispanic Caribbean and the United States (2014), The University of Carolina Press.
Flores, Juan. From Bomba to Hip-hop: Puerto Rican Culture and Latino Identity. (2000) New York: Columbia University Press
Flores Juan. “Créolité in the Hood: Diaspora as source and challenge.” Centro Journal, Fall 2004, number 002, City University of New York, Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños.
Flores Juan, The Diaspora Strikes Back: Caribeño Tales of Learning and Turning (2009) by Routledge.
Flores Juan, Jimenez Miriam. The Afrolatin@ Reader: history and Culture in the United States. edited, Duke University Press.
Fountain-Stokes, Larry La, Queer Ricans: Cultures and Sexualities in the Diaspora, University of Minnesota Press, 2009
Godreau, Isar (2006) “Folkloric Others:‘Blanqueamiento’ and the Celebration of Blackness as an Exception in Puerto Rico” in Globalization and Race: Transformations in the Cultural Production of Blackness. Deborah Thomas and Kamari Clarke ed. 171-187 Durham: Duke University Press.
Goudreau, Isar Scripts of Blackness: Race, Cultural Nationalism and U.S colonialism in Puerto Rico, University of Illinois Press, (2015).
Gonzales, Lydia, la Tercera Raiz: Presencia Africana en Puerto Rico. 1993. Centros de Estudios de La Realidad Puertorriquena de instituto de cultura Puertorriquena.
Kantrowitz, Nathan, Algunas Consecuencias Raciales: diferencias Educativas Y Ocupacionales entre los Puertorriqueños Blancos y No Blancos en los Estados Unidos continentales 1950, Revista de Ciencias Sociales 15(3): 387-97.
Luciano, Felipe, A New Deal between Stateside and Island Puerto Ricans: The View From a New York Rican (2012) Latinegr@s Project,
Pabón, Carlos, Nación Postmortem: Ensayos Sobre los Tiempos de Insoportable Ambigüedad, 2006, Ediciones Callejon.
Rodríguez Olleros, Ángel, Canto a la Raza: Composición Sanguínea de estudiantes de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, (1974)Rio Piedras colegio de Farmacia
Vargas, Cesar The privilege of White Latino: Leaving out the Rest (9/92014) Huffington Post,
Vargas, Cesar: The privilege of White Hispanic II, Facts, Stats and Cognitive Dissonance, UPLIFTT,
Wise, Tim, Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and white Denial in the Age of Obama (2009) City Light Books.
[1] See Isar Godreau, “Folkloric Others:‘Blanqueamiento’ and the Celebration of Blackness as an Exception in Puerto Rico” in Globalization and Race: Transformations in the Cultural Production of Blackness. Deborah Thomas and Kamari Clarke ed. 171-187(2006) Durham: Duke University Press.
[2] Isar Goudreau, Scripts of Blackness: Race, Cultural Nationalism and U.S colonialism in Puerto Rico, University of Illinois Press, (2015).
[3] Luciano, Felipe A New Deal between Stateside and Island Puerto Ricans: The View From a New York Rican (2012)
[4] Carlos Suarez Carrasquillo, Marketing and Gated Communities: A case Study of Guaynabo, Puerto Rico (9-1-2009), University of Massachusetts-Amherst, pp.: 179.
[5] Sookhee, Oh, Locked in, locked Out: Gated communities in a Puerto Rican City (2014), Book Review, published the American Journal of sociology, vol. 120, Nov 1, 2014.
[6] Arlene Davila Latino Spin: Public Image and the Whitewashing of Race (2008), New York University Press: pp. 1.
[7] Boricuas vs. Nuyoricans The Truth!
[8] Miriam Jimenz, Nuyiricans Vs. Boricaus Indeed!, Revista, Harvard rEview of Latin America.—indeed
[9] Jorge Duany, Felix V Matos Rodriguez, Puerto Ricans in Orlando and Central Florida.
[10] Ibid, p. 21.
[11] Cesar Vargas, The privilege of White Hispanic II, Facts, Stats and Cognitive Dissonance (2014)
[12] Cesar Vargas, The privilege of White Latino: Leaving out the Rest (9/92014) Huffington Post
[13] Op Cit, Miriam jimenez.
[14] Op Cit, Arlene Davila, Latino Spin, pp. 18.
[15] Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro, Estamos Listos Para Tener Nuestra Propia Facultad de Estudios Africanos en Alguna Universidad en Puerto Rico?, Revista Cruce, Critica socio-Cultural Contemporanea, Universidad Metropolitana,


The Unknown History of Latino Lynchings


The Unknown History of Latino Lynchings
(Warning: this article contains images that some may find disturbing. Viewer discretion is advised.)

The following is a summary & analysis of Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review article, “Law of the Noose: A History of Latino Lynching” by Richard Delgado.


Delgado attempts to shed light on a largely unknown history of Latinos, particularly Mexican-Americans in the Southwest U.S., who were lynched between the years of 1846 and 1925. This is roughly the same time that many Blacks were lynched in the U.S., as well. While many know of the ominous and horrific fate that Blacks and African-Americans saw in the U.S., few know of the lynchings that Latinos were met with. Delgado challenges scholars and institutions by trying to unveil the truth on this shameful past, while exploring the history of these lynchings and explaining that “English-only” movements are a present-day form of lynchings.

Although research on Latino lynchings is relatively new, circa 2006-2009, lynchings have a deep rooted history. Such acts can be described as mob violence where person(s) are murdered/hanged for an alleged offense usually without a trial. Through reviewing of anthropological research, storytelling, and other internal & external interactions, there is believed to have been roughly 600 lynchings of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans beginning with the aftermath of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo (this document essentially ended the Mexican-American war, where Mexico surrendered half of its land to the U.S.). This grim fate of Blacks & Mexicans in the U.S. was intertwined; both groups were lynched by Anglos for reasons such as “acting uppity,” taking jobs away from Anglos, making advances toward Anglo women, cheating at cards, practicing “Witchcraft,” and refusing to leave land that Whites coveted. Additionally, Mexicans were lynched for acting “too Mexican;” for example, if Mexicans were speaking Spanish too loudly or showcasing aspects of their culture too defiantly, they were lynched. Mexican women may also been lynched if they resisted the sexual advances of Anglo men. Many of these lynchings occurred with active participation of law enforcement. In fact the article reiterates that the Texas Rangers had a special animus towards persons of Mexican descent. Considering that Mexicans had little to no political power or social standing in a “new nation,” they had no recourse from such corrupt organizations. Popular opinion was to eradicate the Southwest of Mexicans.

Many of these lynchings were treated as a public spectacle; Anglos celebrated each of these killings as if the acts were in accordance with community wishes, re-solidifying society and reinforcing civic virtue. Ringleaders of such lynchings often mutilated bodies of Mexicans, by shooting the bodies after individuals were already dead, cutting off body parts, then leaving the remains on display perhaps in hung trees or in burning flames.

These lynchings took place in the Southwest U.S., in present-day Texas, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Nevada, amongst other states. The killings were carried out by vigilantes or other masked-men, as a form of “street justice.” These killings became so bad that the Mexican government lodged official complaints to the U.S. counsel in Mexico. Given that this region of the U.S. was at one time Mexican land, and it was shared with Indian/Indios, Mexicans, and Anglos, protests against the lynchings emerged. As legend has it, Joaquin Murrieta took matters into his own hands by murdering the Anglos responsible for the death of mythical figures Juan Cortina and Gregorio Cortes. Such acts were short-lived and perpetuated the conflict between Mexicans and Anglos.

Delgado goes on to cite that only some U.S. historians have written about these Latino lynchings and have pointed out that they occurred due to racial prejudice, protection of turf, and Yankee nationalism left over from the Mexican-American War. However, it has been concluded that such lynchings are a relatively unknown history due to a global pattern of shaping discourse as to avoid embarrassment of the dominant group. Those in power often have the ability to edit official records.

Further exploration reveals that these lynchings were not only edited & minimized outright, but were also ignored or misrepresented due to primary accounts in community newspapers being written in Spanish. Since very few mainstream historians read Spanish or consulted with these records, they were left to flounder. Also, many Latinos knew of these lynchings; their accounts were maintained, shared, and solidified as Mexican lore through ritualistically songs (corridos, actos, and tumblr_inline_niy0w78Vz21spho4vcantares). Many oral cultures have equivalences of such interpretations. Today, Latino scholars are not surprised by history’s ignoring of such events; postcolonial theory describes how colonial societies almost always circulate accounts of their invasions that flatter and depicts them as the bearers of justice, science, and humanism. Conversely, the natives were depicted as primitive, bestial, and unintelligent. Subsequently, colonialists must civilize the natives, use the land & its resources in a better fashion, and enact a higher form of justice. The “official history” is written by the conquerors, thus showing them in the best possible light.

Delgado questions whether such remnants of Latino lynchings may still be present in society today. This can best be exemplified through movements to make English the official language of the U.S., forcing immigrants to assimilate to the dominant Anglo culture. Such actions can be illustrated in movements to end bilingual school opportunities and enforce English-only speaking at jobs, businesses, etc. Postcolonial scholars argue that such movements facilitate children to reject their own culture, acquire English, and forget their native language. These actions have far dire [documentable] consequence, like social distress, depression, and crime. As such, Delgado ventures to say that these actions are an implicit form of lynching.

Delgado ends the piece by saying that hidden histories of aggression, unprovoked war, lynchings, and segregation are corroborated/proliferated today by the mass media and entertainment industry. These groups, along with other scholars, have the opportunity to redress this history and reject further practices against Latinos. Otherwise, marginalized groups find themselves in a position where they are alienated from their family/identity/culture, co-opted, and unable to resist further oppression.


Such history is imperative to the framework of Americana and for acknowledgement purposes, not only because it is a matter of fact, but because this history is relevant to the ancestors of the land. History has always been exploited to benefit those who are in power, so to maintain their structures. However, today, I would argue that current powerbrokers would gain more respect & credibility by being honest with themselves and the actual history. Continuing to deny or ignore the history does an injustice to all. Current Chicanos, Mexican-Americans, and Americans alike would most benefit from this restoration for a few reasons.

First, a corrected version of history helps the people better understand themselves. Americans, Mexicans, the fusion of the two, in addition to people of the world, would recognize a better sense of their true identity & culture. The exploration of such history can perhaps allow for analysis of current rates of depression, crime/incarceration, and socioeconomic status(es). If we, the people, want to understand ourselves, we need to know the truth.

Secondly, if we want to understand why things are the way they are today, we can look to history. This shameful past can assist us in the interpretation of Mexican/American relations. Additionally, I believe that this understanding will help both groups reach a common ground with current relations. Since the year 2000 alone, the FBI has reported over 2,500 hate crimes against Latinos based on race and ethnicity. The U.S. is marred with a nasty & stalled immigration battle that is masked for hatred against Mexicans. In 2014, there is a continued, on-going crisis at the Southwest border affecting many children and families. With the history of these lynchings, it is now time for the “greatest country in the world” to make the wrong things right.

Again, we know that history can repeat itself, but only if we let it. Thus, the entire world needs to be educated on the true history of these lynchings. The more we are educated on such atrocities, the less likely we will allow them to happen again. Attacking the access of this knowledge is the third reason to explore this history. Ignoring the disastrous past does not make the history go away. With the knowledge of the truth, the Latino people can empower themselves to conquer stereotypes and achieve further greatness. Most Chicano/Latino studies programs in schools allow students to learn about their past while achieving higher marks. But in states like Arizona, educational officials have banned Chicano/Latino Studies in schools, and as a result have not allowed students to know the true history of the land they currently inhabit. This is not only a further atrocity, but it reaffirms Delgado’s point that current lynchings, lynchings of the mind, are happening today. This is blatant lying and it is unacceptable; when we lie to our government, we go to prison. When our government lies to us, it’s no big deal.

Furthermore, for those who are tired of people of color in the U.S. raising points of contention about racial issues in this country, you now see the justification. This is why we won’t be quiet about racism, racial prejudice, discrimination, etc. This is why we’ll march in the streets for the Trayvonn Martin’s, reject the school to prison pipeline, and continue to spread awareness until administrative action is taken on a grand scale. Today’s generation is a bi-product and reflection of this history; not only are these “lynchings” continuing to happen, but the masterplan has worked. In order to achieve our full capabilities, we need to reject a fragmented history and seek a personal revolution, which starts with ourselves. And we can achieve this revolution through education & knowledge.

Be empowered.

Maximo Anguiano is a scholar, actor, and creative. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.


The Law of the Noose: A History of Latino Lynching. R. Delgado (2009). Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, 44, 297-312.

Lynchings in the West, Erased from History and Photos. K. Gonzalez-Day (2012). New York Times.



 How mass incarceration creates ‘million dollar blocks’ in poor neighborhoods

There are neighborhoods on the West Side of Chicago where nearly every block has been painted red — a sign, on the above map, that someone there was sentenced to time in an Illinois state prison between 2005 and 2009 for a nonviolent drug offense.

On several dark-red blocks, the missing residents are so many — or their sentences so long — that taxpayers have effectively committed more than a million dollars to incarcerate people who once lived there.

This is the perverse form that public investment takes in many poor, minority neighborhoods: “million dollar blocks,” to use a bleak term first coined in New York by Laura Kurgan at Columbia University and Eric Cadora of the Justice Mapping Center. Our penchant for incarcerating people has grown so strong that, in many cities, taxpayers frequently spend more than a million dollars locking away residents of a single city block.

In Chicago, Daniel Cooper, Ryan Lugalia-Hollon, Matt Barrington and the civic technology company DataMade have reprised the concept for one of the most divided cities in America. By their count, there are 851 blocks in Chicago where the public has committed more than a million dollars to sentencing residents to state prison for all kinds of crime. The total tops a million dollars for nonviolent drug offenses alone in 121 of those blocks.

Those places, tracing the city’s segregated history, are clustered in neighborhoods on the South and West Sides. These patterns, the project points out, mean that most of Chicago’s incarcerated residents come from and return to a small number of places. And in those places, the consequences of incarceration on everyone else — children who are missing their parents, households that are missing their breadwinners, families who must support returning offenders who are now much harder to employ — are concentrated, too. This map shows where those communities are clustered on the West Side, relative to the North Side of Chicago:

The North and West Sides of Chicago.
These numbers refer not to yearly expenses but total investments. The Illinois Department of Corrections spends about $22,000 a year per inmate. This project multiplied that figure by the minimum sentences given to each offender sentenced between 2005 and 2009.

So these totals are likely an underestimate. They don’t reflect the public money spent to incarcerate people sentenced to state prison from these same neighborhoods before 2005 or after 2009. And they don’t reflect public money spent sending people to federal prison, or locking them up in local jails while they await trial.

Million-dollar blocks exist too in New York and New Orleans and many big cities. From the original Spatial Information Design Lab project in New York that pioneered the concept:

Spatial Information Design Lab
When the spatial concentration of all this money is mapped so starkly, the picture poses a critical question: What would happen if we poured the same resources into these same struggling parts of any city in very different ways?

What if we spent $2.2 million dollars not removing residents from the corner of West Madison and Cicero but investing in the people who live there? What if we spent that money on preschool and summer jobs programs and addiction treatment? Evidence suggests that such investments could do more to deter crime than locking people away.

“People hear that there’s a very big violence problem in Chicago, but nobody’s really talking about the drivers of it,” says Cooper, the co-executive director of the Institute for Social Exclusion at Adler University in Chicago. “They’re talking about the individuals who take part in shootings. But nobody’s asking the question, ‘why are there shootings in the first place?’ What’s further upstream? What are the bigger determinants of this problem?”

Why do we willingly spend so much money imprisoning people, while we have bitter political fights over smaller sums that would educate children or feed their families or help people stay out of prison?

“Incarceration is held to a completely different standard,” Cooper says. “The evidence base doesn’t support its use. But the notion that people need to be punished and removed from their communities is so pervasive.”

Lugalia-Hollon recalls that he didn’t realize himself that incarceration was a neighborhood problem — even a problem of race and social justice — until he took a job a decade ago in the North Lawndale neighborhood on Chicago’s west side. There, 70 percent of the men between the ages of 18 and 54 are likely to come in contact with the criminal justice system.

“The country’s at a point where it’s starting to wake up to this,” says Lugalia-Hollon, who now runs a youth development network in San Antonio. “Some of that is fiscally motivated, which is okay. But if folks look at the Web site and just say, ‘Oh man, we’re wasting dollars,’ they’re not getting the whole story. We’re also wasting lives. We’re losing communities. We’re losing families.”





Inside the 50-year campaign to roll back the Voting Rights Act.
On the morning of his wedding, in 1956, Henry Frye realized that he had a few hours to spare before the afternoon ceremony. He was staying at his parents’ house in Ellerbe, N.C.; the ceremony would take place 75 miles away, in Greensboro, the hometown of his fiancée; and the drive wouldn’t take long. Frye, who had always been practical, had a practical thought: Now might be a good time to finally register to vote. He was 24 and had just returned from Korea, where he served as an Air Force officer, but he was also a black man in the American South, so he wasn’t entirely surprised when his efforts at the registrar’s office were blocked.
Adopting a tactic common in the Jim Crow South, the registrar subjected Frye to what election officials called a literacy test. In 1900, North Carolina voters amended the state’s Constitution to require that all new voters “be able to read and write any section of the Constitution in the English language,” but for decades some registrars had been applying that already broad mandate even more aggressively, targeting perfectly literate black registrants with arbitrary and obscure queries, like which president served when or who had the ultimate power to adjourn Congress. “I said, ‘Well, I don’t know why are you asking me all of these questions,’ ” Frye, now 83, recalled. “We went around and around, and he said, ‘Are you going to answer these questions?’ and I said, ‘No, I’m not going to try.’ And he said, ‘Well, then, you’re not going to register today.’ ”
Sitting with me on the enclosed porch of his red-brick ranch house in Greensboro, drinking his wife’s sweet tea, Frye could joke about the exchange now, but at the time it left him upset and determined. When he met Shirley at the altar, the first thing he said was: “You know they wouldn’t let me register?”
“Can we talk about this later?” she replied.
After a few weeks, Frye drove over to the Board of Elections in Rockingham, the county seat, to complain. An official told him to go back and try again. This time a different registrar, after asking if he was the fellow who had gone over to the election board, handed him a paragraph to copy from the Constitution. He copied it, and with that, he became a voter.
But in the American South in 1956, not every would-be black voter was an Air Force officer with the wherewithal to call on the local election board; for decades, most had found it effectively impossible to attain the most elemental rights of citizenship. Only about one-quarter of eligible black voters in the South were registered that year, according to the limited records available. By 1959, when Frye went on to become one of the first black graduates of the University of North Carolina law school, that number had changed little. When Frye became a legal adviser to the students running the antisegregation sit-ins at the Greensboro Woolworth’s in 1960, the number remained roughly the same. And when Frye became a deputy United States attorney in the Kennedy administration, it had grown only slightly. By law, the franchise extended to black voters; in practice, it often did not.
What changed this state of affairs was the passage, 50 years ago this month, of the Voting Rights Act. Signed on Aug. 6, 1965, it was meant to correct “a clear and simple wrong,” as Lyndon Johnson said. “Millions of Americans are denied the right to vote because of their color. This law will ensure them the right to vote.” It eliminated literacy tests and other Jim Crow tactics, and — in a key provision called Section 5 — required North Carolina and six other states with histories of black disenfranchisement to submit any future change in statewide voting law, no matter how small, for approval by federal authorities in Washington. No longer would the states be able to invent clever new ways to suppress the vote. Johnson called the legislation “one of the most monumental laws in the entire history of American freedom,” and not without justification. By 1968, just three years after the Voting Rights Act became law, black registration had increased substantially across the South, to 62 percent. Frye himself became a beneficiary of the act that same year when, after a close election, he became the first black state representative to serve in the North Carolina General Assembly since Reconstruction.
In the decades that followed, Frye and hundreds of other new black legislators built on the promise of the Voting Rights Act, not just easing access to the ballot but finding ways to actively encourage voting, with new state laws allowing people to register at the Department of Motor Vehicles and public-assistance offices; to register and vote on the same day; to have ballots count even when filed in the wrong precinct; to vote by mail; and, perhaps most significant, to vote weeks before Election Day. All of those advances were protected by the Voting Rights Act, and they helped black registration increase steadily. In 2008, for the first time, black turnout was nearly equal to white turnout, and Barack Obama was elected the nation’s first black president.
Since then, however, the legal trend has abruptly reversed. In 2010, Republicans flipped control of 11 state legislatures and, raising the specter of voter fraud, began undoing much of the work of Frye and subsequent generations of state legislators. They rolled back early voting, eliminated same-day registration, disqualified ballots filed outside home precincts and created new demands for photo ID at polling places. In 2013, the Supreme Court, in the case of Shelby County v. Holder, directly countermanded the Section 5 authority of the Justice Department to dispute any of these changes in the states Section 5 covered. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, declared that the Voting Rights Act had done its job, and it was time to move on. Republican state legislators proceeded with a new round of even more restrictive voting laws.
All of these seemingly sudden changes were a result of a little-known part of the American civil rights story. It involves a largely Republican countermovement of ideologues and partisan operatives who, from the moment the Voting Rights Act became law, methodically set out to undercut or dismantle its most important requirements. The story of that decades-long battle over the iconic law’s tenets and effects has rarely been told, but in July many of its veteran warriors met in a North Carolina courthouse to argue the legality of a new state voting law that the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School has called one of the “most restrictive since the Jim Crow era.” The decision, which is expected later this year, could determine whether the civil rights movement’s signature achievement is still justified 50 years after its signing, or if the movement itself is finished.
I. 1865-1980
The fundamental promise of American democracy is that every citizen gets a vote, but delivering the franchise from on high and in the face of violent local opposition has always been a complicated legal proposition. The 13th Amendment freed the slaves, and the 14th Amendment gave them citizenship. But the key to Reconstruction was the 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, which did something far more radical, not just guaranteeing (male) former slaves the right to vote but giving Congress the authority to enforce that right state by state, an authority that to this day many legislators see as a drastic intrusion into local affairs.
The new laws immediately enfranchised more than 700,000 black Southerners. Although blacks made up just 13 percent of the overall United States population, they made up 36 percent of the South’s population and a much higher percentage in some states, including a majority in Mississippi and South Carolina. Their enfranchisement was a shock to the political system that almost exclusively benefited Republicans, the party of Lincoln.
Like its former Confederate neighbors, North Carolina sent several black Republicans to Congress. In the state’s General Assembly, legislators with the support of black Republicans wrote a new state Constitution in 1868 that created state-supported public schools; apportioned state representation based on population rather than wealth — a setback for the 1 percent of that era, the plantation owners; and, eventually, instituted a property tax.
Democrats throughout the South responded to the growing influence of black legislators with a brutal effort to suppress the black vote, enforced by the Ku Klux Klan and its many paramilitary imitators, who kept blacks from election polls at gunpoint and whipped or lynched many who resisted. The Southern Democrats ran on an open message of white supremacy and quickly retook statehouses, city halls and courthouses throughout the South. Within 15 years of the Civil War’s end, Reconstruction was just a memory. What followed was deconstruction: the era of Jim Crow, the poll tax, the literacy test, double primaries and a host of other mechanisms that blocked the black vote. For decades, most black citizens in the South had no practical right to vote.
Beginning in the 1950s, propelled by the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education to desegregate schools, by modern media portrayals of anti-black violence and by the growing nonviolent resistance movement led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Congress began to assert its electoral authority with a series of legislative fixes. With the bipartisan Civil Rights Act of 1957, it created a separate Department of Justice civil rights division and the United States Commission on Civil Rights to monitor and investigate civil rights abuses. The fight over the law’s passage was bitter. In a party split, Southern Democrats attacked it relentlessly as a violation of “states’ rights,” a justification their predecessors used to resist abolition. The law survived the longest filibuster in Senate history, by Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, but it was considerably weakened in the process.
Congress tried again with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a more powerful bill that ended legal segregation. But again, the segregationist Democrats who had for many years controlled the South watered down its voting provisions, leaving the poll tax and the literacy test in place. Thurmond, in a sign of things to come, left the Democratic Party entirely, switching his allegiance to the Republicans.
It took the Voting Rights Act, with its considerably stronger protections, to finally deliver the black franchise, 100 years after it was first promised. Its most extraordinary measure, the one that rankled Southern politicians the most, was Section 5. By naming specific states as bad actors that fell under special federal scrutiny, it was the ultimate affront to states’ rights. But under intense pressure, Lyndon Johnson was able to shepherd the bill into law. Its tough approach to knocking down barriers to voting, combined with a phasing in overseen by federal registrars who signed up voters throughout the South, brought about a sudden and significant increase in black voter registration — in Mississippi, black registration increased to 54 percent from 7 percent within three years. This second Reconstruction, with its second surge of Southern black voters, precipitated a second realignment of the parties, and with it an even more complex legal effort to undermine and ultimately undo the most powerful provisions of the Voting Rights Act.
“It all goes back to winning elections,” Carter Wrenn, a longtime North Carolina Republican strategist, told me in June. Wrenn fits the prototype of the Southern Political Strategist: He’s 63, round-faced, round-waisted and always seems to be on the verge of telling another too-good story from the bygone days of American politics. Sitting behind the wide desk in his Raleigh office, wearing sweats and puffing on a cigar, Wrenn explained the existential dilemma that confronted Southern Democrats back in the ’70s, when Wrenn started working in the mighty North Carolina political operation of Senator Jesse Helms.
After Reconstruction, Wrenn explained, the South reverted to complete Democratic control. Elections were decided in the Democratic primaries, which were often fought between the conservative wing and a more moderate wing. The passage of the Voting Rights Act upset that status quo. “What the Voting Rights Act did was brought very quickly a group of African-American voters into those primaries, and it tilted the balance to the progressives,” Wrenn said. “It tilted the playing field so much that by the ’70s, it was very unlikely a conservative was going to win a Democratic primary.”
Helms, a former Raleigh city councilman, had seen it coming. After the Democratic candidate he was supporting for governor lost the primary to a pro-integration opponent in 1960, he moved full-time into a new political realm — television punditry. Owl-eyed, balding and fiery, Helms became a popular on-air commentator for WRAL-TV, where he inveighed against a civil rights movement that was infested with “moral degenerates” and willfully blind to what he called “the purely scientific, statistical evidence of natural racial distinctions in group intellect.” In 1971, he registered as a Republican. Tom Ellis, a lawyer and close political adviser, suggested that he run for the United States Senate.
The electoral path for Southern Republicans was not at all clear back then. In 1966, 18 percent of North Carolina voters were registered Republicans. In 1972, the number was still just 22 percent. At the same time, Democrat registrations were hanging in at around 75 percent. To win, Helms would need to reach and convert a lot of unhappy Democrats.
Many national Republican politicians, Richard Nixon among them, also saw an opportunity in the racial dislocation of conservative Southern Democrats. A Quaker who helped shepherd Dwight Eisenhower’s Civil Rights Act of 1957 through the Senate, Nixon won the White House in 1968 by opposing the perils of court-ordered busing and (though he ultimately signed the Voting Rights Act’s reauthorization) the injustice of Section 5. His hard-edge, race-based appeal came to be known as the Southern strategy, an effective way for Republicans to win white voters in the South.
“Sometimes the way in which it was handled was legitimate,” Wrenn said. “Sometimes it was over the line.” The tactic immediately relinquished whatever good will black voters still had for the party of Lincoln, but this too helped Republicans, as the Nixon tactician Kevin Phillips explained in 1970. “The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South,” he said in an interview in The New York Times, “the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans.” Helms echoed some of Nixon’s themes in his 1972 race, and — running on the slogan “Jesse Helms: He’s One of Us” — easily smashed his Democratic opponent, Nick Galifianakis (uncle to the comedian Zach Galifianakis).
Why didn’t the Republicans, whose party was founded on outrage about racial injustice, instead try to rekindle their alliance with black voters? I posed the question to Wrenn. He sat back for a moment, reflective. In fact, he said, they thought about it. They asked their pollsters to identify some Republican positions that could appeal to black voters, and the pollsters found that some black voters might just be drawn by the party’s religiosity and its position on abortion. But the pollsters also found that, Abraham Lincoln and several generations of Jim Crow notwithstanding, black voters simply saw Democrats as more reliable allies after the passage of the Voting Rights Act. “Nothing else mattered,” Wrenn said. “Abortion didn’t matter. Religion didn’t matter. It was experience.” He sighed. “I may be dead wrong,” he added, almost as an afterthought. “Because one thing I’ve learned is that I do not understand the mind of the black voter.”
As for white voters, the Southern strategy worked. Helms won his next two races and provided a vast Southern support network for Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign team, which used many of the racial dog-whistle slogans that Helms had made a regular part of his campaign arsenal. In one of Reagan’s first campaign events following his nomination, he went to the Neshoba County Fair in Mississippi — near where the Klan killed three civil rights workers 16 years earlier — and declared, “I believe in states’ rights.”
II. 1980-2000
The 1980 election may have put Reagan in office with an ominous nod to “states’ rights,” but in that same year black voter registration reached 60 percent, black politicians were slowly but steadily winning public office and efforts by ideologues like Helms to undermine the Voting Rights Act had not been able to halt the progress it protected.
But a new threat to the act was just about to arrive in Washington, in the confident person of John Roberts Jr., a superstar young conservative legal scholar who retained the bearing of the prep-school football captain he once was. A Midwesterner from the all-American town of Long Beach, Ind., he graduated early from Harvard summa cum laude and went on to Harvard Law, where he was editor of The Harvard Law Review, before landing a plum Supreme Court clerkship with Justice William Rehnquist, a Nixon appointee.
Rehnquist’s chambers were a haven for aspiring young conservatives, “the closest place to the center of an emerging conservative legal movement,” writes Ari Berman in his new book about the voting rights movement, “Give Us the Ballot.” For years, Rehnquist had openly opposed the major legislative achievements of the civil rights era. When the justice was a young Supreme Court clerk himself, he wrote a memo agreeing with Plessy v. Ferguson’s “separate but equal” doctrine, which formed the bedrock legal justification for decades of segregation. (He later said the memo did not represent his true thinking.)
Shortly before Roberts came aboard as a clerk, Rehnquist helped decide a case that would mark the first major legal blow against the Voting Rights Act. The case, Mobile v. Bolden, involved a somewhat complicated argument about minority representation. The city of Mobile, Ala., was majority white, and the way it structured elections for its three-person city commission made it nearly impossible for black voters to gain a single seat. The commissioners were selected by a citywide, or “at-large,” election, putting black voters in the minority for every seat. The at-large system was inherently stacked against minorities, the plaintiffs argued, but there was a simple fix. If Mobile carved out three districts, each with a dedicated commissioner, and one of those districts was majority black, then black voters would have a better chance of electing a black commissioner.
Rehnquist and his fellow justices did not dispute the logic. Instead, they argued something new: that the plaintiffs failed to prove that Mobile set up the election system with the intention of shutting out blacks. This subtle distinction about intention created a new, often impossibly high bar for winning Voting Rights Act cases. It wasn’t enough to show that a law resulted in black voters being disenfranchised. Now the plaintiff also had to show “proof of intent.”
As a clerk, Roberts mostly drew dull cases to review — a disputed cattle transaction, the rightful tax status of a corporate hunting lodge — but later that year, when he took a prestigious new job as an assistant to Reagan’s attorney general, William French Smith, he would have much to say about the Mobile decision. Because the Voting Rights Act was coming up for renewal, a bipartisan group of senators and House members had taken the opportunity to work out a fix to undo the Supreme Court’s Mobile decision as part of the renewal package. The new rule would explicitly allow judges to find fault with any election law that resulted in minority disenfranchisement, no matter the intention. As a corrective to “proof of intent,” this “results test,” as it was known, would significantly strengthen the Voting Rights Act.
Many career civil rights attorneys at the Justice Department had no problem with the new rule. But Reagan’s political appointees, Roberts among them, had a new argument with profound implications: Justice should be colorblind. Roger Clegg, a lawyer who worked with Roberts during the Reagan years, described this new ethos in notably idealistic-sounding terms: “It’s a very bad thing for this country to have race-based decision making in any public transaction.”
It was the sort of argument that dismayed career civil rights attorneys. “In their zest for the colorblind society they professed to see, they didn’t recognize that the long couple hundred years of segregation and discrimination continued to have present-day effects,” one of those attorneys, J. Gerald Hebert, told me. “I would say they had a fundamental lack of understanding of the 14th and 15th Amendments, and what Congress could do under those amendments — I still don’t think Roberts understands it.”
In his new position, Roberts was a leading voice against the results test. In memos to the attorney general, he argued that discrimination cases should be hard to prove, given that they can lead to “the most intrusive interference imaginable by the federal courts into state and local processes.” The results test, he said, would “establish essentially a quota system for electoral politics” — and “just as we oppose quotas in employment and education, so too we oppose them in elections.” (At the time, 19 black representatives were serving in a House class of 435.)
But as Roberts pressed his case, a powerful opponent, Senator Bob Dole of Kansas, was working against him. Dole, who voted for the Voting Rights Act in 1965, thought the Reagan team’s ideological fervor put the party’s efforts to build a broad, winning coalition of voters at risk. His argument prevailed, and Reagan ultimately signed the strengthened version of the Voting Rights Act in 1982, with the new standard for bringing discrimination cases intact. “I tried to make the point to the White House that, as a party, we needed to demonstrate that we cared and were concerned about votes from African-Americans and Hispanics,” Dole, now 92, told me earlier this summer. “I don’t know where we lost track after Abraham Lincoln.”
In July, Edward Blum, at ease in his newly constructed four-bedroom home on the placid western coast of Maine’s Penobscot Bay, explained why, to his mind, Americans ultimately embraced the Voting Rights Act. “It was the idea that your race should not be something that is used to help you in life or used to harm you in life,” he said. And that was the problem now, Blum told me. That was the very reason he was putting so much energy into trying to unravel those laws. Over the years, he said, “just the opposite evolved; race becomes everything.”
Blum, slightly built and wearing khakis and a Polo fleece, was sitting in his home office, his golden retriever barking outside at a passing kayaker. The scene was almost as far removed from the voting battlegrounds of the American South as could be imagined. And yet it is from this bucolic Northeastern setting that Blum has mounted some of the fiercest attacks on civil rights legislation to date. In the days before we spoke, the Supreme Court agreed to hear his challenges to race-based college admissions and the inclusion of noncitizens in the population tallies used to determine local districting.
It all started in 1992, when Blum, then working in Houston as a stockbroker, decided to make a novice run for Congress, for the seat once held by the civil rights icon Barbara Jordan. To campaign in such a district as a white conservative marked Blum as “somewhat of a kook,” he conceded, but the incumbent Democratic congressman, Craig Washington, who is black, had considerable political vulnerabilities. While in office, he had filed for personal bankruptcy; admitted to breaking his marriage vows with two separate women; and confessed to having been involved in a domestic altercation with one of them. But whatever chance Blum — who peppers his speech with a “meshuga” here and a “bubbameister” there — had was undercut by his actual platform, which was centered on tax cuts and, as The Houston Chronicle described it, “ending welfare for able-bodied adults.” Blum lost.
The thing that bothered Blum most about losing, he said, was that the district adhered to no obvious geographical concept of what a community should look like. The crazy shape was a result of the obscure and often maddeningly complex art of redistricting. The Texas Legislature redraws its congressional districts every 10 years, based on the latest census population figures. In most states, the party in power controls the redistricting process and tends to do it in a way that configures as many of those districts as possible to have majorities of its own loyal voters. That might mean stretching a district line here or there to make a district where a majority of voters is reliably for your party, a process called gerrymandering. After 1965, though, partisan mapmakers also had to be mindful not to violate the Voting Rights Act. They could only rarely draw lines that reduced minority participation, and they had an affirmative duty under certain conditions to create “minority-majority” districts, where blacks or Latinos made up the majority. “You had these fingers and tributaries reaching out to pick up these little pockets of minority voters,” Blum told me, grimacing.
Not long after his defeat, Blum read an article in The New York Times, about a case in which the plaintiffs challenged a similarly complex system of drawing districts, that gave the practice a name: racial gerrymandering.
“That was sort of an ‘aha’ moment,” Blum said.
The case, as it happened, started in North Carolina. Robinson Everett, a Duke law professor, filed a suit, later joined by the wealthy libertarian-leaning former state representative Art Pope, that involved two new black-majority congressional districts. One district spanned 160 miles and, at one point, was no wider than the I-85 expressway. A Wall Street Journal editorial labeled this redistricting “political pornography,” but the new shape also led to the election of Melvin Watt, one of the first black congressmen from North Carolina since Reconstruction.
Everett, in the case, ultimately called Shaw v. Reno, made an argument that John Roberts Jr. would have cheered: In devising the district, the state had created “a racial quota system” for elections that segregated voters based on race. In his argument, he also proposed a more intriguing — and, for the Voting Rights Act, more threatening — premise: the principle of a “colorblind constitution.”
By that time, Rehnquist had been named chief justice. His court sided with Everett. From then on, considerations of race in redistricting, while required by the Voting Rights Act, could not be used to create districts that bore “an uncomfortable resemblance to political apartheid,” Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote in the majority opinion. While the logic of the decision was somewhat muddled — political geography had never been especially neat — it was the first serious limit on the expansive powers of Section 5. And it drew its authority not from any racist ideology but from the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
With Shaw v. Reno, Blum found inspiration. He filed a similar suit in Texas, and his case also went all the way up to the Supreme Court, which nullified the redistricting plan he challenged. Blum had a new career. “All I had to do was take that doctrine, and that legal team, and begin suing other congressional plans,” he said. “So we sued New York, took the team to other states: Virginia, South Carolina.” In short order, he became one of the Voting Rights Act’s most effective opponents. He hunted for plaintiffs the old-fashioned way, paging through a hard copy of the Almanac of American Politics and dead-tree phone books to find frustrated former candidates like himself. “The predicate behind all of this,” he said, was: “This can’t be right; this can’t be right.”
On the 25th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, in 1990, there were celebrations throughout the South and state-of-the-black-vote reports on television. In Washington, Congress unanimously passed a joint resolution declaring Aug. 6 “Voting Rights Celebration Day.” George Bush signed it three days later, saying, “We must never underestimate the importance of a single vote.”
But the movement against the trend of making voting easier that began with the original act’s signing was entering a new phase. Democrats were pushing for a new law to increase registration, known as the “motor-voter bill,” which would require states to provide registration forms at motor vehicle departments and other government agencies, such as public-assistance offices. Republicans resisted. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky warned that the bill would “turn every agency, bureau and office of state government into a vast voter registration machine,” resulting in “political couch potatoes” driven to polls on union buses. Bush vetoed the law when it arrived on his desk in the summer of 1992, the middle of the presidential campaign, declaring that it would “expose the election process to an unacceptable risk of fraud and corruption.”
Still, Clinton signed it quickly upon taking office the following year. It was an easy choice. “He stood to gain tremendously,” as the Rev. Jesse Jackson, a longtime advocate for the law, told me. Indeed, following its passage, black registered voters increased 10 percent by 1998, and those new voters would go on to become a boon to Clinton and the Democrats, especially in the South. Nonetheless, a new front had been opened in the battle over voting rights, which combined old-school Jesse Helms attacks on the character of black voters with a new, high-minded concern about fraud.
In-person voter fraud — in which you impersonate someone or try to vote more than once, or at all if you are ineligible — is almost entirely nonexistent in the United States. (An exhaustive Loyola Law School study could find only 31 “credible allegations of fraud” in a one-billion-vote sample.) But election fraud — ballot stuffing, vote buying, machine rigging — is not unheard-of, and in that shade of distinction lay an important new development.
In 1997, the year after Clinton was re-elected, Miami was confronted with a spectacular case of genuine election fraud, when it was revealed that Xavier Suárez had clinched the mayoralty with the help of hundreds of absentee ballots bearing the names of dead people, felons and other ineligible voters. Suárez himself was never charged, but eventually more than 50 people were arrested, and an appellate court threw out the absentee ballots, forcing Suárez to step down from office.
The case set Florida legislators on an aggressive and hasty effort to reform the state’s voting system. One proposed law made it harder to certify an absentee ballot. (The Justice Department blocked much of the law under the Voting Rights Act, determining that some restrictions would fall more heavily on blacks and Hispanics than whites.) The state also hired a data firm called DBT to scrub the names of any dead people or felons from its voter rolls.
Conservative lawmakers nationwide, sometimes citing the motor-voter bill, were increasingly vocal about fraud, and the distinction between in-person voter fraud and actual election fraud was often lost in the heat. Contributing to that confusion was a group formed in 1996 in Virginia, the Voting Integrity Project, known as V.I.P. One member of the group’s advisory board was an obscure elections official out of Georgia named Hans von Spakovsky, who would become a central figure in the campaign against fraud.
Von Spakovsky first became active in politics as a particularly assertive chairman of his local homeowners’ association. After a stint as a poll watcher, he became obsessed with the specter of voter fraud and the idea that every voter should have to show photographic identification at polls. He began writing in small conservative journals on the need for states and counties to scrub felons and dead people from their voter rolls, which led to a seat on the board of the Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections in Georgia — and also caught the eye of V.I.P.
V.I.P. ostensibly offered its services to all comers, but it tended to investigate Democrats. Its first big case came in Louisiana. When the Democrat Mary Landrieu defeated the Republican Woody Jenkins by a narrow margin in the 1996 Senate race, Republicans called in V.I.P., which reported that Landrieu’s election was a result of a complex fraud scheme. A Senate committee investigated and instead found evidence that a Jenkins operative may have coached the witnesses, four of whom recanted. The Senate inquiry determined that there was “no evidence of an organized, widespread effort to secure fraudulent votes.”
Many election fraud scandals involved absentee ballots, and V.I.P. often criticized lax absentee ballot rules, but it was particularly concerned, like Von Spakovsky, with persuading states and counties to purge their voter rolls of dead people and felons. (According to N.Y.U.’s Brennan Center, in the United States, various state voting laws have disenfranchised nearly six million felons.) V.I.P. determined that some municipalities didn’t have the resources to remove ineligible voters, so it formed a partnership with DBT — the same company Florida hired following the Miami mayoral debacle — and announced in a news release that the company would come to “small communities to scrub their voter rolls ‘free of charge.’ ”
The urge to clean up voter rolls is understandable, of course, but in practice it can have an undesirable effect, as the world would soon learn. DBT’s work for Florida entailed combing through the state rolls for possible felons and then forwarding the results to local election officials throughout the state. However, multiple investigations would later determine that DBT incorrectly flagged thousands of people on the lists, and that a disproportionate number of them were black voters, more than 90 percent of whom voted for Al Gore. Estimates for how many of those voters were wrongly turned away from polls range from roughly 1,000 to many times that.
The mishandled felons purge was only one of many mishaps that plagued the presidential election in Florida that year, when some 180,000 votes were rejected because of either poorly designed ballots or challenges from lawyers during the recount. A New York Times review that year found that of the ballots that were thrown out in the Florida election, three times as many came from black voting precincts as from white voting precincts.
III. 2000-13
The 2000 election fiasco drew nationwide bipartisan calls for election reform. Congress set out to draft a new law to avoid a repeat, and the Bush Justice Department turned to the conservative expert on elections to help guide its role in the legislative process — Hans von Spakovsky.
Von Spakovsky told me that he applied for the job when he heard that the new attorney general, John Ashcroft, was creating a unit to lead the Justice Department’s effort on the bill. “It was basically a blind application,” Von Spakovsky said. “When I got hired, there wasn’t anybody in Washington who knew who the hell I was.”
The final, bipartisan version of the law — the Help America Vote Act, passed in 2002 — mandated voting booth upgrades and provided protection for voters whose names were wrongly removed from registration rolls, as so many were in Florida. (It requires states to allow those who show up at polls and learn they do not appear on the voting rolls to cast provisional ballots.) But the act also raised the criminal penalties for the willful inclusion of false information on registration forms, like filing one on behalf of a nonexistent person, or claiming to live in a voting precinct where one does not, in fact, reside. Another provision required those who registered by mail to later prove their identities at polling stations or state election offices with photo identification, a utility bill or a bank statement.
By then, it was becoming clear that the Bush administration was picking up where the Reagan- and Bush-era Justice Department left off. One of Bush’s tactics was to pack the Commission on Civil Rights with a conservative majority. His administration was hardly the first to mold the commission to its ideology, but it did so in a new way: Avoiding rules barring a president from appointing more than four commissioners from his or her party, two Republican appointees re-registered as independents. The move cleared the way for Bush to add two new Republicans, effectively giving the commission a 6-2 split. Bush made Abigail Thernstrom, a respected conservative author who had been questioning the role of Section 5 since the 1980s, its vice chairwoman.
Von Spakovsky quickly moved up in the Justice Department, and by 2002 he was advising on cases and policy at the voting section of the civil rights division. There he found common cause with the Bush-appointed acting head of the division, Bradley Schlozman. What followed, Von Spakovsky said, was “a clash between folks like me who really believe that the Voting Rights Act needs to be applied in a race-neutral manner and the folks who had been there a long time who saw it, frankly, as a way of helping only minority voters, and in particular, helping one political party.”
In 2004, the new leadership assigned a case against the majority-black county of Noxubee, Miss., for “relentless voting-related racial discrimination” against white voters — the first case ever brought by the Justice Department on behalf of white voters. When some division lawyers chafed at the decision, Schlozman decided to try to quell the dissent by conducting an aggressive — and, an inspector general’s report later found, illegal — effort to hire like-minded attorneys and to marginalize or get rid of career attorneys the Bush team saw as too liberal. In emails, Schlozman boasted: “My tentative plan to is to gerrymander all of those crazy libs right out of the section” and to replace them with “right-thinking Americans.”
One of these was J. Christian Adams, who had endeared himself to conservatives by seeking the disbarment of Hillary Clinton’s brother Hugh Rodham for representing felons seeking pardons during his brother-in-law’s presidency. Another was John Tanner, a career Justice Department attorney who joked in an email with Schlozman that he liked his coffee “Mary Frances Berry-style — black and bitter,” referring to the Democrat who headed the United States Commission on Civil Rights under Bill Clinton. Still another was Chris Coates, a former A.C.L.U. lawyer who, Schlozman wrote, had become “a very different man” and was now “a true member of the team.” Not making the cut was a black lawyer who, Schlozman complained in an email, wrote in “ebonics” and, in his opinion, was hired as “an affirmative-action thing.”
It was in that toxic environment, in 2005, that Georgia submitted for approval a new type of strict voter-ID law. As it happened, the law comported with legislation Von Spakovsky described in a law-journal article he had recently published under a pen name, Publius. But a voting-division review team report — later leaked to The Washington Post — suggested that the department block the law. Black voters were considerably less likely to have any of the required IDs than whites were. According to the report, a prime sponsor of the bill, State Representative Sue Burmeister, told the review team that if the law diminished black voting, that was only because it shut down opportunities for fraud; black voters, the report paraphrased her as saying, were less likely to vote if they were not being paid to do so. A state judge ultimately invalidated the law, citing the plain language of the Georgia Constitution — “there is nothing equivocal about the words ‘shall be entitled to vote’ ” — and Georgia was forced to revise it. (The revised version provided free voter identification cards to those who needed them, and the Georgia Supreme Court upheld it.)
Still, when the Voting Rights Act went up for reauthorization in 2006, Von Spakovsky told me, he argued at the Justice Department that “the evidence very clearly showed it was no longer needed.” Blum, Clegg and Thernstrom made the same argument, on the Hill and with Karl Rove at the White House. But Congress reauthorized the Voting Rights Act for another 25 years, after it passed unanimously in the Senate and with only 33 “no” votes in the House. Signing the reauthorization that July, Bush declared, “My administration will vigorously enforce the provisions of this law, and we will defend it in court.”
Eric Holder Jr.’s apartment in downtown Washington is a study in modern minimalism, with floor-to-ceiling windows, low-rise Italian furniture and zero clutter. Its sense of orderliness is at odds with the chaos of the last six years of his life, as the first black attorney general of the United States.
It was a few weeks after his final day as attorney general, and Holder was dressed down in a Washington-casual outfit of jeans and a perfectly pressed white button-down. Leaning back in his chair, he explained to me how he had come into the Justice Department with a mission to “restore” the civil rights division following the turbulent Bush years. “I knew things had gotten bad at the civil rights division,” he told me. “But I was really surprised,” he said, “at how bad things had become.”
Just two weeks before Obama’s inauguration, Chris Coates, the former A.C.L.U. attorney whom Schlozman had called “a true member of the team,” and J. Christian Adams, an ally, had rushed through a new case that involved an Election Day run-in at a Philadelphia polling station. According to a Department of Justice report, for about an hour, two members of the New Black Panther Party, a diffuse militant black group not affiliated with the original Black Panther Party, stood menacingly outside the station, predominantly used by blacks. Both were dressed in paramilitary apparel, one was carrying a billy club and, one witness said, they were calling whites “crackers” who would soon be “ruled by the black man.” A white poll watcher with a video camera confronted them, and the footage was played repeatedly on Fox News. Coates charged them and the New Black Panther Party under Section 11 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits polling place harassment.
PhotoHans von Spakovsky | A longtime advocate for voter-ID laws, Von Spakovsky, 56, began working in the Justice Department’s civil rights division in 2001. There was, he said, “a clash between folks like me who really believe that the Voting Rights Act needs to be applied in a race-neutral manner” and those “who saw it, frankly, as a way of helping only minority voters.”
Holder had rehired several attorneys and analysts who left the voting section during the Bush years, and the newly rejuvenated civil rights lawyers and other staff members advocated reducing the charges in the case. The reasons were straightforward. No witnesses had come forward to say they were dissuaded from voting; the New Black Panther Party publicly disavowed the men on its website; one of the men was a certified poll watcher who actually lived in the building that housed the polling station. In addition, the Justice Department had not brought a case in a similar situation in Pima, Ariz., when four white members of an anti-illegal-immigration group, one of them with a holstered gun, showed up at a majority-Hispanic polling station wearing military gear. But dispensing with the case would not be easy.
Looking back on it now, Holder said he viewed the New Black Panther case as a poison pill left behind as a sort of test by the outgoing regime: “It was almost like, ‘We dare you to do something with this.’ ” He said he decided to back the career staff members who wanted to drop the charges. “I also thought in the back of my mind, All right, this is going to create a bit of a firestorm, a political firestorm, but hey, career people made a cogent argument — they were just briefing me — and I said, ‘That’s fine.’ ” The Justice Department moved ahead with reduced charges against only one of the men, the one with the billy club, winning an order that he not return to a polling station with a weapon through 2013.
Conservative media outrage ensued. The United States Commission on Civil Rights, then still overwhelmingly conservative, conducted its own investigation and declared, “There is considerable evidence of a culture of hostility to the race-neutral enforcement of the law.” Its star witnesses were Coates and Adams, who stepped forward on Fox News as a “whistle blower.” Later a Department of Justice inspector general’s report said the New Black Panther Party decision was handled properly. But all of that was lost in the conservative media coverage. The reports mixed with others about how several members of the community organizing group Acorn — which Obama helped to sue Illinois to implement the motor-voter law in the 1990s — were indicted on a charge of filing false voter registrations on behalf of nonexistent voters, in order to pad their work hours. The story line, combined with that of the New Black Panther Party, painted a picture in the conservative news media of a president who owed his election to nefarious black vote fraudsters.
How serious was this misconception? A year after Obama’s election, the Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling released a survey showing that 52 percent of Republicans believed “Acorn stole the presidential election for Barack Obama last year, with only 27 percent granting that he won it legitimately.” Republican legislators were increasingly calling for measures to prevent in-person voter fraud, though evidence that any existed in any substantial way remained nil. “It worked on a whole bunch of levels,” Holder said. “And I think that’s why they decided to do what they did.”
In 2010, Republican legislators — propelled by Tea Party anger, new sources of outside conservative money and a precision plan devised by the strategists Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie — increased the number of statehouses they fully controlled to 25 from 14. In 2011, Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin passed new voter-ID laws. The North Carolina General Assembly passed one that year as well but could not overcome a veto by Gov. Bev Perdue, a Democrat. In 2012, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Virginia followed with their own. The laws were strikingly similar. “It’s really, really unheard-of, or really rare, to have states move en masse all of the sudden to pass photocopied laws all at once without a national crisis,” said Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, which has kept careful track of the new laws. There had not been this many restrictive voting laws in the states, Waldman said, “since the Jim Crow era.”
But by Election Day of 2012, most of the laws had been temporarily suspended, and some were blocked outright. In Texas, a federal court, quoting an earlier case, ruled that the state’s harsh voter-ID law was likely to “lead to a ‘retrogression in the position of racial minorities with respect to their effective exercise of the electoral franchise.’ ” Section 5, once again, had worked, and in 2012, for the first time in American history, the black turnout rate exceeded the white turnout rate, by two percentage points.
Three days after Obama’s re-election, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to the constitutionality of Section 5, this time on behalf of Shelby County, Ala., one of whose hamlets the Department of Justice had blocked from eliminating the seat of its sole black lawmaker. The suit came from none other than Edward Blum.
Blum had moved on from challenging districts to challenging Section 5 itself. In 2006, he filed his first suit, on behalf of a small utility board in Austin that had no real effect on minority voting rights but, because it had a publicly elected board and was located in Texas, fell under Section 5 provisions. The suit failed to draw the Supreme Court into the question, though John Roberts Jr., now chief justice, had left the door open to doing so: “Whether conditions continue to justify such legislation is a difficult constitutional question we do not answer today,” he wrote.
His Shelby decision, rendered on June 25, 2013, answered that difficult constitutional question in the negative, striking down the formula for Section 5 coverage contained in Section 4. Echoing the language of his Reagan Justice Department memos from more than 30 years earlier, Roberts called Section 5 “a drastic departure from basic principles of federalism” that had since served its purpose. “History did not end in 1965,” Roberts wrote. “Largely because of the Voting Rights Act, voting tests were abolished, disparities in voter registration and turnout due to race were erased and African-Americans attained political office in record numbers.”
When Blum heard about the decision, he was overjoyed. “I wept,” he said.
Roberts’s decision prompted an unusually fiery response from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In her dissent, she noted that in studying the law’s reauthorization in 2006, “Congress found there were more D.O.J. objections between 1982 and 2004 (626) than there were between 1965 and the 1982 reauthorization (490).” She noted that in a majority of those objections, the Justice Department cited “calculated decisions to keep minority voters from fully participating in the political process.” She pointed to a study that found that covered states and counties accounted for 56 percent of all successful discrimination cases brought under Section 2 of the law — which applies equally in all states — though they contained 25 percent of the nation’s population. And she read from F.B.I. transcripts involving a case in Alabama regarding a possible ballot proposition on gambling that some Republican lawmakers worried would cause a spike in the turnout of blacks, whom they referred to as “aborigines” who would arrive at polls in “HUD-financed buses.”
“These conversations occurred not in the 1870s or even in the 1960s — they took place in 2010,” Ginsburg wrote. “ ‘Hubris’ is a fit word for today’s demolition of the V.R.A.”
IV. 2013-15
The effects of the Shelby decision were immediate. Late in the evening of July 22, 2013, the Democrats on the North Carolina General Assembly Rules Committee received their copies of a new version of House Bill 589, which was due for a vote the following day. Three months earlier, the House passed the original H.B. 589. It was a short voter-ID bill, allowing for a wider range of IDs — including state-college IDs — than other laws of its kind, and incorporated provisions that would help those who did not have an appropriate ID to get one free. The bill had been extensively vetted in hearings that took place over weeks but had curiously sat dormant after its passage by the House. Just after the Shelby decision, the senator in charge of the Rules Committee, Tom Apodaca, said, cryptically, “Now we can go with the full bill,” and expressed relief that the “headache” was out of the way.
State Senator Josh Stein was sitting in his kitchen in Raleigh when the email with the new legislation came through. “My jaw hit the table,” he recalled. He quickly understood what Apodaca had meant. The bill had grown to 57 pages from 14, with 48 additional sections that cut the state’s early-voting period nearly in half, taking away one of the two Sundays when black churches run highly effective “souls to the polls” voting drives. It ended same-day registration and invalidated student IDs for voting. In its one act designed to improve voter access, the bill made it easier to vote by absentee ballot. None of this could have been approved under Section 5. The email indicated that the Rules Committee would vote the following morning.
The bill alarmed North Carolina’s black legislators, some of whom had worked for decades to make the state a model for inclusive voting law. They saw in it a reflection of the failed Reconstruction years. “History has a way of repeating itself,” said Representative Henry Michaux Jr., who joined the North Carolina General Assembly in 1972, “and that’s exactly what’s happening here.”
The new bill had many authors, literal and spiritual, among the generations of civil rights antagonists. There was Von Spakovsky, who testified during hearings for the earlier version of the bill that while he was not claiming North Carolina suffered from massive voter fraud, the potential for abuse existed. Tom Farr, a lawyer who spent many years working with the Helms organization, helped drafters of the bill in the House to sort through Department of Motor Vehicles data on distribution of driver’s licenses by race (blacks were more likely than whites not to have one, it showed). The Civitas Institute, which Pope co-founded, had been pushing for the provision ending same-day registration and shortening the early-voting period. (Pope told me he had no hand in the foundation’s work and hadn’t given the new law much thought.) The law’s provision removing student IDs, even those issued by state schools, from the list of acceptable identification had been championed by the newly formed Voter Integrity Project, a local group unaffiliated with Von Spakovsky’s Voting Integrity Project. “We are approaching it from a philosophical position,” Jay DeLancy, the group’s co-founder, told me. “There is fraud. How do you mitigate it?” Emails that would later emerge in court showed that in lobbying for another bill restricting student registration, DeLancy told lawmakers that, if successful, “it will shift the landscape of college-town voting all across the nation.”
Within two days, the law passed both chambers without a single Democratic vote. As he cast his “no” vote on the House floor, Michaux said, “You can take these 57 pages of abomination and confine them to the streets of hell for all eternity.”
The Justice Department, the N.A.A.C.P., the A.C.L.U., the League of Women Voters and a group of college students filed lawsuits, which were joined together in this summer’s trial, under the name of North Carolina N.A.A.C.P. v. McCrory.
To justify the bill’s necessity, supporters pointed to an audit the state conducted last year under a new provision of the law that requires it to crosscheck its voting rolls with those of other states. It had identified 35,000 potential double registrations. The state’s division of elections commissioner, Kim Strach — whose husband is on the state team defending the law — told lawmakers, “It could be voter fraud,” though she acknowledged the possible duplicates could also be related to common bureaucratic errors. The commentator Dick Morris, speaking on Fox, said it probably meant there were more than one million double votes nationwide in 2012. Von Spakovsky told The Tampa Bay Timesit seemed as if North Carolina had found at least several hundred people who voted twice.
A few weeks before the case was to go to trial, I stopped into the Statehouse office of State Senator Bob Rucho, a prime supporter of the bill. “When the people start losing confidence in their government, and the electoral process, then something needs to be done to restore it,” he told me. But when I called the Board of Elections recently, a spokesman told me that the number of suspicious registrations was now 11; none had so far produced a criminal fraud charge.
On July 12, the Sunday before North Carolina N.A.A.C.P. v. McCrory was to open, the Rev. William Barber II, president of the statewide N.A.A.C.P. organization, gathered more than 1,200 supporters and allies in the center of Winston-Salem for an evening prayer service beneath the vaulted ceilings of the Union Baptist Church.
Barber, 51, has a striking presence. More than six feet tall, broad-chested and slightly hunched from a congenital spinal condition, he speaks with a booming and practiced moral indignation. For two years, since the Republicans took control of the state, he has been running regular “Moral Monday” protests at the Statehouse. He argues that the nation is in the throes of “a third Reconstruction,” and that new voting laws like the one in North Carolina are an attempt at a third deconstruction. The old-guard members of the state’s civil rights movement view him as their rightful heir. (“He’s doing a great job,” Michaux said.) Republicans view him as a “demagogue,” as Wrenn called him.
As the sun began a hazy descent that Sunday, four generations of civil rights activists filed into the church, led by the grande dame of the trial, Rosanell Eaton, 94, a black N.A.A.C.P. plaintiff who defiantly trumped the system as a young woman by memorizing the preamble of the Constitution and then acing the literacy test in which she was asked to recite it. Wearing a black-and-white church dress, a veiled black hat and full makeup, she told me the new law offended her deeply. “It’s disgusting,” she said, spitting out the word like stale gum.
Barber approached the lectern in a bright fuchsia shirt and red prayer shawl. He ticked through the dramatic, violent history of the 1950s and 1960s that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act with a religious-political rage. He then led his congregation through the fairly technical business of Capitol Hill lawmaking and Supreme Court law striking.
“After a black president had won two elections, five justices arrogantly said they knew more than the evidence considered by 98 senators,” he said. “Then on June 25 — a day that will go down in political infamy — they voted to gut Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, and thereby nullified preclearance under Section 5 — which meant, on June 26, 2013, we had less voting rights than they had on August 6, 1965.” The crowd still with him, hooting and clapping, he shouted with the full capacity of his abdomen his catchphrase for the trial: “Like those who answered Dr. King’s call 50 years ago, THIS … IS … OUR … SELMA … NOW!”
Selma, in this case, was a heavily fortified, wood-paneled federal courtroom in Winston-Salem. The next morning it was filled with the lawyers from the five legal teams, including that of the Justice Department. The plaintiff’s lead attorney was Penda Hair, co-director of the civil rights group Advancement Project. In her opening argument, she said the voting laws established in the many decades since the Voting Rights Act had helped blacks and Latinos to vote. Removing those laws would affect those same people disproportionately. Quoting Barber, she repeated, “This is our Selma.”
After all of the plaintiffs had their say, Tom Farr took the lectern. He is gray-haired and slightly stooped, projecting a courtroom aura of rumpled annoyance. “What is the dastardly thing that North Carolina has done that has been equated to the events in Selma?” he asked the judge.
He argued that the law had no disparate effect; that blacks were no less welcome to vote than whites were during a shortened early-voting period, were treated no worse for voting at the wrong precinct than whites — the idea being that the past was the past. This, in essence, is what many of the arguments against the Voting Rights Act have always come down to.
The sun was beating down hard when court broke that day. Outside, Barber had gathered a few thousand protesters, including some legends of the old movement, like Joseph McNeil, one of the four students who started the Woolworth’s sit-in, and Bob Zellner, the first white field secretary of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. As the protest made its orderly way down Main Street, with the police directing traffic, I couldn’t help thinking about the words of Farr’s co-counsel, Butch Bowers. “The history of North Carolina,” he said, “is not on trial here.” These thousands of people certainly did not agree.
They most likely would have found more to agree with in an observation Henry Frye made to me, sitting on his porch two days before the trial started. “It’s not quite what it was a long time ago,” he said. Pondering for a minute, he laughed and added, “It’s more sophisticated now.”
Correction: August 9, 2015 
An article last Sunday about the 50-year fight over the Voting Rights Act referred incompletely to the significance of Georgia’s revised voter-ID Law. While it did include a provision allowing those without ID to file provisional ballots, the more relevant feature involved offering free voter-identification cards to those who needed them. The article also misidentified the court that upheld the revised voter-ID law. It is the Georgia Supreme Court, not the Supreme Court of the United States. The article also misidentified the location of the residence of a member of the New Black Panther Party who was accused of intimidating voters at a Philadelphia polling station in 2008. He lived in a house a few blocks away from the polling place, not in the building that housed the polling station. In addition, the article misspelled the surname of a state senator who helped pass North Carolina’s sweeping new voting law. He is Tom Apodaca, not Apadoca. And a picture with an accompanying timeline was published in error. It showed President Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, on July 2 of that year — not the Voting Rights Act. A picture of Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act, on Aug. 6, 1965, can be found at

Jim Rutenberg is the chief political correspondent for the magazine. He last wrote about the G.O.P. candidate Ben Carson.

Photographs by Jeremy M. Lange

Illustration by Ben Wiseman. Digital Design: Rodrigo De Benito Sanz

A version of this article appears in print on August 2, 2015, on page MM30 of the Sunday Magazine with the headline: Overcome. 




THE recent release of a landmark report on the history of lynching in the United States is a welcome contribution to the struggle over American collective memory. Few groups have suffered more systematic mistreatment, abuse and murder than African-Americans, the focus of the report.

One dimension of mob violence that is often overlooked, however, is that lynchers targeted many other racial and ethnic minorities in the United States, including Native Americans, Italians, Chinese and, especially, Mexicans.

Americans are largely unaware that Mexicans were frequently the targets of lynch mobs, from the mid-19th century until well into the 20th century, second only to African-Americans in the scale and scope of the crimes. One case, largely overlooked or ignored by American journalists but not by the Mexican government, was that of seven Mexican shepherds hanged by white vigilantes near Corpus Christi, Tex., in late November 1873. The mob was probably trying to intimidate the shepherds’ employer into selling his land. None of the killers were arrested.

From 1848 to 1928, mobs murdered thousands of Mexicans, though surviving records allowed us to clearly document only about 547 cases. These lynchings occurred not only in the southwestern states of Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas, but also in states far from the border, like Nebraska and Wyoming.

Some of these cases did appear in press accounts, when reporters depicted them as violent public spectacles, as they did with many lynchings of African-Americans in the South. For example, on July 5, 1851, a mob of 2,000 in Downieville, Calif., watched the extralegal hanging of a Mexican woman named Juana Loaiza, who had been accused of having murdered a white man named Frank Cannon.

Such episodes were not isolated to the turbulent gold rush period. More than a half-century later, on Nov. 3, 1910, a mob snatched a 20-year-old Mexican laborer, Antonio Rodríguez, from a jail in Rock Springs, Tex. The authorities had arrested him on charges that he had killed a rancher’s wife. Mob leaders bound him to a mesquite tree, doused him with kerosene and burned him alive. The El Paso Herald reported that thousands turned out to witness the event; we found no evidence that anyone was ever arrested.

While there were similarities between the lynchings of blacks and Mexicans, there were also clear differences. One was that local authorities and deputized citizens played particularly conspicuous roles in mob violence against Mexicans.

On Jan. 28, 1918, a band of Texas Rangers and ranchers arrived in the village of Porvenir in Presidio County, Tex. Mexican outlaws had recently attacked a nearby ranch, and the posse presumed that the locals were acting as spies and informants for Mexican raiders on the other side of the border. The group rounded up nearly two dozen men, searched their houses, and marched 15 of them to a rock bluff near the village and executed them. The Porvenir massacre, as it has become known, was the climactic event in what Mexican-Americans remember as the Hora de Sangre (Hour of Blood). It led, the following year, to an investigation by the Texas Legislature and reform of the Rangers.

Between 1915 and 1918, vigilantes, local law officers and Texas Rangers executed, without due process, unknown thousands of Mexicans for their alleged role in a revolutionary uprising known as the Plan de San Diego. White fears of Mexican revolutionary violence exploded in July and August 1915, after Mexican raiders committed a series of assaults on the economic infrastructure of the Lower Rio Grande Valley in resistance to white dominance. The raids unleashed a bloody wave of retaliatory action amid a climate of intense paranoia.

While there are certainly instances in the history of the American South where law officers colluded in mob action, the level of engagement by local and state authorities in the reaction to the Plan de San Diego was remarkable. The lynchings persisted into the 1920s, eventually declining largely because of pressure from the Mexican government.

Historians have often ascribed to the South a distinctiveness that has set it apart from the rest of the United States. In so doing, they have created the impression of a peculiarly benighted region plagued by unparalleled levels of racial violence. The story of mob violence against Mexicans in the Southwest compels us to rethink the history of lynching.

Southern blacks were the group most often targeted, but comparing the histories of the South and the West strengthens our understanding of mob violence in both. In today’s charged debate over immigration policy and the growth of the Latino population, the history of anti-Mexican violence reminds us of the costs and consequences of hate.

William D. Carrigan, a professor of history at Rowan University, and Clive Webb, professor of modern American history at the University of Sussex, are the authors of “Forgotten Dead: Mob Violence Against Mexicans in the United States, 1848-1928.”