Front Door to Cuba

End of Slavery in Cuba

Under the terms of the Pact of Zanjón, which ended the The Ten Year War in 1878, slaves who fought on either side of the war were set free, but those who did not fight had to endure almost another decade of slavery.

Two years later the Spanish Cortes approved an abolition law (1880) that provided for an eight-year period of patronato (tutelage) for all slaves liberated according to the law. This only amounted to indentured servitude, as slaves were required to spend those 8 years working for their masters at no charge. On October 7 1886, slavery was finally abolished in Cuba by a royal decree that also made the patronato illegal.

The end of legal slavery, however, did not bring racial harmony to Cuba, and Spanish "thinkers" continued to warn against the potential "evils" of a racially mixed society.

At the time of emancipation, most slaves were employed on plantations, and most free black Cubans were women who lived in the cities. Cuban society didn't exactly welcome the free slaves with open arms. For example:

After 1898, according to Aline Helg in Our Rightful Share, "Only a few outstanding Afro-Cubans who distinguished themselves by very exceptional military abilities or Western educational standards had access to white privileged circles."

"Cuba's blacks were not themselves a homogenous group," wrote Richard Cott in Cuba: A New History. "They came from many tribes and nations along the length of the West African coastline, from Senegal in the north to Angola in the south - and even from Mozambique on Africa's south-east coast. They brought with them different languages, different beliefs, different customs, and different music, and through much of the nineteenth century they preserved these differences in the new Cuban home to which they had been transported."

A law passed in 1880 stated that every community of more than 500 had to establish one school for boys and one for girls, and that racial divisions would be suppressed. It was expected that the different municipalities would pay for elementary education themselves, as Madrid only financed the University of Havana. Between 1883 and 1895, the number of schools on the island rose from 535 to 904.

In spite of apparent official insistence, many schools refused to accept black children, and some municipalities began to run separate schools for blacks. Others simply refused to enroll blacks, or imposed a special fee that most could not pay.

As black children began to attend municipal schools, private schools for richer white families began to appear. According to an article in the Gaceta de La Habana on May 1 1889, their number tripled within a decade.

In 1883, black citizens living in Havana, led by Francisco Bonet and Antonio Rojas appealed to Governor General Emilio Calleja to finally allow Afro-Cuban children to attend municipal-run schools all over the island. General Calleja answered that to discriminate by race in such a manner was anti-Christian and prevented the full integration of Cuban society.

Historian Aline Helg in Our Rightful Share: The Afro-Cuban Struggle for Equality, 1886-1912 (Pg. 28);
"Obviously, the 500,000 men, women, and children of African descent living in Cuba in the early 1890s were far from a homogeneous group. Although all of them probably shared the experience of some kind of white racism, broad cultural, educational, class, sexual, and regional differences divided them. Generally, those who had been brought over from Africa and the offspring of those Africans distinguished themselves from Afro-Cubans from families of generations of Cuban residence; also, those who had experienced slavery traveled a different path from those who had always been free or those with long-standing free lineage. In addition, no common Afro-Cuban culture or subculture united them against the dominant Spanish-Cuban culture. Rather, African and Spanish traditions blended to produce a continuum of subcultures that can only be crudely sketched.

"At one end of the continuum, the African-born (of whom there were approximately 13,000 elderly in 1899), along with many Afro-Cuban rural workers, were deeply attached to Africa and spoke little Spanish, transmitted orally. Predominant among the latter were the Yoruba-speaking peoples of the Bight of Benin, who brought with them what was known in Cuba as the Lucumí tradition, and the Congos of Angola and northern Congo, who brought the Congo tradition. Former Lucumí and Congo slaves had a decisive influence on folk medicine, religion, and brujería, as well as on oral literature, music, dance, play, and cooking. As Montejo recalled, although the African-born did not know to read and write, they were the ones who taught him morality and culture. In fact, in some rural Afro-Cuban communities unfrequented by local priests and other disseminators of Catholicism and Spanish culture, the influence of the African-born was little challenged."

In 1887, the Directorio Central de las Sociedades de la Raza de Color was founded to represent "in the strictest legality" the interests of people of color and to coordinate the actions of the various "color societies" throughout the island in order to preset a unified stand against racism. By July 1892, the Directorio consisted of 65 societies throughout Cuba. The official newspaper of the Directorio Central was La Igualdad.

Race in Cuba
Opening | Introduction | End of Slavery | Race Fear | After the War | SUGAR | Race War | Race War Timeline | José Miguel Gómez | Morúa Delgado | Fernando Ortíz | Julián Valdés Sierra | Oriente Province | Martí on Race | Bibliography


The Ten Year War | Cuba's war of independence, aka the Spanish-Cuban-American War

José Martí | Martí Timeline

Follow the Antonio Maceo timeline. Known in Cuba as The Bronze Titan, Maceo received 24 battle wounds fighting for Cuban independence. During the war, the Spanish press called him The Lion. (Maceo is one of the most loved figures in Cuban history.) | Read Maceo's Protest of Baraguá

Carlos Manuel de Céspedes | Independence Gallery

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