When we think the first President of color, we all think Barack Obama. I know I did. Until I came across a blog post by Professor Henry Gates. That led me to research the matter and according to the annuls of history, Barack Obama was late to the party to claim that distinction.
It turns out that the first president of color in North America was a man named Vicente Guerrero, and he became the second president of the Republic of Mexico in 1829. (The first black head of state in the Caribbean was Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who became the first governor-general of the Independent Republic of Haiti in 1804. Both Henri Christophe and Alexandre Pétion were elected as presidents of the divided republic of Haiti: Christophe in the north in 1806, Pétion in the south in 1807.)
“In 1821, Mexico accepted Americans to settle the Texas territory under the conditions that the settlers convert to Catholicism and observe Mexican laws, including the abolition of slavery. On 15 September 1829, President Vicente Ramon Guerrero, emancipated all slaves within the Republic of Mexico”
Therefore, Mexico had its own Barack Obama 54 years before Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, and fully 179 years before we did! Moreover, the comparison with Lincoln is not an idle one: Guerrero, like Lincoln, has been immortalized for abolishing slavery in Mexico.
“The President of the United States of Mexico, know ye: That desiring to celebrate in the year of 1829 the anniversary of our independence with an act of justice and national beneficence, which might result in the benefit and support of a good, so highly to be appreciated, which might cement more and more the public tranquility, which might reinstate an unfortunate part of its inhabitants in the sacred rights which nature gave them, and which the nation protects by wise and just laws, in conformance with the 30th article of the constitutive act, in which the use of extraordinary powers are ceded to me, I have thought it proper to decree:
1st. Slavery is abolished in the republic.
2nd. Consequently, those who have been until now considered slaves are free.
3rd. When the circumstances of the treasury may permit, the owners of the slaves will be indemnified in the mode that the laws may provide.
In order that every part of this decree may be fully complied with, let it be printed, published, and circulated. Given at the Federal Palace of Mexico, the 15th of September, 1829. Vicente Guerrero to José María Bocanegra.”
Disparagingly nicknamed “el Negro Guerrero” by his political enemies, Guerrero would in the United States have been classified as a mulatto. According to one of his biographers, Theodore G. Vincent, Guerrero was of mixed African, Spanish and Native American ancestry, and his African ancestry most probably derived from his father, Juan Pedro, whose profession “was in the almost entirely Afro-Mexican profession of mule driver.” Some scholars speculate that his paternal grandfather was either a slave, or a descendant of African slaves.
Several towns in Mexico are named in honor of this famous General, including Vicente Guerrero in Baja California and the Mexican State of Guerrero, on the mainland of Mexico.Guerrero Negro in Baja California Sur, however, is not named after him — as popularly believed, due to his African ancestry in an almost entirely non-black nation.
A little known Black and Mexican history fact that I found interesting.