[Nagó, sent by the Oricha of war, tells Morelos] “You have been chosen to return dignity to the oppressed Indians and Blacks, to their mestizo descendants, half-breeds and Mulattoes. You will unite all with your shouts, with your horse, and your sword. Changó’s waterspout, you will open the breach through which runs the river of the insurgents against oppression.”
Manuel Zapata Olivella
Morelos’ army was formed by the [Hermenegildo] Galeana, [Mariano] Matamoros and [Nicolás] Bravo brigades [….] Most of the soldiers were Southern Blacks and Mulattoes.
Uvaldo Vargas Martínez
The disciplined Mexican rebel Armies of the South, formed and led by the Afro-Mexican Catholic priest José María Morelos y Pavón and his cadre, were mainly composed of people identified as “Negros” (Blacks) or “Castas” (African offspring) by the Spanish colonial pigmentocracy. At their peek, the Black Armies of the South were 1,000 trained infantry and a little over 4,000 cavalry. The majority of soldiers were Blacks and Mulattoes from the South….(Vargas 56). Morelos and the main columns of the Armies of the South withstood a seventy-two-day siege in Cuautla (from February 19 to May 12, 1812) by the Viceregal Central Army of New Spain: eight thousand men under the command of Spanish General Felix María Calleja del Rey. Paradoxically, Morelos’ fame as “the supreme general of the insurgency” grew because of the heroic resistance in Cuautla (Vargas 75). Well documented and recognized is, “the heroic defense of Cuautla lifted the spirits of the independence supporters […] and filled the spirits of all Mexicans, even in Mexico City” (Vargas 75). The fundamental role of the Black Armies of the South in achieving manumission, independence and the forming of the new Nation is recognized, however their color has been erased from the national memory.
The Black Armies of the South were crucial in dismantling the three-hundred-year Spanish enslaving and racist structure. The Black or African-Mexican fundamental contributions to the building and establishing of the Nation must be taught and understood to help eradicate the colonial racism that still lingers surreptitiously and openly in various regions, institutions, and social sectors of Mexico, and beyond. The Black accomplishments need to be re-injected into the Mexican national memory in full color in order to assist to end the massive Black endo-phobia that affects, and disenfranchises, a considerable number of Mexicans. Public and private school textbooks should speak louder of the African and Afrodescendant Ancestors of Mexico and their deeds. Mexican children ought to learn that a major portion of the mothers and fathers of the Mexican nation, our Ancestors, were considered “Black” and therefore inferior by the Europeans. And, that this form of violence was confronted and defeated by the Ancestors who rallied under a black flag and ribbons of sky blue and white signaling their devotion to Guadalupe/Yemayá, the Black Madonna of Mexico.
In addition to our First Nations and Asian roots, recognizing our African-ness will assist us to develop stronger global relations with the people of Africa and the African Diaspora in other places of the Americas and the planet. Moreover, the present historical reconstruction destroys the official myth that Blacks during the Colonial Period (1519-1821) were few and disappeared by integration.
This work traces the emergence of the Black Armies of the South from the moment Morelos leaves his church in the hot lands of Carácuaro, Michoacán with twenty-five “dark and humble men” to the siege of Cuautla in 1812, where he and the major portion of the Black Armies of the South were trapped by the 8,000-men Viceregal Army of the Center. The Black Armies of the South and the consequences of their struggles as an integral part of the independent Mexican national life will be discussed after a brief historical profile of the population of colonial Mexico from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century in order to contextualize the problem and to enable us to see that in nineteenth-century Mexico, just as today, there was an important Black presence.
The population of New Spain in 1779, thirty-one years before the armed phase of the Mexican independence-manumission movement started, is reported at 4,500,000 (Abad y Queipo 61). At least six-tenths, or 2,700,000 were classified as “Castas” (the progeny of African, First Nations, Asian and European relations). In the eve of the struggle, the population of New Spain had grown to over six million (Aguirre, La población 233).
Further confusion regarding the make-up of the colonial population was caused by the particular population distribution presented by Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán. Nevertheless, the 1810 Noriega census cited by Aguirre divides the 6,147,355 population of New Spain at the start of the war of independence from Spain thus: 1,338,706 “Castas,” and 10,000 Blacks; 3,676,282 “Indians;” 1,107,367 “Criollos;” and 15,000 Europeans (La población 232). Among the “Castas,” 500,000 are noted as “Mulattoes.” For the purpose of this work, the 500,000 mulattoes and 10,000 blacks are sufficient to document a substantial Black presence in nineteenth-century Mexico. However, being that Mulattoes were the offspring of the relations between, “español y negra” (Spanish male and Black woman), where were the offspring of Black males and First Nations women accounted for? What was their population at the time?
The Trans-Atlantic male/female ratio of the enslaved Africans taken to New Spain starting in the sixteenth century was 2:1. The 500,000 Mulattoes of the census above theoretically were the children of Spanish males and African women because at the time “Mulatto” signified this. Due to the availability of reproductive-age African males and First Nations women, it is believed that relations between African males and First Nations women prevailed. This is deduced, in part, given the incessant Royal Spanish edicts prohibiting African-First Nations relations. The children of African males and First Nations women remained with their mothers and grew up as First Nations: Nahua, Mixtec, Maya, etc. Outside of the First Nations reservations, they were labeled as “Mulatto-Pardos.” Aguirre reports,
The Mulatto-Pardo was the product of the mix between the Black male with the Indian woman. Mulatto-Pardos were the most abundant in New Spain and the color of their skin produced the most varied and curious naming. [….] In general terms, we can assert that they were called Cochos en Michoacán, Cambujos in Oaxaca, Chinos in Puebla, Jarochos in Veracruz, Loros in Chiapas and Zambos in Guerrero; just to mention the most common. (La población 169)
Blacks and their offspring were to be found all over the Colony. According to William B. Taylor, “At the end of the eighteenth century, 381,941 free Negroes and mulattoes, many of whom were descendants of slaves who had grasped freedom by deserting their masters, were identified in a wide area of the highlands as well as the coastal regions of central Mexico” (440). From the tax reports of the Mexican National Archives, he cites the following Black distribution: Mexico 46,813; Puebla 11,304; Veracruz 5,849; Oaxaca 16,767; Potosi 49,140; Arispe 10,070; Valladolid 48,768; Guanajuato 42,868; Guadalajara 63,009; Zacatecas 58,317; Merida 29,033 (440, n4.). These numbers are dramatic when considering that the reported European Spanish population of New Spain in 1810 was 15,000.
While some Africans arrived as free men from the onset of the Spanish venture, they were the exception. One such case is Juan Garrido, the “Black Conquistador” who planted the first wheat grains in Mexico City, and who had a wife and children and a job as guardian of the city’s water supply; but never held a significant position. Throughout the Colonial Period in Mexico, some African offspring were freed by being born of free wombs (First Nations mainly); their Spanish fathers buying their freedom; or their masters. Regardless of their free/slave status, Blacks were barred from administrative positions and assigned and performed the most labor-intensive occupations.
In the eve of the war of 1810-1821, most Blacks in New Spain were agriculturalists, cowboys, miners, muleteers, port-dock workers, laborers, construction workers, militias, butchers, cooks, bakers, shoe makers, carpenters, tailors, weavers, candy makers, fruit and nut-candy vendors, enchilada makers and aguas frescas vendors, fruit and vegetable merchants, tobacco traffickers, banditos, etc. They lived in ports, urban centers, villages, mining towns, plantations, or on the road. Aguirre notes that,
by 1793, the contradictions of the Spanish economy became obvious where they would “destroy harvests or let them rot in the granaries for lack of markets, while the population of shifters, continuously increasing, was kept on the brink of starvation. The Colonial government was constantly preoccupied with the behavior of numerous shifters, mainly Afro-Mexican. The government was incapable of solving its own desperate situation. On the one hand, it greatly feared the Afro-Mexicans. On the other, the government believed that increasing the oppression (that it had been exercising since a while back) would lessen the danger. (La población 232)
The Insurgents, but in particular the Black Armies of the South, drew their strength from the populations mentioned above.
Word from Josefa Ortíz de Domínguez got to Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, the erudite criollo Catholic priest of Dolores, Guanajuato, that their planned conspiracy had been discovered. This forced Hidalgo to issue a call to arms during an unscheduled early mass on 16 September 1810. Thereafter, Hidalgo and six-hundred-freedom-fighters, most of the men from Dolores, poorly armed and clad, unruly and undisciplined “Castas” and “Indians,” began their march toward Mexico City. In the name of the Virgin of Guadalupe, as seen by the symbol of their flag (the Black Madonna mother of the Americas), these first Mexican nationals were determined to obtain freedom and equality under the law.
Hidalgo and his men marched through San Miguel and Celaya. Then on 28 September, they arrived in Guanajuato, one of the most important mining towns of New Spain (others were Zacatecas, Pachuca, Taxco, Real del Catorce, and San Luis Potosi). By that time, Hidalgo’s army had grown to 30,000. They apprehended and slaughtered four hundred Spanish and wealthy Criollos (most of the European and Euro-descendant men of the town who had barricaded themselves inside of the fortified public granary). “Word of the horrors of Guanajuato soon spread throughout Mexico. The authorities in Mexico City quickly realized that they had a major uprising on their hands and began organizing its defense, which would clash with Hidalgo again on Monte de las Cruces.”
On October 30, 1810, Hidalgo and Ignacio Allende’s forces, which had swelled to 80,000 clashed with a Spanish force led by General Torcuato Trujillo. Trujillo had one thousand foot soldiers and 400 cavalry. The rebel army overwhelmed the Spaniards and captured their two cannons. Hidalgo, against Allende’s counsel, decided to retreat and not attack Mexico City. The reasons, speculated by historians, are many. Among them, is that Hidalgo feared General Calleja’s well-armed army of four thousand veterans; or that he wanted to spare the population of Mexico City from the mob. Perhaps, Hidalgo feared for the thousands of Spanish/Criollo lives. Hidalgo was an educated man; he read French and surely knew of the fate of the European French in Haiti a few years earlier. After all, Hidalgo’s previous campaigns pointed in that direction. Historians generally agree however, that Hidalgo and Allende’s troops could have easily taken Mexico City.
General Calleja del Rey caught up with the Insurgent army in the entrance of Guadalajara, January 17, 1811. The explosion of a rebel munitions wagon sent Hidalgo’s army into disarray. Hidalgo and Allende fled toward the United States. Hidalgo traveled as Allende’s prisoner. The disputes they had had regarding how to conduct a war had climaxed (Hidalgo was a priest and Allende was a trained warrior).
In the north, they were betrayed by local insurrection leader Ignacio Elizondo and captured. In short order, they were given to Spanish authorities and sent to the city of Chihuahua to stand trial. Also captured were insurgent leaders Juan Aldama, Mariano Abasolo and Mariano Jiménez, men who had been involved in the conspiracy since the start. (Minster)
Hidalgo was executed 30 July 1811. “The heads of Hidalgo, Allende, Aldama and Jiménez were preserved and hung from the four corners of the granary of Guanajuato as a warning to those who would follow in their footsteps.”
Nine months earlier, on October 20, 1810, Hidalgo had met with Morelos in Indaparapeo, Michoacán. During that meeting, Hidalgo entrusted Morelos with recruiting people from the South. Two days later, Morelos left Curácuaro on October 22, 1810, with twenty-five men for the first of four campaigns. Following Hidalgo’s and his cadre’s capture and execution, Morelos rose to become the supreme Insurgent commander. As supreme commander for three years, he led 36 important battles “almost always fighting against the most distinguished Royalist commanders,” accumulating 25 victories. During his four campaigns, beyond “grave political worries,” Morelos and the Black Armies of the South caused the Spanish viceregal government loses of forty million pesos (Vargas 31).
According to one of Morelos’ top biographers, Mexican historian Uvaldo Vargas Martínez (1913-1972), fundamental to note is that Morelos was the first Insurgent chief that truly organized the units of the freedom army. He provided them with “a true military character with a group of generals […] and competent officers.” In addition, he made gradual efforts to provide the men with adequate training, uniforms and weaponry (32). The Black Armies of the South emerged in contrast to Hidalgo’s disorganized and undisciplined mob. What has been obscured, as mentioned earlier, is that the troops of the Armies of the South were mainly Blacks.
The Black Armies of the South operated primarily in four zones: Valley of the Balsas River; Oaxaca Valley; Austral Slopes of the Sierra Madre del Sur to the Pacific Coast; and the region from the Gulf of Mexico slopes to the valleys, waterfalls and buttresses of the Eastern Sierra Madre. At the time, most of New Spain’s small villages were practically defenseless. Ben Vinson, III cites that “in many of the central coastal lowlands the Black population was greater than the white at a ratio of 10:1” (“Los milicianos” 96).
In the hot lands, there were small groups of undisciplined Royalist militias in some villages of relative importance and small contingents in important towns, cities or ports. The Royalists militia companies in some of these towns were formed by groups that seldom met for military instruction, “weapons were stored in the captains’ houses and the majority of officers resided in the capitals or major towns. They held these jobs for prestige and had never met their soldiers” (Vargas 34).
Vinson, in his now classic work, Bearing Arms for his Majesty: The Free-Colored Militia in Colonial Mexico reports of the Black presence, including that of free-Colored militias. A closer reading, for the purpose of this work, exhibits the Black presence in various villages and towns of the route taken by Morelos during his first campaign. According to Vinson, along the Pacific Coast, over one thousand Colored militia families in the province of Zacatula (Zihuatanejo, Ixtapa, Papanoa, and Petacalco) were petitioning for lands (101). As royal census recorder, Joseph Antonio de Villa Señor y Sánchez, in 1745 (7), informed that Acapulco had a population of “four hundred families of Chinos, Mulattoes and Blacks” (“Chinos” in this context is short for “co-chinos” “pigs”); or about sixteen hundred “casta” people. During the Colonial Period, given the deadliness of the hot lands, Spaniards and Criollos lived mainly in fortified towns in temperate climates.
During their first campaign, the Black Armies of the South began to take shape to become the fighting force whose bellicose actions were crucial for the end of slavery, gaining independence from Spain and the emergence of Mexico as a nation. By November 13, 1810, the Black Armies of the South that attacked Acapulco had grown to 2,000. The majority of said men lacked proper weaponry; but their good will and disciplined obedience to Morelos and cadre, “made up for the evident deficiencies” (Vargas 37).
With the Burbon military reforms of 1762 and 1793, the colonial Black militias’ structure and their system of privileges changed (Vinson, “Los milicianos” 106). Many units throughout New Spain were disbanded and these soldiers and their relatives were stripped of all privileges. In southern New Spain, there were disgruntled Black and Afrodescendants who possessed military training, who new the roads of New Spain, were excellent horse riders, and became convinced that the time was ripe for the Insurgent cause. The Insurgents envisioned a nation where all people, regardless of ethnic background, would be full citizens with equal rights under the law.
The first campaign lasted from October 22, 1810 until August 16, 1811, when the Armies of the South captured Chilapa and four hundred rifles and four cannons. They marched from Cuarácuaro through Zacatula, Patatlán, San Luis, Tecpan, Coyuca, Veladero, Acapulco, El Marqués, Tres palos, La Brea, Chichihualco, Chilpancingo, Tixtla, and Chilapa. In Chilapa, the Armies of the South stayed for three months to train and be better clad.
Mid-November 1811, The Black Armies of the South initiated their Second Campaign. Following the battle of Chiautla and Izúcar, instead of going to Puebla, as expected by the Royalists, they retreated to take Cuautla to ensure that all the south lands were under Insurgent control. Cuautla is located in the center of the hot lands of the current state of Morelos and its region. From the start of the Colonial period, Cuautla was the site of sugar cane plantations whose labor force included enslaved Africans and their offspring up to the time of the war of manumission and independence in the nineteenth century. According to a 1793 census, 5,215 Mulatto-Pardos; 1,539 mestizos; 462 Criollos; and 1,324 Spanish formed Cuautla’s population (Aguirre, La población 226).
Nineteen years after said census, from February 19 to May 12, 1812, in Cuautla, the Black Armies of the South of about 8,000 “Blacks, Indians and Mulattoes” (Vargas 63) withstood a heroic seventy-two day siege known as the Siege of Cuautla. Narciso Mendoza, a 12 year-old child of Los Emulantes, distinguished himself during the first battles of Cuautla and became known as the “Gunner Child” (Vargas 60). The Emulantes were a group of “Black, Mulatto and Indian” youth collaborators formed by Morelos in Cuautla. Juan Nepomuceno Almonte, Morelos’ son, was in charge of Los Emulantes.
The Black Armies of the South broke the siege. The Insurgents had planned to march quietly out of Cuautla during the wee hours of the morning. The plan was discovered and the Insurgents were attacked furiously. Cuautla’s inhabitants, who were trying to abandon Cuautla with the Insurgents, suffered the worst. “The town’s people received the fury of the Royal Cavalry who decapitated everyone found in their way” (Vargas 71). The Black Armies of the South were decimated and Gabriel de Yermo, owner of various sugar and cattle haciendas, captured Nicolas Bravo, a top Insurgent commander. Cuautla was “savagely ransacked” (Vargas 72) and burned to the ground by the Royalist Army. This behavior reveals, in part, the source of hatred underlying the savagery of the post siege acts of the Spanish soldiers and their lackeys; the majority of the population of Cuautla, as well as the Insurgent Armies of the South, in the eyes of the Spanish Royal Army were balking Blacks.
Paradoxically, the Black Armies of the South acquired fame from their heroic resistance. Their saga uplifted the spirit of Mexicans (Castas) throughout the land and sent major liberation and equality shock-waves throughout the Spanish realm. Jorge Gurría Lacroix recounts that Calleja expressed:
If the tenacity and activity of Cuautla’s defenders were morally directed towards a just cause, some day they would deserve a distinguished place in history. Harassed by our troops and afflicted by need, they manifest enthusiasm at all times. They bury their dead with carnavalesque dances and drunkenness. When they return from their frequent escapades, successful or not, they impose the death penalty on anyone who may speak of misfortunes or defeat.
Calleja’s statement, the Saint Inquisition’s trials and the Cadiz Constitution (1812) as explained hereafter, are windows into the history of the nineteenth-century-Catholic-Spanish-noble-male-patriarchal mentality. Among the Spanish of the time, history making was the exclusive province of European males. Calleja viewed the freedom and equality cause of the Mexicans (whom he saw as Colored) as immoral and unjust; therefore, undeserving of a place in history. Calleja, among others, could not relate to the Ancestral spirits of Chango and Huchilopostli, major symbols of resistance against the enslavers. The rumba spirit of the burial rituals that accompanied the Black Armies of the South produced scorn in Calleja. The future Viceroy of New Spain lacked the vision to perceive that Mexicans were protected by Guadalupe-Yemayá, a Black Madonna; and that at all costs, they were determined to recover from the Spanish and their institutions the right to chart their own destiny.
The black flags adopted by the Black Armies of the South signal Black rebellion against the established “white” order that was based on a make-believe pigmentocracy. The sky-blue and white colors of the ribbons which symbolized the peoples’ devotion to the Guadalupe Virgen –La Virgen Morena, interpreted with the light of the Ancestors, cited by Manuel Zapata Olivella in his novel Chango el gran putas, brings to mind Yemayá, the Ocean Mother and mother of all Orishas. As an archetype of maternity, invoked through the ribbons at the time of the birth of the new nation, this view becomes relevant. Yemayá is associated with the number seven. Mexicans recognize Seven African Powers.
From the sixteenth century onward, a number of Saint Inquisition actions throughout New Spain against Africans and their offspring for “witchcraft,” “divination,” and “superstition,” among others, is well documented (Aguirre, Medicina 333-376). Many of these trials occurred in the area currently known as the states of Michoacán, Guanajuato, Guerrero, México, Morelos, Oaxaca, Puebla, and Veracruz, and is also the region where the majority of the troops of the Black Armies of the South were recruited. These persecuted practices were part of the Afro-Mexican world visions; similar practices elsewhere in the Americas are: Santería, Candombe, Candomblé, etc. Divination is at the center of such religious practices. Orula, one of the Seven African Powers recognized in Mexico, is the God of divination. The others are: Ochún, Yemayá, Obatala, Ogum, Elegua and Changó. The Spanish and their lackeys consider all of the above heresy and a thing of the Devil.
The nineteenth-century-Spanish-racism against Blacks and Pardos is also documented in the Constitution of Cadiz (1812),
Afrodescendants were excluded [i.e. the so-called “Castas,”] from the category of Spanish citizens (Article 22), so that the “base of representation” for Peninsular Spain would surpass that of American Spain [the Spanish colonies throughout the Americas]. According to the demographic knowledge of the epoch, it was calculated that [Spanish] America had a population of 15 to 16 million inhabitants while Spain had no more than 10 million. However, discounting the disloyal Indians and Castas from the electoral base, the peninsular numerical superiority in comparison to America would be manifest. The discriminatory character of this measure exposes white racism toward Blacks and Pardos. (Tateishi 11).
The Afrodescendants throughout the Spanish Americas, including New Spain, reacted in concert to the centuries-old-white-Spanish-pigmentocratic-rule. The Black Armies of the South began gathering in Curácuaro, Michoacán, October 22, 1810 (Vargas 31). There, twenty-five braves rallied with Morelos as commander. They were committed to the end, to the just cause of manumission, independence and equal rights for all, without exception. August 10, 1812, in Tehuacán, Puebla, Morelos became the de facto Supreme Commander of the Insurgents and the Black Armies of the South, the central force of the Insurgency. This would remain until 5 November 1815, when he was captured in Tezmalaca. Morelos was executed 22 December 1815, in San Cristobal Ecatepec, today State of Mexico.
To continue their fight, the Black Armies of the South adopted guerrilla-style warfare. Some of the commanders retired, but others such as Vicente “el negro” Guerrero with Black-Indian-Black contingents, kept the fight alive in the mountains of Southern Mexico and in the Spanish Colonial supply routes between Mexico City-Acapulco and Mexico City-Veracruz during the “Period of Resistance” until 1821. Guerrero became commander of the Insurgency and the leader who signed the treaty with Agustin de Iturbide that consummated the independence from Spain. The crucial role the Black Armies of the South played in the wars to: end slavery; gain independence from Spain; and enable the emergence of Mexico as a nation is hereby claimed.
Official historians have forged a narrative that “discolors” the history of the Mexican Nation. With the racial miscegenation myth-turned-ideology, Criollos whitened Mexico’s national history according to their interests. By calling the Mexican population “mestizos,”—instead of Castas-- Criollos dealt a master-hand to manipulate the national memory. Criollos and their lackeys re-invented the Mexican “casta” population as “mestizos.” In this manner, they veiled the three-hundred-years of Spanish pigmentocratic rule and Africanization of New Spain. Criollos obscured the deep-rooted torrent of African experiences and memories that created and nurtured, in a crucial way, the Mexican Spirit. Criollos obscured the deeds and zagas of the Black-Indians who constructed Mexico outside the walls of the rulers’ towns and villages.
During the colonial epoch, just as now, the majority of the population of New Spain, including Africans and African offspring inhabited the Central and Southern regions of the land. “Free” Afrodescendants (Pardos, Mulattoes, Coyotes, Lobos, etc.) heavily populated the areas where the Black Armies of the South emerged. Afrodescendants provided the colonial labor force that fueled the Colony for centuries. In the eighteenth century, they formed a major portion of the mass of vagrants that began to shake the colonial stability. As a result, during the Colonial Epoch, Black-offspring, or Afro-Mexicans, were recruited to man the militias of Pardos and Mulattoes who defended Spanish interests. Many Blacks and First Nations fought against the Insurgents; others stayed aloof.
Spanish Vasque plantation owner Gabriel de Yermo, the leader of the Spanish party against the Insurgency, led hundreds of Blacks he had “freed” from his estates against the Insurgents. These newly freed Blacks were now free to defend Yermo’s interests against fellow Afrodescendants. After all, among other estates, he owned the Hacienda de San Gabriel, the biggest sugar plantation of the time and held the monopoly of beef and aguardiente (sugarcane rum) supplies for Mexico City.
The crucial role of the Afro-Mexican Insurgents is “discolored” in the Mexican official national history. In the nineteenth century, all who were not Spanish, Criollos or First Nations, began to be called “mestizos” to supposedly dismantle the Spanish pigmentocracy, i.e. the Willy Lynch ideology was applied in reverse. Thus, Mexicans (the Pardo-Mulatto offspring of Africans, First Nations, Asians and European relations born in the Americas) began to be referred to as “mestizos” in the national discourse. Nevertheless, they were (and still are) not in the same social or ethnic footing as European Spanish. In addition, Criollos and their lackeys usurped the hard-fought name “Mexican” and with it justified themselves as the natural inheritors and rulers of the new Nation. This same European psychological technology was exported to other places of the Americas where the African pride and deeds have been blatantly denigrated, obscured, erased, etc.
Mexicans of today descend from New Spain’s colonial populations, and a few recent migrations from other lands, but few Mexicans know and proudly recognize our African heritage. This, in a crucial way, is the product of the Spanish and Criollo systematic stigmatization of all that is African in Mexico and beyond. The loss of the Mexican African memory has to do, among other issues, with an education system that eludes the proper mention of the African legacies. Such as the role the Mexican Pardos/Mulattoes, who embodied the major part of the Black Armies of the South, played to obtain Mexican freedom from enslavement, Mexican independence from Spain, and the Mexican emergence as the republic of the United Mexican States in 1821. The above history, narrated with its full colors, is mandatory to truncate the pigmentocratic colonial mentality that still rules over many Mexican minds—of people who are far from white-- against the descendants of the Black-Indians who made possible the birth of the nation nearly two hundred years ago.
Mexican patriot, b. at Valladolid (now called Morelia in his honor), Mexico, on 30 September 1765; shot at San Cristóbal Ecatepec on 22 December 1815. His father died while he was still a youth, and, being left destitute, he worked for some time as a muleteer, until he succeeded in obtaining admission, as an extern, to the College of San Nicolas at Valladolid, the rector of which institution was at that time the reverend Don Miguel Hidalgo. Having been ordained priest, he was appointed parish priest of Carácuaro and Nucupétaro in Michoacan. When Hidalgo left Valladolid for Mexico City, after uttering his Grito de Dolores, Morelos offered himself to him at Charo, and Hidalgo commissioned him to raise troops for the cause of Independence on the southern coast, and to get possession of the port of Acapulco. Returning to his parish, he collected a few ill-armed men, marched towards Zacatula, and, following the coast, reached Acapulco with some 3000 men whom he had recruited on the way and supplied with arms taken from the royalists. After defeating Paris, who had come from Oaxaca with the object of relieving Acapulco, he left part of his forces to continue the siege and made for Chilpancingo. Forming a junction there with the brothers Galiana and Bravo, he marched to Chilapa and captured that town. As the viceroy, Venegas, was keeping all the colonial troops occupied with the siege of Zitacuaro, Morelos, who had been joined at Jantetelco by his fellow-priest Mariano Matamoros-thenceforward his right hand in almost every enterprise-organized four armies, which he distributed in various parts of Mexico. But the easy surrender of Zitacuaro to Calleja, and the approach of that commander with all his forces, placed Morelos, with some 4000 men, in the situation of being besieged at Cuautla by 8000 of the best troops of the viceroyalty. With indomitable courage, fighting day after day, Morelos held out for seventy-three days, until at last he succeeded in breaking away with all that remained of his army. He then passed over to Huajuapan, from thence to Orizaba and so on to Oaxaca, capturing all those places, and defeating every body of troops that encountered him.
On 14 September, 1813, the first Independent Congress assembled at Chilpancingo and there passed the decree: "That dependence upon the Spanish Throne has ceased forever and been dissolved. That the said Congress neither professes nor recognizes any religion but the Catholic, nor will it permit or tolerate the practice, public or private, of any other; that it will protect with all its power, and will watch over, the purity of the Faith and its dogmas and the maintenance of the regular bodies". From Chilpancingo he turned towards his native Valladolid, which was then held by the royalist leaders Iturbide and Llano; driven back there he moved on Chupio. At Puruarán his brave companion Matamoros was captured, and was shot at Valladolid, 3 February, 1814. These reverses were followed by the recapture of Oaxaca by the royalist troops. The independent Congress of Chilpancingo had removed to Apatzingan, where it promulgated the Constitution of 22 October, 1814. Then it determined to remove again from Apatzingan to Tehuacán, Morelos accompanied it to protect it, and engaged in the Battle of Tesmalaca, where he was made prisoner.
Having been taken to Mexico City, on 22 November, 1815, proceedings were instituted against him by both the military and the ecclesiastical tribunal, and an advocate was appointed for him. The principal charges against him were: (1) Having committed the crime of treason, failing in his fealty to the king, by promoting independence and causing it to be proclaimed in the Congress assembled at Chilpancingo. Morelos answered to this that, as there was no king in Spain (Ferdinand VII having been taken to France, a prisoner), he could not have been false to the king; and that, as to the declaration of independence, of the said Congress, he had concurred in it by his vote because he believed that the king would not return from France and that, even if he should return, he had rendered himself unworthy of fealty by handing over Spain and its colonies to France like a flock of sheep. (2) Having ordered a number of prisoners to be shot. He declared that he had done this in obedience to orders sent first by the Junta at Zitacuaro and then by the congress at Chilpancingo, by way of reprisals, moreover, because the viceregal Government had not accepted the exchange of prisoners proposed instead of General Matamoros. (3) Having ignored excommunication fulminated against him and the Independents by the bishops and the Inquisition. He declared that he had not considered these excommunications valid, believing that they could not be imposed upon an independent nation, such as the insurgents must be considered to constitute, so long as they (the sentences) were not those of a pope or an oecumenical council. (4) Having celebrated Mass during the time of the Revolution. He denied this, since he had regarded himself as under irregularity from the time when blood began to be shed in the territory under his command.
The case having been concluded in the military tribunal that court requested of the ecclesiastical tribunal the degradation and surrender of the condemned priest, in accordance with the formalities prescribed by the canons; the ecclesiastical tribunal granted both requests, and communicated its decision to the viceroy. It was at this point that the tribunal of the Inquisition intervened, requesting the viceroy, Calleja (who had succeeded Venegas) to delay execution of the sentence four days, and citing Morelos to a public auto de fe on 27 November. On that occasion, with all the formalities proper to such proceedings, twenty-three charges were preferred against him: the Inquisitors added to the charges brought at the former trial others which they believed themselves competent to try, as implying, according to them, suspicions of heresy. These were: (1) Having received Communion in spite of the excommunications which he had incurred. Morelos answered that he had communicated because he did not believe the excommunications valid. (2) Not reciting the Divine Office while he was in prison. He declared that he could not recite it in the dungeon for want of light. (3) Having been lax in his conduct. This he granted, but denied that scandal had been given, since it was not publicly known that he had begotten children. (4) Having sent his son to the United States to be educated in Protestant principles. He declared that, so far from wishing the son whom he had sent to the United States—as he could not place him in any institution within the kingdom—to be brought up in the doctrines of the Reformation, he had directed him to be placed in a college where he would not run that risk. In spite of these arguments, the tribunal decided: "that the priest Don José Morelos was a formal negative heretic, a favourer of heretics, a persecutor and disturber of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, a profaner of the holy sacraments, a traitor to God, the king, and the pope, and as such was declared forever irregular, deposed from all offices and benefices, and condemned to be present at his auto in the garb of a penitent, with collarless cassock and a green candle, to make a general confession and a spiritual retreat; and that, in the unexpected and very remote case of his life being spared, he was condemned for the remainder of it to confinement in Africa at the disposition of the inquisitor general, with the obligation of reciting every Friday in the year the penitential psalms and the rosary of the Blessed Virgin, and to have his sambenito (penitential inscription) placed in the cathedral church of Mexico as that of a reconciled formal heretic".
It was one of the decrees of the Inquisition which have done most to damage the reputation of that tribunal in New Spain. The proceedings lacked the legality and judicial correctness which should have marked them. Morelos was out of the jurisdiction of the Inquisition both as an Indian and as having been already tried and condemned by another, competent, tribunal; nor was there any reason in condemning him for charges to which he had made satisfactory replies. It may be that the tribunal, re-established in New Spain only a little more than one year before this, and carried away by an indiscreet zeal, was unwilling to miss the opportunity presented by so famous a case to ingratiate itself with the Government and call attention to its activity.
Morelos, degraded in pursuance of his sentence, according to the ritual provided by the Church in such cases, was transferred from the prison of the Inquisition to the citadel of Mexico and put in irons. On 22 December he was taken from the city to San Cristobal Ecatepec, where he was shot. As a guerilla leader, Morelos must occupy a prominent place among those who struggled and died for Mexican independence. He appeared at the moment when the first great army of the Independents had been routed at the Bridge of Calderon, and when its first leaders were being executed at Chihuahua, and he achieved his first successes in the rugged mountains of the south. He began his campaigns without materials of war of any kind, expecting to take what he needed from the enemy, and no one ever used the resources of war better than he did, for the extension of the national territory. Profoundly astute and reserved, he confided his plans not even to those of his lieutenants for whom he felt the most affectionate regard. The stamps of genius is discernible in the astonishing sagacity with which he handled the most difficult problems of government, and in multiplied instances of his rapid and unerring insight into actual conditions. When, after the ill-starred campaign of Valladolid, the hour of adversity came upon him, he faced disaster as serenely as he had previously accepted good fortune, and, in that famous retreat upon Tehuacan, deliberately gave his own life to save the lives o
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