Leaving Atlanta Penitentiary For New York
Don Pedro became eligible for parole in 1941. An FBI document details his response: “On November 4, 1941, he was eligible for conditional release but refused to execute the necessary conditional release papers on the grounds that by doing so he would be recognizing the United States Government, and, in view of his Nationalist beliefs, he could not acquiesce to these regulatory terms.” Don Pedro remained in Atlanta Penitentiary until being released on June 3, 1943. Refusing to recognize the authority of the U.S. government over him, he made it clear that once released he would consider himself free beyond any condition. Don Pedro also made it clear that he would not write to Judge Cooper requesting permission to stay in New York to complete the final part of his sentence, or declare his residence each month to U.S. officials, as was requested of him.
Clemente Soto Vélez, Luis F. Velázquez, and Juan Antonio Corretjer had moved to New York once they were released and played a role in the organizational efforts of the Nationalist Party’s chapter there. Well-organized during this time period, the New York chapter had opened three social-cultural clubs—one each in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx—whose fundraising efforts helped the Party economically.
When Don Pedro was released from Atlanta penitentiary, this New York chapter of the Nationalist Party sent Corretjer and fellow nationalist Julio Pinto Gandía to serve as escorts to New York. Vito Marcantonio also sent a lawyer, Samuel Newberger, to accompany Don Pedro on the trip and provide legal assistance if needed. They rode a train to New York in a private car of the train paid for by the Communist Party, USA.
When Don Pedro left Atlanta Penitentiary his health was still problematic. Just three days after leaving prison he was admitted into Columbus Hospital on 19th Street between Second and Third Avenue. At admission, Don Pedro had symptoms including shortness of breath, tightness and pain in his chest, swollen glands in his groin, swollen legs, a feeling of paralysis on the left side of his body, and insomnia. His diagnosis was arteriosclerosis, coronary sclerosis, bronchial neuritis, and general weakness. Don Pedro’s attending physician that Vito Marcantonio arranged to care for him, Dr. Epaminondas Secondary, was a heart disease specialist trained in Austria said to be a refugee from Mussolini’s Italy.
Two Years Of Recovery And Surveillance
For two years, Don Pedro remained in Columbus Hospital as a patient. Despite the genuinely poor state of his health, Don Pedro’s long-term stay at Columbus Hospital was the subject of criticism by federal authorities. Director of the FBI J. Edgar Hoover, for example, said the following in a report: “Albizu Campos is reported to be using his private room in the Columbus Hospital as the headquarters of the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico in New York City and it has been said that he receives many notable visitors and holds meetings in this room, which, according to reliable sources, is paid for by the Communist Party, U.S.A…. Sources, who are deemed to be familiar with the instant matter, have indicated that it would appear that Albizu Campos continues to be hospitalized on his own volition in order to elicit sympathy from and appear as a martyr to the members and adherents of his party who are of the opinion that he was unjustly incarcerated in the Atlanta Penitentiary and that this imprisonment resulted in a breakdown of health.”
Federal agents continued to conduct surveillance on Don Pedro while he was in Columbus Hospital. They were fully aware of the people that went to visit him and received further information from informants. Microphones were also placed in Don Pedro’s hospital room and in one of his visits to see him, Vito Marcantonio discovered one of them. Marcantonio screamed obscenities into it, ripped it out of the wall, and threatened those who were listening to produce the microphone in a congressional meeting.
The persecution faced by Don Pedro, most immediately expressed as the surveillance conducted on him, became a concern. According to nationalist Gil Ramos Cancel, “his confinement in the Columbus Hospital was due to both health and safety reasons, to prevent him from being arrested for violation of the conditions imposed by his freedom, which he had not accepted or signed, but which were still in force.”
When he left Columbus Hospital in November 1945, Don Pedro was in better physical condition but was documented as still suffering from arteriosclerosis. According to Ruth Reynolds, he should not have left the hospital but did so due to economic reasons.
Many people visited Don Pedro at Columbus Hospital. One of the people that spent a considerable amount of time with him was Ruth Reynolds. Very active around civil rights as a pacifist, Reynolds met nationalist leader Julio Pinto Gandía during a February 1944 demonstration in support of Mahatma Gandhi at the English Consulate. Told by Pinto Gandía that Puerto Rico’s own leader of Gandhi-like status was in Columbus Hospital, she accepted an invitation to meet him.
Reynolds had heard of the Ponce Massacre but still had a hard time believing her own government was complicit in such an event. When she went to see Don Pedro, a survivor of the Ponce Massacre, Carmen Fernández, happened to be present. After Don Pedro asked everyone to leave the room, Fernández took Reynolds to the bathroom and showed the bullet scars left on her body. Profoundly affected by what she saw, Reynolds from that day forward committed her life to the struggle for Puerto Rico’s independence.
In January of 1945, Reynolds helped to form the American League for the Independence of Puerto Rico, holding the position of secretary. The League took an active role in helping to bring awareness to Puerto Rico’s struggle in significant ways. In March, just two months after it was founded, they sent a letter to the U.S. secretary of state to point out the recent U.S. effort to prevent Julio Pinto Gandía from speaking as a representative of the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico at the founding meeting of the United Nations in San Francisco. The letter emphasized the importance of working to accelerate legislation to secure Puerto Rico’s independence.
In May 1947, Reynolds stood before the Subcommittee on Public Lands on the floor of the House of Representatives and spoke against a bill that would allow Puerto Ricans to elect their own governor without changing the colonial relationship. The ability of the League to engage North American activists and intellectuals through its numerous meetings and events around Puerto Rico’s colonial case was significant.
In 1950, Reynolds was imprisoned in Puerto Rico following a revolt organized by the Nationalist Party. She joined the more than one thousand people arrested in the days following the start of the revolt. Having spent a lot of time with Don Pedro in Columbus Hospital and becoming a close friend of his, Reynolds was able to learn a lot about his life and character.
Much of what she learned about him was later documented by the Center for Puerto Rican Studies (CENTRO) during over one hundred hours of interviews with Reynolds conducted by CENTRO staff member Blanca Vázquez from 1985 to 1986. This oral history, and the documents Reynolds donated, continues to be a notable resource for researchers of Don Pedro and the nationalist movement. A few years later, just months before her physical death in 1989, Hunter College published her account of the 1948 strike organized by students in the University of Puerto Rico that was also a protest against the colonial structure in Puerto Rico.
- El Movimiento Libertador en la Historia de Puerto Rico, by Ramón Medina Ramírez (San Juan, Puerto Rico, 1970).
- Pedro Albizu Campos: Las Llamas de la Aurora- Acercamiento a su Biografía, by Marisa Rosado (Ediciones Puerto, 2008).
- The Ruth M. Reynolds Papers, Center for Puerto Rican Studies Library and Archives (Hunter College, CUNY).