In Little Havana’s Cuban Memorial Park sits a monument to Antonio Maceo; the first monument of the mulatto (Afro-Cuban) general to be installed in a public park in the United States. Few people know that the late Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre named Domino Park after Antonio Maceo, too; it’s since been re-named for Maximo Gomez.
What’s so special about Antonio Maceo, do you ask? Do you not know who he was? Since the anniversary of Maceo’s death passed recently (on December 7th) without apparent public commemoration, I dedicate this article to the remembrance of the man nicknamed “The Bronze Titan.”
Sadly, Maceo’s contributions to history seem to have been virtually erased, at least here in Miami, despite the bronze bust of Maceo still standing in Little Havana. When I ask my students (at Florida International University) if they have heard of Maceo, they almost always say no. When Miamians take my tours of Little Havana, they seem as unaware about this heroic figure as tourists from other parts of the world.
Maceo, the great general of Cuba’s wars for independence.
By the time he died on December 7, 1896 at age 51, Cuban Lt. General José Antonio de la Caridad Maceo y Grajales had survived twenty-five bullet wounds during his years of fighting for Cuba’s independence from Spain. He had spent 32 years of his life fighting for Cuban independence, had waged 900 combats, and had never lost a battle. He joined the rebel battles in 1868, quickly earning recognition for his leadership capacity and eventually earning the rank of general, serving directly under the Dominican-born Generalisimo Máximo Gómez.
Maceo is one of Cuba’s most admired heroes. At what became known as the Protest of Baraguá in 1878, he famously refused to sign an agreement to end Cuba’s Ten Years War against Spain. Nothing could convince him to give up the struggle to achieve independence and end slavery. He eventually led the famous invasion of western Cuba.
James Hyde Clark (1896), a Southerner who spent time with Maceo during Cuba’s war of independence, described Maceo as “the greatest hero of the 19th century - aye - even in history,” as documented by historian Eric Foner.
He has gained control of the whole island again and again. With 20,000 men he has not only kept over 200,000 well-trained, well-disciplined and well-armed men at bay, but he has routed and crushed them repeatedly and forced a passage from one end of the island to the other. To Maceo fear was a myth. He was absolutely devoid of the sense which we call fear. Every nerve, every sense, so tingled and vibrated with keen foresight, certainty of victory, and love for his country, that he never gave the slightest heed to personal danger. I have often wondered if other great generals were like Maceo but history fails to show any light…This is why the Cubans win their engagements, with such a noble figure for a leader, even a band of cowards could sweep all before them.
All too often descriptions of Maceo reduce him to a brutish man of war. Yet Maceo was extremely intelligent and kind hearted. Syme-Hastings described him as a “self-made man of uncommon intellectual powers and of most sterling character.” In another passage, he writes, “I shall never forget the first time I ever saw him -- it was the night I arrived at Pinar del Rio -- we sat and talked together for over two hours, and, strange as it may seem, over half of the time we spent discussing literary matters and authors.”
Despite Maceo’s reputation as a man of fine character, he always had to cope with racism. In 1895, Cuban president Salvador Cisneros de Betancourt, who had been the Marqués de Santa Lucía in Spain, remarked, “What a shame is Antonio Maceo’s condition [as a mulatto/black man], because he is and will be a good leader; if he is not he will be superior to [Maximo] Gomez; but the prejudices of the vulgar are the devil.” Some people refused to believe a black man could be so intelligent and talented. Cuban President Tomás Estrada Palma ordered Maceo’s remains exhumed and analyzed after his death. Using methods that have since been invalidated, these so-called “scientists” claimed that Maceo had the head of a white man and the body of a black man.
After Maceo’s death, he was recognized with monuments in Jamaica and Costa Rica, and many African Americans named their sons after Maceo. Not until 1916, however, did the Cuban government erect its monument to the hero. “Maceo might have been Cuba’s Simón Bolivar or San Martín,” wrote historian Erna Ferguson in 1946, “if he had been white.”