Black History: Special Delivery!!
Dr. Jose`Celso Barbosa (1857-1921) was a trailblazing physician, political leader, and activist. Known as the “father of the Statehood for Puerto Rico movement”. Barbosa was born in the city of Bayamon, Puerto Rico. His parents were of African and European descent. Barbosa received his primary and secondary education at the Jesuit Seminary in Puerto Rico. He was the first person of mixed ancestry to attend. Barbosa was also the first Puerto Rican to earn a medical degree in the United States.
After graduation, he worked as a private tutor to save money for college. Barbosa moved to New York in 1875 where he learned English in one year. His original goal was to study law. When he contracted pneumonia while in New York City, the doctor who treated him recommended that he study medicine. He enrolled at the University of Michigan in 1877, after being rejected from admission to the College of Physicians and Surgeons (Columbia University Medical School) due to his race.
Barbosa graduated in 1880 and returned to Puerto Rico where he practiced medicine for decades. The Spanish government, initially would not recognize his educational credentials because they were not from a well known European university. He had to obtain the assistance of the U.S. consulate in order to establish his medical practice. Barbosa’s contributions to the field of healthcare and public health were significant. He worked to establish an early form of health insurance and encouraged employers to fund healthcare services for employees. Barbosa founded a cooperative in Puerto Rico, El Ahorro Colectivo.
Active in political affairs, Barbosa was a member of the Autonomous Party; but later left the party to differences of opinion on the direction of the party. In 1998, during the Spanish American War when the U.S. attacked San Juan, Barbosa, a member of the Red Cross traveled by ferry to the capital to help care for Spanish and Puerto Rican Soldiers. The trip to the capital was dangerous as the group was met with cannon fire en route to the capital. Barbosa and his team of physicians were recommended by the Spanish government for the Cruz de la Orden del Merito Naval (The Cross of the Order of Naval Merrit) in recognition of their bravery. The war resulted in Puerto Rico becoming a U.S. territory. In 1899, Barbosa and several supporters launched Puerto Rico’s first political party. He became known as the father of the Statehood of Puerto Rico Movement. Barbosa’s goal in establishing the party was to advocate for equality, autonomy and to eliminate colonial control.
In 1907 he also founded the El Tiempo newspaper. It was the first bilingual newspaper to be published on the island. In 1917 Barbosa was elected as an at-large representative to the first Puerto Rican Senate. He served in this role from 1917-1921. Barbosa died in San Juan in 1921. Barbosa’s birthday (July 27) is celebrated as an official holiday in Puerto Rico. Throughout his life, he experienced racial discrimination and prejudice. However, this did not deter him in his fight to achieve equality for the people of Puerto Rico. Following his death, his home in Bayamon was turned into a museum.