José Martí’s Black Mother

Madre-negraThe Cuban blog “Negra cubana tenía que ser,” which focuses on issues of race and gender on the island and beyond, highlights the work of Josefina Toledo. Toledo has dedicated a large part of her professional activities to the life of Paulina Hernández, José Martí’s “black mother” (a woman credited with having saved the patriot’s life). Here is my translation and summary of “La madre negra de Martí en el 160 aniversario del natalicio del Héroe Nacional.”

I met Dr. Josefina Toledo when I did not know that José Martí, the most universal of all the sons and daughters of Cuba, had had a “black mother.” In our first conversation, I learned that the former investigator at the Center for Studies on José Martí [Centro de Estudios Martianos] had dedicated part of her professional life to reveal who was Paulina Hernández, the “black mother” of José Martí, a story that is not well-known.

Paulina Hernández was born in Pinar del Río on May 10, 1855, of Carabalí parents, and had the status of “free at birth” [hija de vientre libre]. Her last name (from her parents’ slave owner, Juan Hernández) changed to Pedroso upon her marriage to Ruperto Pedroso. Josefina Toledo tells us much about this humble woman, whose existence was marked by her support of the National Hero [Martí], in her book, La madre negra de Martí  [Martí’s Black Mother], which was presented at the National Library during the recent International Book Fair of Cuba 2013, celebrating the 160 anniversary of the Cuban thinker’s birth.

Paulina and Ruperto met “the Apostle” in the house in Tampa, Florida, where the revolutionaries would gather for meetings. The cook and seamstress with a marked aptitudes for musical appreciation and composition, the humble couple took care of the patriot when he was poisoned. Paulina took great care of Martí until he recovered from the incident that nearly cost him his life. Paulina Pedroso died in Havana on May 22, 1913.

During the presentation, the author acknowledged that the publication of her book reaffirms the need for unity among Cubans in the XXI century, especially regarding race relations.

[Josefina Toledo is a professor and a member of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba.]

For original article (in Spanish), see

Image above from

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