When black leader Vincente Guerrero campaigned for president in 1828, sources say he had to fight the “lighter-skinned Mexican elite that was bent on maintaining a system of white supremacy in Mexico.”
Even before he could abolish slavery, he had to face a Spanish invasion. There was another hurdle. Despite helping Mexico fight against Spain for independence in the early 19th Century, Guerrero had to deal with some influential Mexicans who looked down on him for having Afro-Indio roots and for being a mule driver by trade.
A descendant of the about 250,000 enslaved Africans brought to Mexico during colonial times, Guerrero was born on August 9, 1783, in Tixtla, now the state of Guerrero in Mexico, to a humble family.
His father, Juan Pedro Guerrero, was African- Mexican while his mother, Guadalupe Saldaña, was a native Mexican.
It is recorded that in the 16th Century, New Spain had the largest number of African slaves of all the Americas. A 1595 census showed that Afro-Mexicans outnumbered Spanish and Mestizos (persons of indigenous and Spanish mixed-descent) in urban towns.
By 1646, the numbers had increased to 116,529 for Afro-Mexicans and 35,089 for Africans.
Growing up without a formal education, Guerrero took to farming and later became the mule driver transporting goods.
He eventually became one of the few great figures who fought for independence throughout the entire period of 1810 to 1821. It has been documented that with his knowledge of native languages, he was able to rise in rank.
As a commander-in-chief of the Mexican army during the last three years of Mexico’s war of independence from Spain, Guerrero took certain actions that would ultimately bring him victory.
He basically sent letters to Mexican officers who were fighting for Spain, asking them to switch sides. Gaining victory with his team, Guerrero later served as President of Mexico, coming to power in a coup.
Guerrero served in a three-person “Junta” that governed the then independent Mexico from 1823-24, until the election that brought into power the first president of Mexico Guadalupe Victoria, according to BlackPast.
In 1828, Guerrero and Ignacio Esteva created the first “People’s Party” in Mexico and its followers put Guerrero in the presidency in April 1829.
As head of the party, BlackPast writes that Guerrero “called for public schools, land title reforms, and other programs of a liberal nature.”
In 1829, he became the second president of Mexico, and went on to “champion the cause not only of the racially oppressed but also of the economically oppressed.” In September that same year, he formally abolished slavery, many years before Abraham Lincoln of the U.S.
Wanting his administration to be a reflection of the broad coalition he built during the 1810 war, he allowed conservatives and political centrists to dominate his cabinet, writes The Berkely Daily Planet.
He also accepted as Vice President a man who had “spent most of the independence war in the uniform of Spain.”
“The political coalition Guerrero built fractured six months into his office, not from abandonment by the left, but by the right. His abolition of slavery, his promotion of a wider suffrage and his imposition of a stiff progressive tax code cost him most of his few upper-class supporters—including two cabinet members. In 1830 the conservatives rebelled, and led by Vice President Bustamante, they drove Guerrero from the capital. Most of the president’s progressive legislation was rescinded, but not the abolition of slavery, which had wide public support,” The Berkely Daily Planet continued.
Eventually, Guerrero, who believed in civil rights for all, especially African Mexicans, was betrayed by a group of reactionaries who captured him and ultimately executed him on February 14, 1831, an act that shocked many others.
Described as the “greatest man of color” by most Mexicans, Guerrero is also remembered for his eloquence, which he displayed in his first speech to Congress:
“If we succeed in spreading the guarantees of the individual, if equality before the law destroys the efforts of power and gold, if the highest title between us is that of citizen, if the rewards we bestow are exclusively for talent and virtue, we have a republic, and she will be conserved by the universal suffrage of a people solid, free and happy.”