Doña Ruth Reynolds
I cannot end this "Hall of Fame" of independentistas without paying tribute to my Harlem Ashram roommate, Ruth Reynolds. She, also, spent entire days at the bedside of Don Pedro. We struggled together in the founding of an American League for Puerto Rico's Independence, and tried our hand at giving speeches. But then I went off to California to get married, while Ruth continued on, loyal to Don Pedro and the cause of independence.
Ruth and I were among the five full members of the Harlem Ashram, putting into the community pot whatever we earned. There was also Walter Bullen, a retired Baptist minister, J. Holmes Smith, former missionary to India, and Maude Pickett. I joined the cooperative when I lost my job teaching French and German. It was the outbreak of World War II. I felt I could not conscientiously participate to the extent of helping register soldiers for combat.
The Ashram was a very religious, pacifist group. We had morning prayers at Mt. Morris Park, prayers again at night, and Bible study. We put in a minimum of time on paying jobs so that we could do "kingdom work," as Jay phrased it. We conducted a "play-street" in an area that was predominantly Puerto Rican. We organized games and activities for the young people in a block considered one of the worst in Harlem. Finding it too crime-ridden, with gambling houses, street fights and riots, recreational directors had given up on it. But in the interest of promoting interracial good will and associating ourselves with people from our Caribbean colony, we took on the project. In time, our friendliness broke through barriers of mistrust.
We lived austerely so that our time and energies could be directed towards our work. Our food costs were something like $2 a week. We ate a lot of soy beans and kale. Ruth and I rebelled at times over the Ashram austerity and would "sin" by going out for an ice cream cone.
It was this group that Don Pedro invited to his bedside, having heard of our work with Puerto Ricans, and our involvement in the "Free India" movement. He set about to convince us that "Free Puerto Rico" should be of greater importance to us, since it concerned our own government. We disagreed with him only on the issue of how to confront overt violence, but became thoroughly converted to the cause of independence. Ruth describes Don Pedro as "a man of the greatest intelligence, and of supreme goodness; a man of true peace situated in the center of the most concentrated violence of the most powerful empire of the world."
Don Pedro wrote to us after we had left New York, "Ruth has been most active. She has been attending hearings on the Tydings Bill and has met with remarkable success. She has matured remarkably in this task. We are extremely grateful."
In the spring of 1951, I received a crumpled letter from Ruth asking for help. It had been smuggled out of prison. Ruth had been arrested on November 2, 1950, along with Blanca Canales, Isabel Rosado, and some 2,000 Nationalists. It was following the 1950 revolution, and in enforcement of the "Ley de la Mordaza," Law 53, which was a gag law, an insular version of the Smith Act.
In a letter to her sister Helen, she described the arrest. "I was asleep in my bed at 2 a.m.... And then, more than forty policemen and National Guardsmen, armed with rifles, machine guns, and revolvers, came to the house where I was living alone. I dressed and went outside to ask them what they wanted. They said they were going to search my house and I told them to show me their search warrant. They told me `afterwards' and I told them, `No, now.' However, with more machine guns pointed at me than I had ever before seen collected together in one place, I did not resist. After stealing all my books and papers, they told me that they had no paper, but that they did have orders to arrest me. Without an order of arrest, no one can be arrested legally, unless he be caught doing an illegal act. Sleeping is seldom considered illegal."
Ruth was taken to police headquarters and held for several days before being interrogated. On November 12, they took her out of the police headquarters to the waterfront of San Juan. "At that same moment in another car," she wrote, "arrived my great friend Don Pedro. We greeted one another and I, with a sense of undeserved privilege, walking at his side, entered the home of the valiant, the La Princesa Prison."
Finally, in January of 1951, Ruth was arraigned. They came up with two charges: one, that she had been riding in a car that carried weapons for the October 30 revolution, and for the purpose of participating in the revolution. It was true that she had hitched a ride in that car from Fajardo to San Juan, for Ruth had never been reluctant to accept rides from Nationalists. The other charge was that she "pledged life and fortune to overthrow illegally, criminally, and maliciously the government of Puerto Rico" when she stood up in the December, 1949 meeting. Witnesses claimed to have seen her take the pledge, which was actually "to give life and property for the independence of Puerto Rico." They placed her as having been in several different parts of the hall, but the charge held, and she was sentenced to six years imprisonment. My personal suspicion is that one primary goal was to get hold of the manuscript she had written based on her research of the strife at UPR and her year's investigation of the colonial situation. But she wisely had another copy in safe keeping in New York.
Prison conditions were unbearable. Windows were boarded up in a crowded cell. Ruth was held in isolation at times, transported handcuffed, fed on bread and coffee for breakfast, and beans and rice the rest of the day. But, "There is no pain so great," she said, "that I could not suffer gladly and perpetually if because of it one Puerto Rican child might grow up a free person."
Finally, with the help of lawyers and a largely pacifist Ruth Reynolds Defense Committee she was released from Arecibo Prison, June, 1952, after nineteen months in prison. The North American League for Puerto Rico's Independence she had founded ran scared during her imprisonment and disbanded without offering her any support.
With an M.A. in English from Northwestern University, and two years of high school teaching, including one year on an Indian reservation, Ruth was well equipped to communicate her research to the American public. Descendant of fighters in our own revolution for the freedom of the thirteen colonies, she felt commitment to the struggle of others as part of her heritage, albeit as a pacifist.
As early as 1946, the League for Puerto Rico's Independence had presented a brief to the United Nations. On the Board of Directors of the League at that time were such notables as Rachel DuBois, Rev. Donald Harrington, A. Philip Randolph, and Dr. John Haynes Holmes. Pearl Buck was taking an interest, as well, and had once met with us in a moment of crisis. The League charged that the treatment of Puerto Rico by the United States was in violation of the "Declaration Regarding Non-Self-Governing Territories" set forth in Chapter 11, Article 73 of the United Nations Charter.
In 1952, Ruth presented, on behalf of the Organizing Committee of Americans for Puerto Rico's Independence, a petition to the General Assembly of the United Nations. She defined her group as composed entirely of citizens of the continental United States, pledged to work through educational and political channels for the independence of Puerto Rico, and completely unrelated to any other organization ... opposed to the assertion of the United States that since the formation of the Puerto Rican Constitution, it was no longer a non-self-governing country. She petitioned the United Nations to establish a permanent commission to investigate claims that Puerto Rico now had a full measure of self-government, and to study the treatment accorded the independence movement of Puerto Rico.
In 1977, Ruth again made a presentation, this time to the Decolonization Committee of the United Nations. As National Coordinator of Americans for Puerto Rico's Independence, Ruth traced the history of the United States conquest of Puerto Rico and the continuing struggle for freedom.
In June of 1984 we were fortunate enough to be in New York for a celebration in Ruth's honor. A large assemblage, primarily representing the destitute of the ghetto area, paid homage to Ruth for her great work in defense of independence, and showered her with flowers and speeches. A lavish buffet supper followed.
Further honor was paid Ruth in November of 1984, when she came to Puerto Rico for a short visit. We went to the Bar Association building to meet with her. But it was not easy to get her attention. She was besieged with reporters, photographers, and old friends. Claridad paid her homage in a full-page article with pictures. She was praised as one of the closest and most faithful of the collaborators with Albizu Campos, and a fervent fighter for independence since 1943.
Now retired from her position as assistant librarian and archivist at the New York Psycho Analytic Institute, she "commutes," as she phrases it, between her home state, South Dakota, and her humble apartment in New York. Sorting out her enormous accumulation of materials on Puerto Rico, and giving interviews for an oral history conducted by the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College keep pulling her back to New York. Video-taping by the Schomberg Center for the New York Public Library and Columbia University has also kept her from her ardent wish to retire in South Dakota and write up her rich experiences in the independence movement.
In the process of publication is Ruth's book "Campus in Bondage: a 1948 Microcosm of Puerto Rico in Bondage." It tells the story of the revolt and strike at the University of Puerto Rico in rebellion against denying Albizu Campos permission to speak on campus.
Ruth's book and mine are proof of the dedication she and I share for the cause of independence.
It would not be fitting to close without paying a Special Tribute to the Puerto Rican political prisoners and POWs for their sacrifice in the struggle for the independence of Puerto Rico. !Que Vivan!
—Jean, Abraham and Daniel Zwickel