Parque de la Abolición – Commemorating the End of an Era
Situated on Avenida Hostos in the city of Ponce, Parque de la Abolición serves as a reminder of Puerto Rico’s era of slavery and the eventual abolition of this inhumane practice. Features of the park include a 100-foot tall obelisk which is a prominent landmark in the area. At the foot of the obelisk is a statue of a black male slave with broken chains, illustrating that he had been freed from the chains that once bound him, both literally and figuratively, when slavery was abolished in 1873. In addition to these two inspiring monuments, the park has beautifully landscaped gardens that can be enjoyed by visitors.
Starting in the 16th century, slaves were brought from Africa to Puerto Rico to work in the gold mining industry, as well as on the coffee and sugar cane plantations. Gold mining lost its importance as one of the island’s main industries during the 18th century, but slavery continued on the coffee and sugar plantations until it was abolished on 22 March 1873. At that time slave owners were obliged to free their slaves, for which they received financial compensation. However, the majority of the slaves who were freed, many of whom had been born in captivity, remained on the island and continued to work for the plantation owners who had once been their masters, receiving payment for their labor and being assimilated into society.
The park was created by a group of citizens in 1874, as a memorial to the historic event of slaves being granted freedom. In 1880, three prominent members of Ponce’s society – Olimpio Otero, Román Baldorioty de Castro and Juan Mayoral Barnés – initiated the official dedication of the park to the abolition of slavery by presenting the concept to the city’s Municipal Assembly. The request was approved by all the assembled officials and ratified by the Central Government. On 1 March 1881, by Royal Decree it became known as Parque de la Abolición (Abolition Park), the only memorial of its kind in the Caribbean. The obelisk and the sculpture, a creation of sculptor Victor Colt, were placed in the park in 1956 and remain as a reminder of this period in Puerto Rico’s history and the ancestry of many of the current generation of Puerto Ricans.