Rafael Cordero (October, 1790–July 5, 1868), known as “The Father of Public Education in Puerto Rico”, was a self-educated Afro Puerto Rican who provided free schooling to children regardless of their race or social standing.
Cordero was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico into a poor family, his father was a poor man who worked in the tobacco fields. Cordero, who was of African ancestry, was self-educated. His love of literature and his determination to teach and educate himself helped him to develop the skills and preparation to teach primary school.[
At the beginning of the 19th century Rafael Cordero established, in his house, a free school for all children, regardless of race, who were unable to afford an education otherwise. Cordero maintained his educational center for 58 years at Luna Street in San Juan. There he taught reading, calligraphy, mathematics and Catholic instruction. Among the distinguished alumni who attended Cordero’s school were Román Baldorioty de Castro, Alejandro Tapia y Rivera and José Julián Acosta. He proved that racial and economic integration could be possible and accepted.
He was awarded the Premio de Virtud by La Sociedad Económica de Amigos del País, an economic club whose members were friends of Puerto Rico. He was given 100 pesos, which he in turn gave away to those in need. He used half of the money (50 pesos) to buy books and clothes for his students and the other half was given to the homeless.
The people’s love and respect for Cordero was evidenced by the fact that more than 2,000 people attended his funeral in 1868. The Catholic Church plans to search for Cordero’s remains which were buried at the old city’s cemetery, although the exact location is unknown.
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