The Ponce Massacre of seventeen civilians has assumed mythical status on the island, not just within the independence movement, but for many ordinary Puerto Ricans too, despite taking place over seventy years ago. The killings occurred amid growing tension: in the 1930s, the increasingly frustrated Nationalist Party, led by Ponce lawyer Pedro Albizu Campos and advocating full independence for Puerto Rico, became more militant, and relations with the police deteriorated rapidly. On Palm Sunday, 1937, the party organized a march in Ponce to commemorate the anniversary of the abolition of slavery, but at the last minute Governor Winship revoked their permit – he had surmised, correctly, that the march would also be an indirect protest against the recent incarceration of Albizu. Indignant, the marchers decided to continue as planned: in trying to break up the protest, police fired on the crowd with machine guns, killing seventeen civilians – men, women and one twelve-year-old girl. Two policemen also died. Over one hundred people were wounded, many while trying to run away, and in the aftermath hundreds more were arrested. The massacre led to widespread anger across the island, especially when an official inquiry proved inconclusive and an investigation by the American Civil Liberties Union held the governor responsible. The massacre has only been taught in schools since 1990, and was largely covered up by the US government. Now there are subdued ceremonies honouring the dead held every year at the Casa de la Masacre.

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