DID YOU KNOW THAT COLOMBIA ONCE HAD A BLACK PRESIDENT?
In the 19th century, a man named Juan José Nieto Gil made History after taking office as the first and only Black president of Colombia.
Born in 1805 in Baranoa, Colombia, during an era of revolutions that transformed his country and allowed him to ascend socially and politically, Nieto Gil dedicated his life to being a participant in wars across Latin America to liberate those countries from Spain.
Although he was born into a humble family, Nieto Gils family and those of the Baranoa were free Black people at the time.
Nieto Gil was proclaimed president in 1861. He was appointed captain and fought many battles for the independence of Colombia. However, one of his great achievements was on May 21st, 1851, when he decreed the abolition of slavery on the northern coast of Colombia during his time as governor of the Canton of Cartagena. That is why that date is now known as Afro-Colombian Day in the country.
For seven months, he took the reins of the country known at that time as the Granadian Confederation, which included Panama.
Being the only Black president in the history of Colombia was not the only or the most difficult of the social achievements that Nieto Gil had to break throughout his life.
Unfortunately, Nieto Gil did not enjoy any kind of recognition throughout Colombias history. A Black activist, liberal and reformist neither instilled a sense of pride in the elites nor did they feel he was deserving of the title of Colombian president.
After he died in 1866, his portrait as president (in which Nieto Gil exhibited his Afro-Caribbean features, dark complexion, thick hair and presidential band) was sent to Paris by Colombias government to have his Black features whitened.
Even with the changes, the political elite did not like the portrait. The painting ended up in the basement of the Palace of the Inquisition in Cartagena, a museum located in that Caribbean city.
Despite his importance in the countrys history, it took nearly 150 years for Juan José Nieto Gil to be recognized in his own country. In 2018, the portrait of Colombias first and only Black president finally took his rightful place in the presidential palace of Bogota.
Recognizing Juan José as one of our presidents was long overdue. It took us a long time, but now he will remain in the Palace of Nariño as one of ours, as stated by president Juan Manuel Santos in August 2018, when he unveiled the official presidential portrait of Nieto at the Nariño Palace.
The current painting showcased in Colombias presidential palace shows off his curly black hair, beard and dark skin.