Lawyer and political leader. In 1947, he founded the Puerto Rican Independence Party and he was elected to the Puerto Rico Senate in 1952 and 1956 under the party’s banner. He served as defense lawyer for nationalist leader Pedro Albizu Campos and was known for his efforts to improve the working conditions of Puerto Rican immigrants in New York.
He was born in Vega Alta on July 9, 1909, the son of Ceferino Concepción and Carmen de Gracia. He completed his primary studies in his home town and later moved to Santurce, where he completed his education at Central High School. During that era, he joined the Nationalist Youth and the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, which was led by Pedro Albizu Campos. He enrolled at the University of Puerto Rico in Río Piedras and, after graduating in 1932 with a degree in Business Administration and Law, he worked as a lawyer.
In 1936, he took on the role of defending Pedro Albizu Campos and other nationalist leaders after they were accused of sedition. After the first trial, a jury, consisting of six Puerto Ricans and six people from the United States, could not reach a verdict. In the second trial, the jury, consisting mostly of people from the United States, found the defendants guilty. Concepción de Gracia decided to move to the United States to pursue an appeal of the case in the Circuit Court in Boston. Afterwards, he closed his law office in Puerto Rico and settled in New York, where he stayed until 1939.
After the appeal – which resulted in a guilty verdict and a sentence of ten years for the nationalists – he continued living in New York. He became interested in the social and working conditions of the Puerto Rican community. He was an editorial writer for La Voz and in its pages he argued for more rights for Puerto Ricans. He forged a friendship with New York Congressman Vito Marcantonio, for whom he wrote political speeches for him to read in Congress about the social situation of the Puerto Ricans and about the option of independence for Puerto Rico. He also helped Marcantonio develop his political campaign in the Puerto Rican community in New York.
Later, he moved to Washington D. C. to work for the Pan-American Union, which later became known as the Organization of American States. While there he continued his doctoral studies in Judicial Sciences. During that time he also served as a professor of Hispano-American literature at Middlebury College in Vermont.
In 1944, he returned to Puerto Rico to preside over the second Pro Independence Congress, which was a non-partisan organization seeking independence for the island that included pro-independence activists from a variety of ideological points of view: nationalists, communists, some members of the Popular Democratic Party and pro-independence supporters not affiliated with any political party. In this second congress, it was stipulated that the public should be consulted to see if it wanted independence.
The Popular Democratic Party, led by Luis Muñoz Marín, proclaimed that it was incompatible to be a member of the Popular Democratic Party and be part of the Pro Independence Congress and the General Federation of Workers and it began to lobby, in turn, for some kind of autonomous union with the United States. Because of the need for a political party to work for independence, Gilberto Concepción de Gracia, along with other political leaders who favored that ideology, founded the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) on October 20, 1946, which also included many members of the Popular Democratic Party who believed in independence.
The PIP participated in the elections of 1948, without winning any seats. In the elections of 1952, however, the party won sixteen legislative seats. Concepción was elected senator at-large, and was re-elected to the same post in 1956. On both occasions, he was the spokesman of the pro-independence senators. In 1964, he ran as the party’s candidate for governor.
Gilberto Concepción de Gracia died in Santurce on March 15, 1968. He was president of the Puerto Rican Independence Party at the time of his death.
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 11, 2014.
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