HISTORY

Picric Acid & colonialism

About a forgotten mass grave of 176 Puerto Ricans in Arkansas.

Miguel Adrover
3 min readJul 7, 2020

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Credits to Evin Demirel for the story & Shep Miers for this picture.

March 21st can be a sensitive day in Puerto Rican social media. A day — like September 23rd — in which la mancha de plátano[1] has a particular itch. Puerto Ricans will argue about what happened that dark day in 1937. Regardless of the discourses exchanged, the Puerto Rico Insular Police — ordered by Governor Blanton Winship — killed 21 and wounded hundreds in the city of Ponce, Puerto Rico.

It is very easy to come across the usual procession of half-truths & colonized discourse in PR social media, especially when it comes this massacre of Nationalists — forever vilified by large sectors of Puerto Rican society.

Almost a decade ago — 2012, to be exact —

I was consuming social media on that day of an early, hot, and humid Puerto Rican Spring. One comment to this picture caught my attention: someone — a white American male — posted the following link:

Marker dedicated to Puerto Rican immigrants sparks a historical rediscovery
(via Elvin Demirel):

“Miers entered Calvary Cemetery to inspect the marker. On the tombstone, he read, “In Memoriam of the Porto Ricans who died at Picron, Ark. 1917–18.” A mass grave.”

Almost 180 Puerto Ricans died in a picric acid plant in Arkansas, and no one — teachers, professors, historians, media, etc. — told me or anyone I know about this tragedy.

This highly explosive organic compound — used for brewing, dye preparation, and as an antiseptic , among many other uses— had an important role to play in early XXth century warfare:

When picric acid is melted, it assumes the appearance of honey,
which property suggested recently to an ingenious Frenchman,
anxious to pose as one who…

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