José Martí (born Jose Julian Marti Perez, 1853-1895) was born in Cuba, and in his short life became a major exponent of Cuba's independence from Spain. Writer, lawyer, philosopher, translator, and revolutionary, he admired Abraham Lincoln as The Great Emancipator, and became an agitator for Cuban independence while in his teens. He was arrested at age 16, and eventually was exiled by the Spanish to Spain where they determined they could keep him under surveillance more easily.
After being admitted to the Spanish Bar he traveled the world, becoming friends with the famed French author Victor Hugo. Forbidden to return to Cuba, he arrived in New York in 1880. For the next fifteen years he worked in the city as a journalist, traveling internationally for greater or shorter lengths of time.
From his office at 120 Front Street, Martí published the revolutionary newspaper Patria, and wrote insightful essays on Latin American politics, economy, and culture --- as well as essays on New York City life --- for Latin American newspapers and journals. He helped found New York’s Spanish-American Literary Society in 1887 and profiled American writers like Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson. He wrote influential volumes of poetry such as Versos Sencillos. He founded the popular children’s magazine La Edad de Oro,which combined educational articles with fairy tales and verse.
Marti's wife did not share his dedication to Cuban independence, and in 1887, she was allowed to return to Cuba with Marti's children. He was never to see any of them again. Alone in New York, Marti took up with Carmen Miyares de Mantilla. They had a daughter, Maria, who was the mother of famed actor Cesar Romero.
Martí never pressed for U.S. involvement in Cuba’s affairs. He feared America’s imperial ambitions, writing, “Once the United States is in Cuba, who will get her out?" Instead, he argued that Latin America should develop independently, in accordance with its own particular conditions.
Marti was a supporter of peasantry and labor, and worked to secure rights for Mexican workers and Cuban exilados living and working in Ybor City, near Tampa, Florida. His positions made him unpopular with American business interests.
Throughout the early 1890s, Marti worked to foment a revolution in Cuba, writing the Manifesto de Montecristi, an "exposition of the purposes and principles of the Cuban revolution." His long-awaited revolution began in April 1895, and he illegally returned to Cuba to help lead it. The uprising had less popular support than he expected, and the revolutionaries were soon run to ground by the Spanish authorities. Martí was killed in battle against Spanish troops at the Battle of Dos Ríos, on May 19, 1895.Marti's death was both a blow and a rallying cry for the Cuban rebels, who kept up the fight, eventually aiding the United States when it invaded Cuba during the Spanish-American War in 1898.