Arturo Morales Carrión, Puerto Rico’s outstanding and well-known scholar and statesman, died of cancer in San Juan on August 28, 1989. He was born in Havana, Cuba, to Puerto Rican parents who returned to their native island shortly after his birth. He studied at the universities of Puerto Rico (B.A.), Texas at Austin (M.A.), and Columbia (Ph.D.), where he was trained as a historian and political scientist. His professional path followed both routes, and he excelled in many related endeavors: education, research, public service, and diplomacy.
Don Arturo, as his students and younger colleagues used to call him with admiration, affection, and respect, began his university career in 1938 at the University of Miami. He then went to Washington, where he worked as assistant in cultural relations to the State Department. In 1943 he was already at the University of Puerto Rico, where he became a key figure in the transformation that changed the institution’s academic and intellectual scope. As director of the history department and founder and director of its Historical Research Center (1946-53), he taught by his own example that theory and practice go hand in hand and that teaching and research are indivisible parts of the same process. Under his guidance, a new generation of historians, deeply concerned with tracing their Spanish and Caribbean roots, explored the Puerto Rican historical experience from fresh perspectives. To help and stimulate research and scientific thought, he identified and then promoted the microfilming of thousands of documents pertaining to the island’s history that were scattered through European and North American archives. Today, the Historical Research Center has a unique collection that is enriched on a yearly basis for the benefit of historians and students. In this way, besides advancing his own research, Morales Carrión made sure that future generations could profit from an institution capable of backing their efforts to understand and explain the history both of Puerto Rico and of Latin America. He was also instrumental in formulating the laws that created the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture (1955) and the General Archives of Puerto Rico (1955).
Dr. Morales Carrión was very conscious of the dangers of insularism and in-breeding, so his courses as well as his books always sought to enhance understanding of the international contour of the island’s problems. The best examples of this broad approach are his books Puerto Rico and the Non Hispanic Caribbean (1950, 1971), a classic of Puerto Rican historiography; Auge y decadencia de la trata negrera en Puerto Rico, 1820-1860 (1978); Puerto Rico: A Political and Cultural History (1983); and his posthumous Puerto Rico and the United States: The Quest for a New Encounter (1990). He wrote other books and articles on different aspects of the history of Puerto Rico, including the teaching of history and the complex relations between his country and the United States.
Although the University of Puerto Rico was the institution to which he devoted most of his educational efforts, he taught and conducted specialized seminars on Inter-American relations and Puerto Rico at different universities such as Miami (1938-39), George Washington (1968-69), Harvard (1982-83, 1989) and Columbia (1947-48, 1972) and lectured in many other educational institutions throughout the United States and Latin America. He was president of the University of Puerto Rico from 1973 to 1977, and upon retirement he was distinguished as emeritus professor. This was one of many honors and awards he received during his productive academic career.
Scholarly work had a strong competitor in Morales Carrión’s dedication to public and diplomatic service. He was one of the “ideological solons” of the autonomist Popular Democratic Party which came to power in the 1940s and has dominated Puerto Rico’s political arena ever since. He served his party as undersecretary of state (1953-61) when Luis Muñoz Marín was governor, and, from 1961 to 1964, he was deputy assistant secretary of state for the Kennedy administration. As such he played an important role as advisor for the president’s Alliance for Progress. He also served as special advisor to the secretary-general of the Organization of American States from 1964 to 1965.
Above all, Arturo Morales Carrión was a humanist. In 1977, his commitment to further the development of Puerto Rican culture and the creative arts led him to establish the Puerto Rico Endowment for the Humanities, of which he was executive director until his death. In Puerto Rico he was without doubt the most prominent humanist and scholar of his generation.