News of the death of J. Benjamín Torres came as a deep shock. He succumbed after a convalescence on April 8, 1986, the anniversary of the birth of the "Father of the Country," Ramón Emerterio Betances. He was thirty-nine years old. He was buried in the cemetery of Old San Juan next to the tomb of Albizu Campos. This honor was accorded him for his rescue of a great quantity of historical documents on Albizu, which gave him an honorary title of "Biographer of Albizu."
The Nationalist bulletin, in its obituary, expressed gratitude for his narration of the Nationalist Party, and for his beautiful and generous testimony before the federal judge on behalf of Carlos Noya and Frederico Cintrón, Grand Jury resisters. "He was a professor, but also a `Maestro.' We will always be grateful."
Entering the apartment of Benjamín Torres was like a visit to the archives. Shelves of books, pamphlets, photographs, clippings constituted the massive research he had done to produce his volumes on the works and life of Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos. Four of these volumes comprise a collection of articles, speeches, proclamations, correspondence of the great Nationalist leader from 1923 to 1936. Another volume covering the period 1937 to 1954 was in preparation. There is also a volume of dissertations written about Albizu, and another reproducing photographs, paintings, sketches, and sculptures of Albizu. Torres was always generous in the sharing of his wealth of materials.
Prof. Torres' interest in Albizu was sparked by the reading of the biography of Albizu written by his wife, Doña Laura Meneses de Albizu. His curiosity led him to the researching of old newspapers and questioning of those fortunate enough to have had direct contact with the master. For his M.A. thesis at New York State University, he chose the topic, "History of the Nationalist Party from 1922 to 1937."
Torres called himself the "black sheep" of the family as he became more and more involved in the independence movement. His mother was a member of the Popular Party, which supported Commonwealth status. His father was a "Penepe," of the "New Progressive Party" (PNP), which favored statehood.
His job as professor of Puerto Rican history at the University of Turabo, Caguas, gave him the motivation and freedom for further research.
Prof. Torres had embarked on plans for the "Instituto Albizu Campos" to be established in San Juan. It is to serve as a library and archives offering information and documentation to students, researchers, and anyone interested. It will give opportunity for in-depth study of Albizu's thoughts and works, as well as the reality of Puerto Rican history. Learning of Puerto Rican cultural values will help develop a national consciousness necessary in the struggle for emancipation from colonial domination.
Films and documentaries on Albizu will be prepared for radio and television, and curricula prepared for public schools. Along with the development of the Institute will be preparations to commemorate the centennial of Albizu's actual birth date, June 29, 1893. This coincides with the year of the 500th anniversary of the "discovery," or more accurately, the colonization of Puerto Rico by Spain, November 19, 1493.
Meanwhile, the Institute will cooperate with a plan to erect a statue and a monument to Don Pedro in Ponce, the city of his birth. The work will go on, despite the loss of the guidance of Prof. Torres.
As a member of the "Intellectuals," Prof. Torres was privileged to attend their second meeting in Cuba. He considered this three weeks a most beautiful experience.
As a leading authority on the life and thoughts of Albizu, Torres saw as his outstanding qualities not only his great intellect and power of oratory but a special charisma, a love of all people, a commitment to dedicate himself completely to the cause of independence. His brilliance and compassionate nature won him the respect and admiration of friends and foes alike.
Torres was widely lauded after his death for his contributions to the cause of independence. Claridad quoted Torres' definition of patriotism as "that which offers one's life and the sacrifice of liberty and personal security in service to society." Certainly Torres fulfilled this in his own life. "The injustice accumulated during 500 years," Torres once wrote, "obligates us to reclaim the right to speak with our own voice, to write our own history and put our passion in defense of full liberation."
Luis Nieves Falcón, president of the PEN Club of Puerto Rico (an international organization of poets, essayists and novelists) wrote of him, "His spiritual harmony, his deliberate speech, were the expression of internal valor of a human being who dedicated his short but fertile life to the restoration of the figure of Don Pedro and of Puerto Rican nationalism. He did it with critical balance, but with an affectionate feeling of caring. With Benjamín disappears one of our fighters; one of our free men."
Awilda Palue told of the most noted intellectuals, young and old, nationalists, communists, bourgeoisie and proletarians arriving from all corners of Puerto Rico to attend his funeral. She described him as "a gentle man, caring, happy, friendly, a tireless worker, an internationalist."
Marisa Rosado, secretary of the Committee of Intellectuals for the Sovereignty of Countries, recounted how tenderly he had kissed a Puerto Rican flag as he lay on his death bed in the hospital. "Although he did not realize all he wanted to," she asserted, "he achieved much in a short time, thanks to his disciplined life."