The Savior of East Harlem

On 10 December, 1902, Vito Marcantonio was born to an Italian mother and Italian American father in the impoverished  ghetto of East Harlem, New York City. He attended the public schools there, and eventually graduated from New York University with a law degree. He would serve 7 terms in Congress.  Marcantonio’s district was centered in his native East Harlem, New York City, which had many residents and immigrants of Italian and Puerto Rican origin. Fluent in Spanish as well as Italian, he was considered an ally of the Puerto Rican and Italian-American communities, and an advocate for the rights of the workers, immigrants, and the poor. Marcantonio was so popular in his district that he sometimes won the Democratic and Republican primaries, as well as the American Labor Party endorsement. In 1948 he supported the Presidential campaign of Henry Wallace on the Progressive Party ticket. In 1950, Marcantonio opposed American involvement in the Korean War. His tombstone is inscribed “Defender of Human Rights”.

Italian American poet, translator, and short story writer Gil Fagiani wrote the ‘Litany of San Vito’, comparing the relationship of Marcantonio’s constituents to him to that of a Catholic parishioner to a Saint. It is excerpted below…


by Gil Fagiani

San Vito of East Harlem

Pray for us

San Vito bread of the poor

Pray for us

San Vito crucified by Wall Street

Pray for us

From the jail cell walls

San Vito deliver us

From the landlord’s greed

San Vito protect us