Humberto Noble Alexander was a Cuban Seventh-day Adventist evangelist, political prisoner, and survivor of a 22-year imprisonment in Cuba between 1962 and 1984.1
Early Years and Conversion
Alexander was the son of Cristobal J. H. and Beryl D. (Harris) Alexander, immigrants from Trinidad and Jamaica, respectively. He was born on February 12, 1934 in San German, in Oriente Province, in eastern Cuba.2 His parents also had two daughters, Paulina and Annie. His father operated his own auto mechanic shop and occasionally also worked at the nearby American naval base at Guantanamo, Cuba.
Young Humberto attended the San German Government Primary school before attending the Instituto Guantanamo for five years. His father envisioned Humberto working together with him at his auto mechanic business, but he died in March of 1950. Soon thereafter, Humberto, his mother, and his sister, Paulina, became Seventh-day Adventists. Subsequently, Alexander worked in the colporteur brigade and successfully sold Seventh-day Adventist books across Cuba.
Ministry and Imprisonment
However, after the failure of the U.S.-instigated invasion at the Bay of Pigs in mid-April of 1961, followed by an exodus of over 200,000 Cubans to the United States,3 many Cubans—not excluding Seventh-day Adventists—faced greater restriction of their religious practices from the government. Humberto’s mother and sister left for the United States, but Alexander decided to remain with his young wife, Yraida, and two-year-old son, Hubert. Alexander began working as a youth pastor, closely associated with a senior minister, Pastor Ignacio Vazquez. Together they launched a youth revival series in Matanza. After the first night of these meetings while driving home to his wife and son in nearby Mariano, Alexander was stopped less than a block from his home by two officers of the Dirección General De Inteligencia (DGI), the Cuban secret intelligence agency, who took him to DGI headquarters for questioning.
He was immediately booked, the beginning of an imprisonment that would end up lasting more than 22 years. He was held in nine different prisons across Cuba, including the infamous Havana prison Combinado, as well as on the Isle of Pines, Las Villas, at Boniato, the Remedios, and La Cabana. At each trial, he denied any involvement in all the charges of conspiracy that the Cuban authorities presented at his various court hearing. However, he challenged political authority by reading a smuggled Bible, praying for, and preaching to his fellow prisoners. For his persistence of boldly practicing his Christian Adventist faith, he repeatedly experienced starvation, hard labor, torture, and repeated lengthy periods in solitary confinement. One of his most difficult experiences was his wife’s insistence that he recant his religious beliefs, which would make him eligible for release from prison. After his refusal to do so, she divorced him, and later remarried.
Alexander continued his resistance in prison and, while still incarcerated, was secretly ordained in 1979 by Pastor Pedro de Armas, who was also held as a religious prisoner. After moving prisons and having his Bible confiscated, Alexander developed a close bond with fellow prisoner Tom White, an American who was imprisoned for distributing religious tracts in Cuba. White was permitted to have a Bible in that prison, and he secretly sent Bible pages to Alexander, who then used them to teach dozens of other cellmates. Dozens of prisoners accepted Alexander’s teachings and became converted to Adventism in prison.4
Despite still being incarcerated, he married Carmen Mendez of Puerto Rico on December 12, 1983. Alexander’s sister initiated an attempt to have him freed, as did prominent American activists, organizations, and politicians, including U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts. It was when American presidential candidate Jesse Jackson visited Cuba in 1984 that government authorities finally agreed to release Alexander from his decades-long detention. He was freed on June 26, 1984 and travelled amid great fanfare to join his mother and sister living in Salem, Massachusetts. His arrival to the U.S. led to many organizations publishing accounts of his ordeal and release.5
During the two years after his release, Pastor Alexander shared his experience widely with the America media and Adventist congregations alike. In 1986 he began pastoral ministry in America but continued to bear witness of God’s mercies through his experience—traveling to Canada and the Netherlands. He also wrote in detail about his work for the gospel while imprisoned. In 1991, his moving account of this experience was published by Pacific Press under the title I Will Die Free, with the assistance of Kay D. Rizzo and Marvin Moore. In 20 short chapters, Pastor Alexander’s story of survival is documented, illustrating how his unwavering faith enabled him to become what is believed to be the longest survivor of the Cuban Communist prison system. This book is among the few accounts by Seventh-day Adventists who have survived such an ordeal.
Pastoral Ministry in America
Alexander’s pastoral ministry took place in the Northeastern Conference. He was formally ordained to the gospel ministry in 1991. He was assigned to lead the Maranatha SDA Church in Hartford, Connecticut, and subsequently served multiple congregations in the New England and New York areas over a period of 15 years. His last pastorate was at the Primera Hispanic SDA Church in Yonkers, New York.6
After a short illness, he was admitted to the Hartford General Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut, and died on July 20, 2002, surrounded by his wife, Carmen, family, and fellow believers. His funeral service was held on Thursday, July 25, 2002, at the Faith SDA Church in Hartford, Connecticut, and he was laid to rest the following day at the Greenlawn Cemetery in Salem, Massachusetts.7
Alexander, Noble and Kay D. Rizzo. I Will Die Free. Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 1991.
“Humberto Noble Alexander.” Currentobituary.com. Accessed July 1, 2022. https://www.currentobituary.com/obit/2566.
“Humberto Noble Alexander obituary.” Atlantic Union Gleaner, October 2002.
Kennedy, John W. “Bittersweet Cuban Memories.” Christianity Today, January 12, 1998
“Life as a Political Prisoner in Cuba: Beating and Secret Prayer.” New York Times, July 14, 1984.
Noble Alexander and Kay D. Rizzo, I Will Die Free (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 1991), 1-189. Unless stated otherwise, the account of Alexander’s life and time in prison in this article is based on his testimony as presented in this book.↩
“Humberto Noble Alexander obituary,” Atlantic Union Gleaner, October 2002, 21.↩
Franklin W. Knight, The Caribbean: The Genesis of a Fragmented Nationalism, 2nd edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 246-247.↩
“Life as a Political Prisoner in Cuba: Beating and Secret Prayer,” New York Times, July 14, 1984, 5.↩
John W. Kennedy, “Bittersweet Cuban Memories,” Christianity Today, January 12, 1998, 24-25.↩
“Humberto Noble Alexander obituary,” Atlantic Union Gleaner.↩