Armando Hart — known for his shock of white hair and dark-rimmed glasses — focused on promoting the life and works of Cuban independence hero José Martí. (Desmond Boylan/AP)

Armando Hart, a leading figure during the Cuban revolution who oversaw a literacy campaign that tried to ensure that all Cubans could read and write and spent much of his career as culture minister, died Nov. 26 in Havana. He was 87.

Cuban state media said the cause was respiratory failure.

Designated education minister shortly after the 1959 revolutionary triumph that put Fidel Castro in power, Mr. Hart was tasked with sending more than 100,000 volunteers across the island for the literacy campaign. He served six years in the post and then was organization secretary for the newly formed Communist Party. He was culture minister from 1976 to 1997.

In his later years, Mr. Hart — who was known for his shock of white hair and dark-rimmed glasses — focused on promoting the life and works of Cuban independence hero José Martí.

Mr. Hart was reelected as a member of the party's Central Committee in April 2011, although he gave up a seat on the more powerful Politburo. He also had sat on the island's supreme governing authority, the Council of State, until he was removed in February 2008 amid reports that he was in ill health.

Armando Hart Davalos was born in Havana on June 13, 1930. He studied law at the University of Havana, where he joined the youth wing of the Orthodox Party, a major political party at the time.

After Fulgencio Batista took power in a 1952 coup, Mr. Hart joined Cuba's Federation of University Students in protests against the new government. That same year, he graduated with a law degree and joined the opposition.

When Castro launched his revolutionary struggle with an unsuccessful attack on a military barracks in the eastern city of Santiago on July 26, 1953, Mr. Hart became an early member of the movement's urban support group. He and other July 26 Movement organizers carried on after Castro and the other survivors were imprisoned and then later traveled to Mexico to form a rebel army.

Mr. Hart was arrested numerous times for his organizing activities in eastern Cuba after the rebels returned to Cuba in late 1956 to launch their guerrilla war from the island's eastern mountains. His last arrest was in early 1958, and he remained behind bars until the revolution's triumph nearly a year later on New Year's Day 1959. Castro soon named Mr. Hart education minister.

In his later years, Mr. Hart published several books on political and cultural thought, including "Perfiles" ("Profiles"), a 1995 collection of texts studying the lives and works of Cuba's political and intellectual leaders.

Among Mr. Hart's favorite leaders was Martí. In February 1997, he was named director of the Cuban government's Office of Martí Program, created to publish and promote Martí's extensive writings. Mr. Hart also headed the José Martí Cultural Society.

Mr. Hart received the Order of Felix Varela, First Grade, the highest award Cuba's communist government grants to Cuban and foreign intellectuals. The Cuban Foreign Ministry awarded him its Raúl Roa García medal, named for the first foreign minister under the revolutionary government.

Mr. Hart's wife, Haydée Santamaría, a fellow revolutionary figure who participated in the 1953 barracks assault, committed suicide in 1980. His children, Celia and Abel, were killed in a traffic accident in Havana in September 2008. A complete list of survivors was not immediately available.

— Associated Press