Black History Month should never pass without people of African descent remembering the amazing Haitian Revolution which produced the first Black Republic in the world. While historians herald the contributions to humanity of the American and French Revolutions, I believe the Haitian Revolution was at least as significant in terms of advancing the concepts of human rights and equality. We must never forget that this improbable Revolution was consummated at a time when the holocaust of enslavement was wreaking havoc on Africa. Though the trans-Atlantic slave trade was initiated as an economic enterprise, it would not be long before the horrors of this genocidal undertaking would be rationalized by theories of “race” that designated Africans inferior beings. Pseudo-scientific theories gave birth to the myth of white supremacy.
But, the Haitian revolutionaries, inspired and led by Boukman, Alexander Petion, Henri Christophe, Jean Jacques Dessalines and the incomparable Toussaint Louverture were unwilling to validate this perverted theory of race. Over a tumultuous period from 1791 to 1803, Haitian freedom fighters defeated the armies of England, Spain and France – in the latter instance humiliating the vaunted forces of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. An army of “enslaved Africans” took destiny into their own hands and shattered the myth of white supremacy! January 1, 1804, Jean Jacques Dessalines declared Haiti the first Black Republic in the world. It was a declaration which reverberated around the world, especially among enslaved Africans in the U.S. and the Caribbean.
Despite the righteous platitudes of the American and French Revolutions, the idea of an independent Black Republic created through force of arms did not sit well with the powers that be in the Capitols of Europe and America. There was virtually universal agreement among the European/White leaders of the time, including President Thomas Jefferson, that the example of Haiti was a threat to their national interests – profiting from the slave trade and/or colonialism in Africa, the Caribbean, Central and South America. Therefore, it was imperative that Haiti be isolated, marginalized and rendered weak as a “Black nation.” Under threat of a new invasion, Haiti succumbed to demands from France to pay millions of dollars in reparations for the loss of property (enslaved Africans and the plantations) incurred during the Revolution. The burden of this debt would cripple Haiti’s struggle for development well into the 20th century. In 1915 the U.S. invaded and occupied Haiti until 1934, and has treated Haiti as a neo-colony ever sense.
It is my contention that people of African descent everywhere owe a special debt to Haiti for giving us back our dignity when we were on our knees. With the onslaught of the slave trade, colonialism and segregation/apartheid, the Haitian Revolution and the Black Republic it produced was a beacon of inspiration, hope and promise for the entire Black World. Accordingly, raising Haiti to its rightful place in the sun must be a collective Pan-African priority in the 21st Century. As long as the first Black Republic is ridiculed as the “poorest nation in the western hemisphere,” people of African descent everywhere are diminished. By uplifting Haiti and assisting the Haitian people to achieve genuine self-determination and an improved standard of living, Africans everywhere are elevated.
To that end, the Haiti Support Project (HSP) of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century has been working to build a formidable constituency for Haiti in the U.S. Our mission is to impact U.S. policy towards Haiti and to mobilize humanitarian and developmental assistance to support people based projects, programs and initiatives on the ground. As it relates to U.S. policy, an immediate goal is to rescind the long standing discriminatory policy of routinely incarcerating and returning Haitian refugees to Haiti without proper hearings. In fact, according to a recent Associated Press report, some 30,000 Haitian refugees are currently facing deportation in the near future. By contrast, Cuban refugees who manage to arrive on U.S. shores are immediately taken in and put on a fast track to receive Green Cards and eventually citizenship. While this racist policy is under review, Haitian refugees should be granted Temporary Protective Status (TPS). In the broader strategic sense, the U.S. should be constructively engaged in a long term and sustained effort to strengthen democracy and development in Haiti through assistance that will enhance the Government’s capacity to build a sound and growing economy, generate jobs, and deliver vital services like education and health care.
In terms of private sector assistance, HSP is committed to educating and engaging the African American community to join with our Haitian American sisters and brothers to partner in the process of strengthening democracy and development in Haiti. Working together this partnership can mobilize substantial humanitarian assistance to benefit schools, health care clinics and other critical projects. Equally important, we can take advantage of Haiti’s incredible assets as the first Black Republic by encouraging cultural and historical tourism and investment in related economic development/business enterprises. In recent years, HSP has organized annual Pilgrimages to the magnificent Citadel and Sans Souci Palace in the northern part of the country near Milot as part of the Model City Initiative [for information visit www.ibw21.org]. Our goal is to mobilize maximum resources to transform the town of Milot into a Mecca for cultural-historical tourism as an engine for people based economic development. Other organizations or Churches may choose to adopt a town, school, healthcare center, or orphanage, or invest in an economic development project.
The bottom line is that we owe an enormous debt to Haiti and we must meet that obligation by building a powerful constituency that can assist our sisters and brothers in Haiti to resurrect the first Black Republic as a beacon of pride and hope for people of African descent everywhere. Long live the spirit of the Haitian Revolution!