The Haiti Support Project of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century has just completed its Third Pilgrimage to Haiti to visit the Citadel and other important cultural/historical sites. The vision/mission of these Pilgrimages is to transform the town of Milot, which is strategically situated at the foot of the Citadel, into a Mecca for cultural/historical tourism as the engine for people based economic development in the area/region. In a broader sense, however, the Pilgrimages are intended to introduce people of African descent to the Haitian Revolution that produced the first Black Republic in this hemisphere – one of the most incredible feats in human history. The magnificent Citadel, which sits atop a mountain 3,000 feet in the sky, is a powerful symbol of freedom and hope.
It was my seventh trek up the mountain to tour the Citadel … and it never gets old. Every time I take the Pilgrimage images and echoes of the heroic struggle of African people, who refused to submit to enslavement, flash through my mind’s eye. Of the three great Revolutions that occurred during the latter part of the 18th century, only the Haitian Revolution was waged by enslaved human beings who defeated the armies of Spain, England and the formidable forces of France under the leadership of Napoleon Bonaparte. At the height of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and the propagation of racist theories of White superiority and Black inferiority, an improbable legion of Pan African freedom fighters decimated the armies of the greatest military powers in the world. The Haitian Revolution shattered the myth of white supremacy. The leaders of the Revolution declared the first Black Republic in this hemisphere as a living testimony to the triumph of the Haitian people in their determination to breathe free!
To defend the new African nation, Jean Jacques Dessalines (Toussaint Louverture died in a French prison before the Revolution was consummated) ordered an elaborate system of forts be constructed throughout the country, particularly the northern region where the decisive battles of the Revolution were fought. The goal was to ensure that the French or any other aggressor would never invade Haiti again. Conceived by Black minds and built by thousands of Black hands, the Citadel is the largest fortress in the western hemisphere. It is an architectural, engineering and military marvel, which was declared a World Heritage monument by UNESCO in 1982. Built by King Henri Christophe, this massive fortress was designed to protect the routes from the port city of Cap Haitien that lead into the interior of the Republic. Equipped with more than 300 of the finest artillery pieces in the world, the Citadel was constructed to house up to 20,000 military and support personnel.
As you make your way up the five miles of winding road and paths to the pinnacle of the mountain where the Citadel is perched, inevitably the question arises as to how it was possible for the Haitians to accomplish this incredible feat! Then one is compelled to remember the legacy of Imhotep, the world’s first multi-genius, who pioneered the techniques used to build the great Pyramids in Kemet/Egypt. The same blood that flows in the veins of those who built the Pyramids flows in the veins of the freedom fighters that conceived and constructed the Citadel.
The leaders of the Revolution proclaimed that whoever set foot on Haiti’s soil would be free. Moreover, they made a commitment to assist any and all colonized people to overthrow their oppressors, provided slavery would be abolished once victory was won. Simon Bolivar was among the freedom fighters who accepted the offer. Winding up the path to the Citadel, I can hear voices of Denmark Vesey and his co-conspirators in Charleston, South Carolina as they plot an elaborate revolt to free thousands of enslaved Africans. Their ultimate destination was Haiti. Word of the Haitian Revolution reverberated throughout the slave quarters in North America and found its way into the proceedings of Colored Peoples Conventions where the likes of Frederick Douglass, David Walter and Martin R. Delaney debated strategies for liberating the race. The first Black Republic was a symbol of freedom and a beacon of hope for the enslaved and quasi-free Africans in the U.S. Most assuredly, word of the gallant deeds of the Haitian Revolutionaries was known throughout the Caribbean, Central and South America, and on the African continent. It served as a source of inspiration for anti-colonial struggles for liberation.
People of African descent and freedom loving people everywhere are indebted to Haiti for uplifting the banner of liberation and human rights in the face of white supremacist ideology and the ruthless exploitation, enslavement and colonialization of Africans and people of color. Unfortunately, Haiti has been scorned and punished for achieving that which was said to be impossible. The first Black Republic has been reduced to being “the poorest nation in the western hemisphere.” Given what Haiti has bequeathed to people of African descent and the world, our task is to repay the debt by doing everything within our power to uplift the first Black Republic and assist the Haitian people to achieve their rightful place in the sun again.
The Citadel encapsulates the vision, courage and will of the Haitian people to be free and to share that freedom with enslaved and oppressed people of all races and nationalities. It is one of the world’s foremost symbols of freedom and hope. Therefore, every person of African descent and friend of Haiti should strive to make the Pilgrimage to the Citadel at least once in a lifetime. By so doing, you will not only fulfill a sacred duty, you will nourish cultural/historical tourism as the vital lifeblood for economic development for the Haitian people.
In that spirit, as an outgrowth of Haiti Pilgrimage III, HSP is exploring the feasibility of a Caribbean African Heritage Cruise in August of 2010. With the active support of Radio Talk Show Host Warren Ballentine, “The Number One Truth Fighter in America,” Richard Muhammad, George Fraser, Joseph Beasley, Kangol Kid (our Special Guests for Haiti Pilgrimage III), and allies in the media, we hope to register 300-500 people to visit the Citadel. This will be the largest organized group of people of African descent and friends of Haiti ever to visit the Citadel. It’s time to pay the debt and enjoy a transformative experience in the process. We hope you’ll join us for this extraordinary journey. Boukman, Toussaint Louverture, Jean Jacques Dessalines, Henri Christophe and the legions of Haitian freedom fighters whose names are unknown are waiting to receive us!