Migrations and Microhistories: An interview with historian Matthew J. Smith

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MATTHEW J. SMITH is Senior Lecturer in History at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica. His first book, Red and Black in Haiti: Radicalism, Conflict, and Political Change, 1934-1957 is a brilliant, pioneering account of the remarkable political history of Haiti from the end of the US Occupation to the rise of Francois Duvalier. Red and Black in Haiti was the recipient of the 2009 Principal’s Award for Best Book from the University of the West Indies and of the 2010 Gordon K. and Sybil Lewis Prize of the Caribbean Studies Association. His second book, Liberty, Fraternity, Exile: Haiti and Jamaica after Emancipation, is a path-breaking history of the cross-Caribbean, transnational political and social exchanges of the nineteenth-century.  Smith has also written on the history of Haiti and the Caribbean for Caribbean Quarterly, Radical History Review, Journal of Haitian Studies, Small Axe and numerous edited volumes.

The Public Archive: What first led you, as a Jamaican, to the history of Haiti—and in particular, to the years between the first US Occupation and onset of the Duvalier era?

My interest in Haiti’s history began with my first exposure to Haitian history, through Caribbean Story, the standard textbook for students doing History as one of their Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) subjects. In those studies, I became aware of the Haitian Revolution and its broad outlines. Then, as an undergraduate History major at the University of the West Indies, Mona, in my second-year survey course on Caribbean History (a compulsory course for all History majors), I encountered the Haitian Revolution again and chose to write my term paper on the topic. I read whatever was available to me then – C.L.R. James, David Geggus, and Thomas Ott. Even though I had read The Black Jacobins as a supplementary text on the CXC syllabus while studying for that exam, it wasn’t until the university course that I explored it more fully. That book had an astounding effect on me. I read it cover to cover in no time, drawn in by James’s moving narrative. I felt the immediacy of the revolution. I also felt very strongly similarities in the slavery experiences of Haiti and Jamaica. At the same time, likely influenced by the strong interest in issues related to political independence in the post-colonial Caribbean and the history of radical politics that I was developing at the UWI, I was also nurturing an enormous curiosity about Haiti’s post-Revolutionary history. In the popular discourse at that time (the 1990s), when Aristide’s first removal and then reinstatement was very much in the news, Haiti after 1804 seemed to be regarded as a completely different country than the republic Toussaint and Dessalines had created.

After UWI, thanks to a Fulbright scholarship, I left Jamaica to pursue doctoral studies in History at the University of Florida. I had intended to study the role of the United States in the movement toward decolonization in Jamaica. Shortly after starting the program though, a few things happened that drew me to Haitian history instead. A crucial factor was that my advisor was David Geggus, a scholar intimately knowledgeable about Haiti and one whose work I had read and admired. Another was that thanks to the friendships I was building with fellow students from Haiti at UF, I was learning a lot about Haitian society, culture, Haitian Creole, and especially music. The music was – and has continued to be – a phenomenal inspiration and influence for me. Listening to David, the Gemini All-Stars album, for the first time drew me to Haiti in ways that are hard to express in words.

With my long-standing curiosity about Haiti and these other influences, by the end of the first semester, I knew that my doctoral work would be devoted to studying twentieth-century Haiti. The focus on the years after the U.S. Occupation emerged because after reading and exploratory archival research, I was struck by how little scholarly attention had been paid to that period. Probably because of the socio-political context in which I had grown up in Jamaica, I noticed the particular gap in historical research regarding issues of class, color, and politics and their relevance to the political history of the period.

Can you say a few words about the Revolution of 1946 within the history of Haiti—especially with regard to the significance and impact of Marxism, surrealism, and an emergent noirisime on it—as well as within the history of the Caribbean region?

The events which took place in January 1946 which became known by contemporaries as the “Revolution of 1946” really marked a turning point in post-Occupation Haiti. To appreciate its effect we should remember the nature of Haitian ‘revolutions’ in the nineteenth century and leading up to the arrival of the U.S. marines in 1915. Most of these were struggles for political power that military elites waged. Democracy had little space in those struggles. After the Occupation, Haitian radicals felt that the nineteenth century cycle had ended. Marxism, surrealism, and a renewed noiriste discourse fueled that hope. The young Marxists who were associated with the newspaper La Ruche, viewed themselves as part of a vanguard that could change the political dynamic in the country. In this context, the January 1946 overthrow of President Elie Lescot was heralded as a monumental shift in Haiti’s political history. The political leaders were acutely aware of the pitfalls of authoritarianism in Haiti—likening the presidents of their own time not only to the country’s nineteenth century leaders but also to fascist dictatorships in Europe. They desired, I believe, a more incorporative system of governance.

At the same time though, these movements energizing the activities in 1946 were disparate; they had different political visions for Haiti. And, as it turned out, they were unable to overcome internal ideological conflicts, deeper social divisions, and the dominant power of the United States and the Haitian military.

I believe that the great importance of 1946 was that it raised the political consciousness of a wide cross-section of Haitians. This gave rise to the support for some very important personalities, including, among others, Jacques Stephen Alexis, Dumarsais Estimé, Daniel Fignolé, and Roger Dorsinville. The debates among these personalities and their struggles for power exposed the contradictions and virtues of black consciousness and left-wing political discourse when applied to Caribbean societies. Their influence also stretched beyond their generation. In many ways the debates in Haiti in 1946 and the decade following were precursors to the sorts of political debates that occurred across the region in the 1960s and 1970s.

You’ve written that “the source material for a study of the Haitian Left is extremely diffuse and research involved threading together fragments of information to build a reliable narrative.” Can you say something about your struggles in finding archives for Red and Black in Haiti and talk about some of the more surprising or revealing archives you discovered?

I think most historians of Haiti would agree that patience and an open-mind are necessary prerequisites for research. A lot of the archival material on Haiti is scattered throughout holdings in libraries and archives in North America, Europe, and the Caribbean. Unlike the Haitian Revolution for which there are incredibly impressive and extensive collections, source material for the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century is more rare and inaccessible. One of the reasons for this is because some important Haitian collections of the national period were dissected, with parts ending up in different collections. Another reason is because a lot of material was permanently destroyed in the Duvalier sixties. A prominent Marxist of the 1940s who I got to know well while I worked on the book, told me that he was forced to destroy all his party documents and literature during the Duvalier period. To keep them was to endanger not just his own life but that of every member of his family. And many other leftists and labor activists also had to do the same. Although internal party documents from that period rarely survived, the party newspapers that did have been quite revealing. While they may not give a lot of information on internal operations, membership, and meetings, they do offer some sense of how the parties positioned themselves in political debates and events. Having said that, there are fine yet underutilized collections in public and private archives in Haiti such as the National Library, and St. Louis de Gonzague in Port-au-Prince. I used newspapers from both collections in my work on Red and Black in Haiti and these provided a lot of contextual information on the period, especially for the years 1946-50 when the free press in Haiti opened up significantly. Research on radical organizations, however, was particularly challenging and to examine this, the most revealing sources for me were the people I interviewed. I was fortunate to have interviewed several people – many of whom have since passed – who were involved in the movements of the period. Their recollections exposed the blurred lines between partisan loyalty and social position, a point that I think is often misunderstood in discussions on Haitian history. These insights shaped the approach I took in the book’s narrative.

Clifford Brandt, the descendant of one of the Jamaican migrants to Haiti you mention in Red and Black in Haiti, has been in the news of late. Could you say something about the history of his great grandfather, Oswald (O.J.) Brandt, and his economic and political importance in Haiti?

Clifford Brandt Jr. comes from a family that is one of the most prominent of several well-known Haitian-Jamaican families. In brief, the family’s history with Haiti goes back to Oswald John Brandt, the most known Jamaican in twentieth-century Haiti who in his lifetime was definitely one of the country’s most powerful persons. Brandt was born in 1890 in Albert Town in the Jamaican parish of Trelawny. His father, John William Brandt, was a planter of German descent and quite prominent in the parish. After he completed school in Kingston Oswald worked as a salesperson in a store downtown. Around this time he met Therese Barthe, a young Haitian woman whose father was exiled in Jamaica. There were then very strong links between Haitian exiles and Jamaican elites. When he was barely out of his teens he married Therese and relocated with her to Haiti. He had the benefit of the powerful political and economic connections of his in-laws. Many Jamaican elites had capitalized on their contacts with Haitian exiles when they returned to Haiti and Brandt was no different. In the pre-Occupation period, Brandt got a job working in the National Bank through family links.

After the U.S. invasion he began working with the Royal Bank of Canada which had a presence in Haiti. At all stages in his career Brandt cultivated strong alliances with the political elite. He would eventually leave the bank and start his own business by 1930. Brandt purchased the confiscated businesses of German immigrants in Haiti and turned them into large successes under his company Brandt Brothers, Industrial and Commercial Undertakings, which he managed with his brother Ivan who was a solicitor in Kingston. By the Second World War O.J. Brandt became an enormously wealthy industrialist who controlled significant chunks of the import-export trade including agriculture, motor vehicles, machinery, pharmaceuticals, and textiles just to name a few. He also owned leading manufacturing plants. His economic influence made him a powerful figure in Haiti. Precisely because of this prestige, Haiti’s politicians during this period depended on his good favors. Brandt had an interesting relationship with Duvalier. Already given a national honor by Magloire, in 1960 Duvalier bestowed O.J. Brandt with the insignia of the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of Toussaint Louverture, one of Haiti’s highest national honors. But eight years later Brandt and his son Clifford–grandfather of the Clifford Brandt Jr. who is now implicated in the kidnapping scheme in Haiti–were indicted by the government for allegedly financing a foiled attack on Duvalier by Haitian exiles from Montreal and New York. There was also government suspicion that Jamaica was being used as a base for air raids by exiles and Brandt was Honorary Consul to Jamaica in Haiti. It was a far-fetched belief and part of a long history of Haitian state paranoia over the activities of exiles in Jamaica. At any rate, based on this father and son were arrested and held in the military barracks but eventually released. Interestingly O.J. Brandt never gave up his British-Jamaican citizenship and maintained strong ties with Jamaica. A good source on O.J. Brandt’s power, career and influence is Haitians: Class and Color Politics by Lyonel Paquin whose maternal grandfather, by the way, was also Jamaican.

In the Journal of Haitian Studies you have written of the importance of David Nicholls’ From Dessalines to Duvalier: Race, Colour, and National Independence in Haiti within the historiography of Haiti. In many ways Red and Black in Haiti offers a critical rejoinder to Nicholls’ classic text. I’m wondering what other texts on Caribbean history more broadly have been important for you in thinking about not so much your own historiographical lineage, but the craft and literary practice of historical writing on the Caribbean.

I’ve been impressed and inspired by the works of so many people who have written on the Caribbean. I can’t possibly include them all so I will mention some that have been formative to my thinking. Nicholls, particularly in his From Dessalines to Duvalier, and C.L.R. James in his The Black Jacobins made phenomenal contributions because of their conscious framing of Haitian history within the wider spectrum of Caribbean history. Haiti’s Caribbean context seems fairly obvious but I am always surprised by how frequently it is neglected in discussions and books on Haiti. I don’t think it is accidental that both Nicholls and James conceived their studies on Haiti in the Caribbean, specifically Trinidad. Among others, Gordon K. Lewis’s Main Currents in Caribbean Thought was another work that impressed me, especially in terms of its integration of various intellectual traditions across the linguistic divide. And Eric Williams’ Capitalism and Slavery struck me as quite bold when I first read it. I have also drawn inspiration from Elsa Goveia’s work and her emphasis that careful study of the Caribbean past is necessary for the future of the region.

The works of Haitian scholars have been instrumental in deepening my sensitivity to Haiti’s social dynamics. There are many I could name here but I’ll restrict myself to a few classics that I draw on a lot. Michel Rolph Trouillot’s Haiti: State Against Nation, and Roger Gaillard’s body of work especially his studies on the Occupation, Les Blancs Debarquent and his La République Exterminatrice series stand out as formative texts for me.

Caribbean literature has also contributed a lot of nuance to my understanding of the region. In ways that historians often cannot, I find that fiction writers are able to use their imagination to fill the spaces left by the documents. Because there are so many spaces in Caribbean history, literature can contribute a great deal, particularly in emphasizing the power of the narrative of Caribbean history. Since high school, my reading of Caribbean literature helped to craft my perceptions of the region, its diverse cultures, populations and histories. Alejo Carpentier, Edwidge Danticat, Sylvia Wynter, Jacques Roumain, Jacques Stephen Alexis, Rene Depestre, V.S. Naipaul, Louise Bennett, Sam Selvon, Michael Anthony, Derek Walcott and so many others have been very important to me in this regard.

Your latest book, Liberty, Fraternity, Exile: Haiti and Jamaica After Emancipation, examines the history of migrations between Jamaica and Haiti in the nineteenth century. What is the larger significance of these migrations, especially against the better-known stories of migration to Montreal, New York, Miami and other urban centers? And what do such “microhistories” teach us about the Caribbean and the African Diaspora?

Haiti and Jamaica each have deep histories of large-scale movements from the island to other locations. The migrations to North America are better-known because of the size of the migrant populations. Today Haitians and Jamaicans form the largest numbers of non-Hispanic Caribbean migrants to the United States. This is a clear and justifiable reason for the intense scholarly attention to these migrant communities. But if we are to have a wider and more accurate perspective on the phenomena of Caribbean migration we have to look to other places where there were smaller numbers of migrants and study their movements over time. By privileging twentieth-century North American and European migration we leave out quite a lot. Recent migration histories give closer attention to this point and I am happy that there has been a noticeable shift in the scholarly literature.

My contribution in Liberty, Fraternity, Exile, is to tell the story of migrations and connections between Haiti and Jamaica in the nineteenth century which, though little-known and much smaller than twentieth-century migration, were very important. After emancipation from slavery in the British Caribbean in 1838, Jamaica was more attractive to migrating Haitians. This migration was fairly continuous. In Kingston they worked, cultivated friendships, traveled around the island, married Jamaicans, raised children, and made new lives for themselves. When they returned to Haiti, as many did, they carried these experiences with them. In turn, the interactions connected the two islands and over time Haiti became a site of Jamaican migration in the nineteenth century.

For me the great lesson from these “microhistories,” such as the ones I examine in the book, is that the Caribbean was not as divided as we often think. We need to revise how we perceive island relations. Travel between the islands was much easier than it is nowadays. Migrations more tangibly connected the islands and made people there more aware of their neighbors. Take for instance the long-standing view that post-Revolutionary Haiti was a threat to the political stability of its neighbors who feared its influence and export. While this may have been a perpetual feature of colonial and elite discourse, the presence of Haitians in Jamaica and vice versa challenge the perception of successful campaigns to isolate the islands from one another. Haiti represented much more than an endless series of revolutions and dictatorships. It also offered opportunities that could be tapped by the freedpeople from the British islands who went there or the middle-class merchants who organized business networks between the islands. Over several decades these migrations led to the formation of lasting networks that superseded island or imperial boundaries. Whenever a coup or revolution broke out in Haiti an immediate consequence was the arrival of Haitian migrants in neighboring islands such as Jamaica. These islands were closer than North America, cheaper to get to, less restrictive in granting entry, and importantly made the possibility of return to Haiti more foreseeable. Today there are families in both places whose origins can be traced to this earlier nineteenth-century migration. This situation can be widened to other places in the region where people crossed linguistic borders such as the case of Trinidad and Venezuela, and Haitian and British West Indian migration to Cuba. I feel strongly that we need to study more closely these sorts of connections and how they figured into the historical narratives of the islands. We run the risk of obscuring the history of the region and the diaspora by ignoring them.

You travelled to Haiti in February 2010-a month after the earthquake. Can you say a little about the background and purpose of that trip and tell us what you found? What changes or developments have you observed in the intervening years?

Immediately after the shocking news of the earthquake reached us in Jamaica the senior management of the UWI, Mona campus organized a meeting to discuss how the UWI could respond. The campus felt it was necessary to make a strong intervention that drew on the strengths of the UWI as a regional university. Then Principal of the Mona Campus, Professor Gordon Shirley, appointed me the director of this effort which became known as the UWI Haiti Initiative. Our mandate was to determine how we could best assist our partner universities in Haiti. It was with this purpose that I traveled to Haiti in February 2010. The devastation was quite far-reaching and serious. What was striking was not only the scale of the physical destruction, but the trauma and the emotional reverberations from the ordeal.  It was a difficult experience for anyone who was there at the time.

I met with colleagues and directors of the State University of Haiti (UEH) and based on those meetings the UWI Haiti Initiative organized a plan of action. The UEH was badly affected by the earthquake. Most of its faculties were terribly damaged and the institution lost faculty members, staff, and students. Attentive to that urgent situation, the UWI Haiti Initiative proposed to offer full scholarships to UEH students in various disciplines who were in their final year of study but were unable to complete their programs given the circumstances. We believed that providing them with the opportunity to finish their final year of study in Jamaica offered many advantages. The most important was that once the students completed their degrees they could participate in the recovery efforts in Haiti when they returned. With colleagues from the UWI I traveled to Haiti several times that year to work out the modalities with our counterparts at UEH. With local, regional, and international funding we were able to award nearly 100 full scholarships to UEH students who studied at the Mona campus and also the St. Augustine campus in Trinidad. I am very proud to have been part of that effort. Having Haitian students at UWI campuses and interacting with students from across the region was truly special. It was an important learning experience for all. At Mona there was strong support from the student body for the Haitian students and some lasting friendships were formed.

I think Haiti has been in a state of flux since 2010. Progress has been slow and uneven. There are so many areas where there is evidence of this. I also think that the earthquake exposed many of the inherent problems in Haiti that were little-known outside of the country. People have always been aware of Haiti’s poverty and its political challenges. But the complexities of how those problems function and replicate themselves across a range of domains was a surprise to many people unfamiliar with Haiti. I recall on early trips to Haiti in 2010 hearing foreigners and Haitians alike optimistically chant that Haiti would be completely rebuilt in short order. An experienced foreign educator who I heard speak at a 2010 conference in Haiti even mentioned that given the international support in funds and personnel, Haitian universities would make a dramatic recovery in a year. Such claims reminded me how deep the dissonance is between outside perceptions and Haitian realities. The country is still in many ways grappling with the consequences of that dissonance today. In the midst of it, there is always hope though. One of the most encouraging developments for me is the hard, daily work that people on the ground are still doing; the majority of these people work tirelessly without recognition. Some have been there since the earthquake and they continue to channel their energies to improve conditions at the community level. That is where the most positive changes are happening.

Image: Christopher Cozier, “Castaway,” from the Tropical Night series.

An archive of The Public Archive interviews can be found here.

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Seven Obituaries for Jean-Claude Duvalier

L’ancien dictateur d’Haïti Jean-Claude Duvalier est mort.

Ex-Haiti dictator ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier dies.

Haitian dictator known as Baby Doc who ruled by fear and brutality until he fled in 1986.

Jean-Claude Duvalier dies at 63; ruled Haiti in father’s brutal fashion.

Jean-Claude (‘Baby Doc‘) Duvalier was Haiti’s ‘president for life’ whose 15 years of misrule ended in ignominious and extravagant exile.

Justice denied by Duvalier’s death.

Jean-Claude Duvalier, Haitian dictator, 1951-2014.

Image: A.M. Maurice, Haiti Crucifiee (1986)

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Ebola, Cholera, and the Epidemiology of Anti-Blackness or, Black Lives Don’t Matter

The ravages of Ebola in West Africa and of cholera in Haiti – and the world’s response to both – remind us that the scourge of anti-Blackness is savage, deadly, and global. The response to the two epidemics suggests that Black people are expendable, unprotected from the most abject and degrading forms of suffering, immaterial – waste. And it raises the question: how do we begin to build a movement claiming Black lives matter when, clearly, they do not?

The United Nations brought cholera to Haiti in the fall of 2010. The cholera bacteria was present in the fecal matter of Nepalese soldiers stationed in the country as part of MINUSTAH, the United Nations force that has militarily occupied the republic since 2004. When the soldiers’ shit was pumped from the MINUSTAH camp into the rivers of the Artibonite Valley in central Haiti, the bacteria quickly spread unchecked. To date, cholera has killed close to 9,000 people, and sickened more than 700,000.

For Haitians, cholera’s degrading symptoms – uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhea – reinforce the humiliation and indignity suffered at the hands of foreigners. So too does the international response to the epidemic. Despite reams of scientific evidence proving the source of the bacteria, the UN has refused to accept responsibility for the epidemic and its consequences. Their initial action of literally shitting on Haiti and Haitians by callously dumping toxic matter into water that served as a source for drinking, bathing, and irrigation for thousands of people, was shrugged off. They have also responded to Haitian requests for aid or compensation with a cruel impunity. When Haitians and their international allies tried to sue the UN for its actions in an attempt to get redress, UN Secretary general, Ban-Ki Moon declared the organization’s immunity – and Haiti’s lack of sovereignty – by coldly claiming that the charges against it were, in legal parlance, “non-receivable” – and hence, inactionable. In essence, the assertion of non-receivable becomes a curt denial of Haitian humanity.

Similar circumstances have emerged in West Africa were Ebola has stricken primarily Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Like in Haiti, the symptoms associated with Ebola mark it as especially degrading, the disease particularly “dirty.” A virus of no known origin that is spread through contact with bodily fluids, Ebola shares with cholera certain symptoms, such as vomiting and diarrhea. Though while the victims of cholera die from organ failure and acute dehydration, those of Ebola often die from hemorrhaging.

But beyond the symptoms, the response to cholera in Haiti and Ebola in West Africa has been strikingly similar – though, perhaps, in West Africa the indifference to Black suffering, and the desire to preserve White life, has been startlingly blatant. Indeed, many in North America found out about the Ebola outbreak when news that two white missionaries were given an experimental drug and flown out of the Liberia to the U.S. (at a cost of $2 million for each evacuation and treatment) for further treatment. A third white U.S. citizen was flown to Nebraska for treatment. But warnings of an epidemic had been circulating since late 2013 and by the time news of the White flight reached the shores of the Americas, Ebola had already infected more than 1660 Liberians, killing scores.  As of September 18, there have been 5,300 infected with Ebola and 2,630 deaths, with most of the cases in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.

Here, again, we see a pattern where African — Black — lives are demeaned and deemed disposable. As Africans, including African doctors and aid workers were dying from the disease, three white missionaries were given the experimental drug – itself under much speculation – and flown to safety. By mid-September, when a fourth African doctor, Dr. Olivet Buck, head of the Lumley Health Center in Freetown, Sierra Leone, died of the disease, it was revealed that the World Health Organization refused to send her to Germany for treatment. At the same time, two Dutch doctors stricken with Ebola were flown home to Europe. It has also emerged that the first African doctor to die of the virus, Dr. Sheik Umar Khan, the chief Sierra Leonean physician treating Ebola, was also denied the chance by Doctors Without Borders to receive the experimental drug, ZMapp, given to the two white missionaries. To add insult to injury, the U.S. government first announced that a $22-million, 25-bed Ebola hospital was intended for foreign (read: mainly white) healthcare workers. While outrage forced the U.S. to include African health workers in its plans, it was – and has been – clear that African lives don’t matter.

The western, white, response to the cholera and Ebola epidemics ultimately teaches us that global white supremacy thrives on Black suffering, denigration, and death.  Next to the stories of Black disease as endemic and linked to uncivilized and untamed Black cultural practices – as well as the way white media revels in publishing pictures of dead Blacks – we get the construction of  “brave” and “heroic” white saviors who risk their lives for the Blacks and non-whites: the “white savior industrial complex” at its best.

Of course, there is no mention of the decidedly non-heroic relationship of the white western world to countries like Haiti and those of West Africa. As Teju Cole argues, the “white savior industrial complex supports brutal policies…[where] the banality of evil transmutes into the banality of sentimentality”: imperialism, neocolonialism, military occupation.

In a recent interview, Dr. Joia Mukherjee, of Partners in Health, explained the racism behind the west’s Ebola response by saying, “I think it’s easy for the world — the powerful world, who are largely non-African, non-people of color — to ignore the suffering of poor, black people.”

But we have to see this as more than ignoring the Black suffering poor; it is about white supremacy’s desire for Black death and Black suffering. It is about coming to terms with the fact that there is something systematic – and sinister – about Black killing globally. It is about the reality that in a universal context of anti-Blackness, Black lives don’t matter – anywhere.

This essay was originally published by The Black Agenda Report.

Image: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Riding with Death (1988). Source: Gagosian Gallery.

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Black Looks: The Haiti Feminist Series

After a ten year run, our dear friend Sokari Ekine has stopped publishing the excellent blog Blacks Looks, but she’s left us with an incredible archive of Haitian feminist intellectual, political, and cultural history. Black Looks’ “Haiti: Feminist Series” consisted of a clutch of essays, interviews, and videos with Haitian artists, intellectuals, and activists addressing a range of issues and concerns on resistance, community organizing, and movement building. We’ve collated links to the “Haiti: Feminist Series” posts below. They’re well worth checking out.

Haiti: Feminist Series 1: Women’s Movement Building and Creating Community in Haiti.

Haiti: Feminist Series 2: Movement Building and Creating Community in Haiti.

Haiti: Feminist Series 3, A Theology of Liberation: Interview with Madam Euvonie Auguste of Famm Voudou Pou Ayti

Haiti: Feminist Series 4: In Conversation with Flaurantin Marie Enise

Haiti: Feminist Series 5: In Conversation with Paulette Joseph

Haiti: Feminist Series 6: In Conversation with Souzen Joseph

Image: Sergine André (Djinn): “Untitled (2011)

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Frederick Douglass and Haiti: A Dossier

Letter from Frederick Douglass to Secretary of State James G. Blaine, Accepting the Appointment as U.S. Minister to Haiti, June 25, 1889

Hon. Frederick Douglass, “Haiti and the United States. Inside History of the Negotiations for the Mole St. Nicolas, I,” North American Review (September 1891)

Hon. Frederick Douglass, “Haïti and the United States: Inside History of the Negotiations for the Môle St. Nicolas, II,” North American Review (October 1891)

Hon. Frederick Douglass, “Lecture on Haiti,” (Speech delivered during the dedication ceremonies of the Haitian pavilion at the World’s Fair in Jackson Park, Chicago, January 2nd, 1893). [French Translation]

Frederick Douglass, “Toussaint L’Ouverture, Manuscript. Folder 1. Folder 2,” Frederick Douglass Papers at the Library of Congress (no date).

“Frederick Douglass on Toussaint L’ouverture and Victor Schoelcher,” The Open Court (1903) [pdf]

Frederick Douglass at desk in Haiti (photograph)

Title image: New York Public Library Digital Collections

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Radical Black Reading: Summer 2014

Black people have seen in the condition and treatment of the Palestinians a reflection of their own and recent statements by Black writers, scholars, artists, and activists have affirmed the history of Black solidarity with Palestine. Alice Walker, Robin D.G. Kelley, Angela Davis, Ferrari Sheppard, Teju Cole, dream hampton, Margaret Kimberley, Glen Ford, Kevin Alexander Gray, and others have all spoken to the sheer brutality meted out against the Palestinian people by the State of Israel. They have foregrounded the historical parallels between the everyday practices of violence, the modes of legal disenfranchisement, the normalization of racism, and the forms of segregation and containment through which the policies of the Israel towards the Palestinian people mirror the historic regimes of apartheid in South Africa and Jim Crow in the United States. And they have been at the forefront of calls for international solidarity with Palestine and for support of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement against Israel – calls that have taken on an added urgency in light of the current Israeli offensive against Gaza.

For background on the history and politics of the Israeli occupation and the Palestinian quest for self-determination, The Public Archive recommends a number of recent texts. In The Battle for Justice in Palestine, Ali Abunimah, editor of the Electronic Intifada, places the complex local politics of the conflict into global context while describing the impact of the neoliberal turn on the practices of occupation. The collection Palestine, compiled by Funambulist editor Leopold Lambert as part of his fantastic publication series, offers a critical take on the cartographic, spatial, and architectural elements of settler colonialism. In Nablus: City of Civilizations [pdf] architect Naseer Rahmi ‘Arafãt conjures a meticulous oral and architectural history of the city of Nablus, a cross-roads of Arab civilization that has witnessed almost complete destruction as a result of occupation. The late Edward Said’s The Question of Palestine remains an eloquent and ethical classic while in the Idea of Israel: A History of Power and Knowledge, Israeli historian Illan Pappé, author of the earlier The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, provides an  uncompromising investigation into the ideology of Zionism and its manifestation in the practices of Israeli settler colonialism.

For more on the specific question of Black solidarity with Palestine, the Black on Palestine Tumblr is a must-follow archive of videos, links, essays, and excerpts. In Black Liberation and Palestine Solidarity, published by the excellent Atlanta-based autonomous publishing house, On Our Own Authority! Publishers, Lennie Brenner and Matthew Quest offer a clear-eyed and unflinching read of the politics and rhetorics of the Black freedom movement in its encounter with Israeli settler colonialism. The longer and broader history of the question of solidarity between the African diaspora and the Arab world is recounted in Alex Lubin’s comprehensive The Geography of Liberation: The Making of an Afro-Arab Political Imaginary. Sohail Daulatzai’s Black Star, Crescent Moon: The Muslim International and Black Freedom Beyond America examines how African Americans have seen themselves as part of what Daulatzai calls the “Muslim Third World” and shows how radial, internationalist, and anti-imperialist modes of Blackness, from an era stretching from the Cold War to the War on Terror, have found alliance with Muslim struggles for freedom.

A number of recent monographs have approached a different question of solidarity, alliance, and affiliation within the Black World: the question of solidarity through the history of sound. Shana Redmond’s Anthem: Social Movements and the sound of solidarity in the African diaspora, examines Black song and Black citizenship in the soundtrack of Black protest. Tsitsi Ella Jaji’s Africa in Stereo: Modernism, Music, and Pan-African Solidarity reads the reverberations of African American music across the Black Atlantic through its influences in Senegal, Ghana, and South Africa. Gaye Theresa Johnson writes of solidarity and sound in The Public Archive’s new favorite city: Los Angeles. In Space of Conflict, Sounds of Solidarity: Music, Race, and Spatial Entitlement in Los Angeles, Johnson explores the history of racial conflict and inter-racial alliance between Blacks and Chicanos in L.A. from the 1940s to the present and the sonic and spatial strategies of solidarity. Meanwhile, a more traditional group of texts have recovered the history of Black Internationalism and pan-African struggle of the of the Interwar years: Hakim Adi’s Pan-Africanism and Communism: The Communist International, Africa and the Diapora, 1919-1939, Gerald Horne’s Black Revolutionary: William Paterson & the Globalization of the African American Freedom Struggle, and Holger Weiss, Framing a Radical African Atlantic: African American Agency, West African Intellectuals and the International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers, a book whose use of Soviet archives is unprecedented.

Finally, two recent texts look at the impact of revolutions in the Caribbean on the practices of solidarity in the international theatre of the Cold War. David Scott’s Omens of Adversity: Tragedy, Time, Memory, and Justice considers the history and historiography of the collapse of Grenada Revolution and its impact on the Caribbean left. In Visions of Freedom: Havana, Washington, Pretoria, and the Struggle for Southern Africa, 1976-1991, Piero Gleijeses examines the resonances of the Cuban victories in Angola and Namibia on the struggles to dismantle apartheid in South Africa. Scott offers an account of failed revolution; Gleijeses one of success. Both offer lessons for Palestine and the Palestinian solidarity movement.

Enjoy the summer.

The Public Archive’s prior readings lists: Radical Black Reading: 2011. 2012. 2013. Reading Haiti: 2011. 2012. Radical Black Cities: 2012.

Image: Naseer Arafat, A very old bookshop in the old city in Nablus, West Bank.

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Match Jamaique-Haiti, Port-au-Prince, 1926

Match Jamaique-Haiti – Les Anglais menacent le but haitien. (1926). Annuaire general d’Haiti; C. Celestin, B. Danache, directeurs. Source: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture / General Research and Reference Division

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John Brown and Hayti

John Brown was not a madman to shed blood when he knew the penalty for so doing was his own life. In the opening he had sense enough to know better than that, but wanted the citizens of Virginia calmly to hold arms and let him usurp the government, manumit our slaves, confiscate the property of slaveholders, and without drawing a trigger or shedding blood, permit him to take possession of the Commonwealth and make it another Hayti. Such an idea is too abhorrent to pursue.

Andrew Hunder, representing the Commonwealth of Virginia, The Trial of John Brown, Charlestown, Virginia, Monday, Oct. 30, 1859.

… [John Brown] had posted himself in relation to the wars of Toussaint L’Overture; he had become thoroughly acquainted with the wars in Hayti and the islands round about; and from all these things he had drawn the conclusion, believing, as he stated there’ he did believe, and as we all (if I may judge from myself) believed, that upon the first intimation of a plan formed for the liberation of the slaves, they would immediately rise all over the Southern States.

Testimony of Richard Realf (Officer with John Brown’s Provisional Government), before the Senate Committee Investigating the Attack at Harpers Ferry, January 21, 1860.

The journals contain the following letter from VICTOR HUGO, which he had written in response to a communication addressed him by three citizens of Hayti, in Paris:

HAUTEVIILE HOUSE, ISLE OF GUERNSEY, Dec. 28, 1859.

CITIZENS OF THE REPUBLIC: I thank you for the eloquent terms in which you have addressed me. Your words reach my heart. A white and a black Republic are sisters, the same as a white and black man are brothers. There is only one humanity, because there is only one God. The French Republic had negroes among the representatives of its people; and that is the one thing that made it above all glorious.

I have been sadly deceived in that fraternity of races, the Southern States of the American Union. In killing BROWN they have committed a crime which will take place among the calamities of history. The rupture of the Union will fatally follow the assassination of BROWN.

What an event! What a disaster!

I am afflicted at heart in thinking of this crime and this fault.

As to JOHN BROWN, he was an apostle and a hero. The gibbet has only increased his glory and made him a martyr.

Black and white, all brothers, all equal, let us rally more and more around that principle of all principles — Liberty. Your friend, VICTOR HUGO.

I love your Republic. Let your people know it.

In Jacmel, Gonaives, Cape Haytien, Cayes and Port-au-Prince, religious services had been held in commemoration of JOHN BROWN, and Le Progress published appeals calling on the people to subscribe liberally for the benefit of the widow of the executed man.

Le Progress also contains an address to the “Philanthropists of America,” in which special allusion is made to Albany, N.Y., in the following terms:

“Citizens of Albany, the cannon you fired to commemorate the death of JOHN BROWN has reechoed in the hearts of Haytians and of the strangers in our land, and reverberates through our fields and cities. Your energetic protest against an act of barbarity does you the greatest honor, as it evidently proves that there exist in the American Republic courageous men devoted-to the holy cause of the freedom of the blacks. Receive, then, the sincere thanks of the citizens of the Republic of Hayti — a Republic that its enemies on another continent represent as always in ruin. Albanians, the Haytians are without prejudice: they receive without hesitation all who come to join them. It is by our conduct, and by that alone, that you can find arguments capable of refuting the assertions of those enemies of humanity who decry us.”

Letter from Hayti, New York Times (March 3, 1860)

From Le Progres, in Hayti, comes an article calling upon people to go to “the subscription offices opened in every town, to honor the memory of John Brown and glorify our race….From the opposite shores of our harbor our fathers, the brave soldiers of 1804, are contemplating us.  They are touched with joy and delight.” March 16, 1860

“John Brown in Hayti,” The Liberator (March 16, 1860)

Image: Augustus Washington, John Brown with Subterranean Pass-Way Flag, Quarter-plate daguerreotype, circa 1846/1847. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

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