Radical Black Cities

When The Public Archive published Radical Black Cities on September 17, 2012, we wanted to mark the one-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street while highlighting what we saw as Occupy’s racial limits. In our view, Occupy had a restricted, almost liberal, vision of the havoc that whitesupremacy, neoliberalism, and police militarization have reaped on Black city life while its fetishization of white autonomous political practice displaced the long history of Black urban resistance and the sustained, patient work of Black community organizing. We could not have imagined, however, that just a few years later, the issues neglected by Occupy would explode in Ferguson, Missouri and quickly spread throughout the United States. Black youth and their allies forced the question of extrajudicial police murders of Black women and men onto the public. They exposed the dispossesive logics of the political economy of whitesupremacy, the normalization of state-sanctioned, anti-Black racial terror, and the horrific precarity of Black life. And they pushed the question of radical Black cities, suburbs, and exurbs to the forefront of current debate – all the while demonstrating the exuberance and energy of Black insurgency.

This version of Radical Black Cities offers a summer’s list of recent books engaged with both the predicament of Black city life and the history and practice of pan-African protest. We begin with two texts that are direct responses to the current crisis: the US Department of Justice’s investigation of the Ferguson Police Department, just released by the New Press, and historian and activist Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s forthcoming From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation: Racism & Civil Rights (Haymarket Books). The DOJ’s report (whose diaspora doppelganger is, perhaps, the South African government’s Marikana Report [pdf]) documents the sordid workings of Missouri’s most famous police force. Taylor’s monograph offers an early attempt to historicize the present moment through a critical accounting of a movement still in formation and the underlying conditions sparking its emergence.

Meanwhile, two publications out of Chicago – a city whose successful grassroots push for reparations for the victims of police torture bequeath us with an inspired hope — distill the possibilities and potential of the work of radical publishing alongside local movements for social justice. Melina Fries’ The Red Summer Self-Guided Walking Tour: Chicago is a spare and disturbing but ultimately enlightening cartography of the history of racist violence in Chicago, in particular the violence of the summer of 1919. Chiraq and its Meaning(s), edited by educator and activist Miriame Kaba and the youth justice organization Project Nia, is a moving and sharply poignant compilation of statements documenting how young Chicagoans view and interpret their city and its largely negative representations. Both books were issued in elegant Risograph editions by independent publisher Half Letter Press, an imprint of Temporary Services; both offer a welcome alternative to the banality and market-driven backwardness of mainstream, corporate media while speaking to the critical importance of community control over representation.

Also out of Chicago, geographer and prison activist Rashad Shabazz examines the everyday, gendered functioning of carceral power in the Windy City in Spatializing Blackness: Architectures of Confinement and Black Masculinity. Shabbazz’s book joins a number of recent critical accounts of the “carceral state,” including the latest issue of the Journal of American History, guested edited by Kelly Lytle Hernández, Khalil Gibran Muhammad, and Heather Ann Thompson and dedicated to the theme of “Historians and the Carceral State.” It’s an important issue, one whose impact will ripple far beyond the historical profession. The Journal’s publisher, Oxford University Press, has done the right thing by offering it for free online – no fees, no need for an institutional subscription. Every single essay in the issue is worth reading but we will reserve special mention for Donna Murch’s contribution, “Crack in Los Angeles: Crisis, Militarization, and Black Response to the Late Twentieth-Century War on Drugs, which promises to re-orient and revise our knowledge of LA in a way we haven’t seen since “The City of Black Angels and City of Quartz.

The question of the carceral also emerges in the debates over immigration and the punitive policies towards migrants, as seen in the recent work of sociologist Tanya Golash-Boza and architect Tings Chak. Golash-Boza’s Deported: Policing Immigrants, Disposable Labor and Global Capitalism (NYU) connects the recent record-breaking US deportation numbers to the merciless whims of the free market; Chak’s Undocumented: The Architecture of Migrant Detention (Architecture Observer) reveals the hidden and often times unknown institutional spaces of immigration and deportation. While the story of detention and incarceration is largely one of misery, Gladys and Jamie Scott offer the rare narrative of redemption. The Scott Sisters: Resurrecting Life from Double Life Sentences (Candy Publishing) recounts the story of the dubious convictions that put them away for life and the long struggle for their release, albeit on parole.

Claudine Rankine’s Citizen has been rightly celebrated for fusing innovative poetics to a fierce and unflinching political commitment to Black life. Yet the prominence of Rankine’s work should not obscure that of other lesser-known but equally important poetic interventions. In this regard, we have belated discovered Jaamal May’s extraordinary Hum (Alice James Books). Dedicated in part to the “interior lives of Detroiters,” Hum vibrates with a fevered and fervored urgency that captures the existential registers of the postindustrial Motor City. Similarly, in Troy, Michigan (Future Poem) Wendy S. Walter offers a stunning rendering of the politics of race and class, violence and geography that draws on the hallucinogenic urbanology of Italo Cavino’s classic Invisible Cities. We’re looking forward to Walter’s genre-defying explorations of the conflict and cunning of place in Multiply/Divide: On the American Real and Surreal (Sarabande Books).

A number of recent titles have explored the histories of power and resistance in the cities of Africa and the African diaspora. N.D.B. Connolly’s A World More concrete: Real Estate and the Remaking of Jim Crow South Florida (Chicago)is a hard-hitting, beautifully written account of the long history of racial capitalism, real estate, and the production of space. In Conjugal Rights: Marriage, Sexuality, and Urban Life in Colonial Libreville (Ohio) Rachel Jean-Baptiste explores the colonial politics of gender and intimacy in urban Gabon while Abosdede A. George’s Making Modern Girls: A History of Girlhood, Labor, and Social Develompent in Colonial Lagos (Ohio) is a pathbreaking account of the practices of the state and social reformers in creating the social worlds of youth, gender, and work. The late Kaye Whiteman’s Lagos: City of the Imagination (Cassava Republic) is an unapologetically besotted love-letter to a city overdetermined by it representations. Alain Mabankou’s Letter to Jimmy evokes a pan-African Paris through an encounter with the writing of James Baldwin. Marc Matera’s Black London: The Imperial Metropolis and Decolonization in the Twentieth Century (California) examines the urban history of Black internationalism in the context of imperial decay.

Finally, Colin Palmer’s Freedom’s Children: The 1938 Labor Rebellion and the Birth of Modern Jamaica (UNC) offers a comprehensive retelling of a watershed conflict in Jamaica’s anticolonial history while Noor Nieftagodien’s The Soweto Uprising examines the June 16, 1976 student revolt, and its subsequent repression, that marked a turning point in the struggle against Apartheid. Nieftagodien draws on an archive of oral histories of South African youth while examining the role of Black Consciousness and school-based organizing in shaping the character and form of the revolt. With their radical accounting of the history of Black revolt, Palmer’s and Nieftagodien’s monographs can be placed alongside a range of texts – from the new edition of Ida B. Wells, Lynch Law in Georgia and Other Writings (On Our Own Authority! Publishing) to Akinyele O. Umoja, We Will Shoot Back: Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement (NYU) to Robert F. Williams, Negroes with Guns – all of which eloquently demonstrate that Black resistance matters for the preservation of Black lives and of Black life.

Enjoy the summer.

The Public Archive

Mentions: Amy Jacques Garvey, Garvey and Garveyism. Erica Hunt, Time Slips Right Before Your Eyes. Toward an Intellectual History of Black Women, edited by Mia E. Bay, Farah J. Griffin, Martha S. Jones, and Barbara D. Savage. Katherine McKittrick, Sylvia Wynter: On Being Human as Praxis. Jean Juares, A Socialist History of the French Revolution. Lisa Lowe, On the Intimacy of Four Continents. John Keene, Counternarratives.

The Public Archive’s prior readings lists: Radical Black Reading: 2011. 2012. 2013. 2014. Reading Haiti: 2011. 2012. 2013. Radical Black Cities: 2012.

Image: Newark, 1967.

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Nations and Nègres: An Interview with David Austin

Incendiary: Marie-Joseph Angelique © 2012 Kit Lang.

THE PUBLIC ARCHIVE. Educator and writer David Austin is among the foremost chroniclers of Pan-Africanism, Black Power, and West Indian intellectual and political history in the Americas. He has three books to his name: A View for Freedom, an oral history of the late St. Vincents-born, Montreal-based cricketer and organizer Alphonso Theodore “Alfie” Roberts, You Don’t Play with Revolution, an edited collection of CLR James’ Montreal lectures and talks, and Fear of a Black Nation: Race, Sex, and Security in 1960s Montreal. The winner of the 2014 Casa de las Americas Prize in Caribbean Literature in English or Creole, Fear of a Black Nation was recently translated into Spanish as Miedo a una nación negra: Raza, sexo y seguridad en el Montreal de los años sesenta and into French as Nègres noirs, Nègres blancs: Race, sexe et politique dans les années 1960 à Montréal.

Fear of a Black Nation is a book of burning relevance to our times. Its analysis of surveillance, sex, and the security state, on one hand, and race, revolution, and repression on the other, provides a historical perspective on modern-day, state-sponsored regimes of anti-Black terrorism and crypto-fascist intelligence gathering — from carding to Bill C-51 and from stop and frisk to the NSA. Austin does not stop there, however. He also documents the transnational and cross-racial Black-led political and literary movements of the 1960s and unearths the fervent connections between Quebec and the Caribbean and Montreal and the Black world. An extended interview with Austin titled “Research, Repression and Revolution: On Montreal and the Black Radical Tradition” was recently published in the CLR James Journal. Here, The Public Archive happily offers the unpublished outtakes of that interview – including Austin’s thoughts on CLR and Selma James, on Blackness and the politics of nationalism in Quebec, and on the connections between Montreal, Haiti, and the greater Caribbean.

It has been noted that CLR James wrote almost nothing on Haiti’s political world post-1804. Following this, I’m wondering if you could say something about the relationship of the Anglophone Black World to Haiti and Haitians in Montreal during the late 1960s. In Fear of a Black Nation, you briefly mention individuals such as Elder Thébaud and Philippe Fils-Aimé, but was there a connection between West Indians in Montreal and anti-Duvalier Marxists?

This raises some interesting issues. First, although the book was released in the late spring of 2013, if I had a chance to do it over, and with more time, I would have benefitted from more recent work on the Haitian left in Montreal and would have had more to say about Montreal as an important home of Haitian intellectuals and political figures, many of whom worked alongside Anglophone Caribbeans. There is, for example, historian Sean Mills’ impeccably researched work in the Canadian Historical Review on the Haitian deportation crisis, and his forthcoming book examines the presence of Haitian political and literary figures in the Quebec. What I did in a very limited way is touch on the links between members of the Haitian and Anglo Caribbean and Black left by alluding to individuals such as Max Chancy, Elder Thébaud, and Philippe Fils-Aimé, but this is far from sufficient. They all worked closely with people from the Anglophone Caribbean in Montreal. I wish I had known more about the Chancy family. As Désiree Rochat has researched, Adeline Chancy was very active within the Haitian left (see Rochat’s La vie caribéenne au Québec: L’histoire des années 60, 70 et 80 en photos/ Caribbean life in Quebec: A pictorial history of the 60s, 70s and 80s, published by CIDIHCA). Chancy played a major role in establishing institutions that served the Haitian community, including La Maison d’Haiti, when Haitians were migrating to the city in large numbers in the sixties and seventies. She was one of a number of Haitian women who were active in Haitian community politics, and she also assisted James in preparing the presentation that he delivered during the Congress of Black Writers on Negritude. Max Chancy was a well-known Haitian Marxist who also fled the Duvalier regime in Haiti and made a home in Montreal where he continued to be politically active as a Haitian exile while teaching. He and Adeline were part of a tradition of the Haitian left, a long intellectual tradition of thinkers, writers and organizers that also left a mark on Quebec society through their intellectual-political and cultural presence, and as educators and builders of institutions.

At the risk of romanticizing the past, which is always a danger, it has become apparent that there was a lot more integration in the 1960s and 1970s between the Caribbean communities, but that this has changed quite dramatically in more recent times. This may have something to do with Quebec politics, which has become largely divided along linguistic lines (English and French); and as a result of the human geography of the city in which Francophones largely live in the east and north of the island and Anglophones largely in the west and south. Language, culture, and one’s sense of community – including what media a person accesses – largely determine which Quebec and Montreal we experience. There are middle grounds where cultural and linguistic groups meet, and today the definition of who is an Anglophone and Francophone is shifting, as is the definition of what it means to be a Quebecer. For example, I teach in a English college in Quebec, but many of my students are Francophones and I often have Indigenous students in my classes, alongside people of African, Caribbean, Asian, and Middle Eastern descent, all of which makes for interesting conversations at times about memory, history, and national identity.

Continuing on this theme, one of the striking features of Fear of a Black Nation is your mapping of the connections between Antillean, African-American, French Canadian, and Anglophone Caribbean literary and political movements. It recalls the evocation of what Brent Hayes Edwards has termed the “practice of diaspora” yet while Edwards focuses on the discursive lags occurring during cross-Atlantic acts of translation and interpretation, you present something altogether more dynamic and eminently more political. Can talk about the challenges and difficulties you faced in writing across the Anglophone-Francophone divide? And can you say something on the role of Aimé Césaire and other French West Indian writers within the French Canadian literary and political imagination?

I think Brent Edwards notion of diaspora as a practice represents an important step in thinking about diaspora in a more dynamic way, and allows us to think about this practice and its politics in different contexts. This said, the Quebec context is unique in that not only were Caribbean women and men reading the three Martiniquan theorists you mention, but so too were French Quebecers. Quebec is such an interesting province. In addition to Indigenous peoples in the territory, it consists of migrants: the French who colonized and displaced Indigenous peoples and forced them onto reserves and residential schools, and the English who later colonized the French. The French majority is now the dominant power, but following the conquest of 1760, the British assumed power in the province and its French majority became a kind of “lost tribe” of France and treated like an inferior minority by the English in Quebec. The period of the “Quiet Revolution” in the 1960s, which in so many respects was everything but quiet, began a process of making French Quebecers master “chez nous” as they put it, in their own homes. As a result, over time the English minority that once dominated Quebec economically and politically have become a lost English tribe among the Quebec majority, a tribe that often harkens back to the good old days like in Gone with the Wind. But French Quebecers, or at least many among the power-elite, still project a fear English Canada’s political and cultural domination. In the meantime, Montreal Anglophone’s Black community has become a lost tribe too in relation to Blacks in the rest of Canada, though it is true that Francophone Blacks (and these categories can be quite fluid) do not fair much better in Quebec. All of this, plus the contrived fear of the cultural and religious values and practices of growing numbers of people of Asian and Middle Eastern descent embodied in the Quebec Charter of Values that is being promoted by the Parti Québécois government – all of this has made for a very peculiar, tense, and volatile situation within the current context of Quebec nationalism.

Quebec nationalism has become increasingly parochial and exclusive. Today official nationalism has assumed xenophobic forms in which the presence and authenticity of non-French Quebecers is constantly being called into question. This is not simply a linguistic issue in terms of preserving the French language in Quebec in relation to English Canada, or about preserving French Quebec culture. These are important considerations, but it is obvious that, as the French Quebec population continues to decrease in relation to the rest of the population, there is a fear, especially in Montreal, that it will both be outnumbered and be absorbed or racially mixed out of existence. In other words, Quebec nationalism also operates on the level of biology and biopolitics.

The late Hubert Aquin is arguably Quebec’s most important writer, and he was very influenced by African independence movements and was involved in the production of several films on the subject in the 1960s. But in addition to African struggles, Aimé Césaire along with Édouard Glissant and Frantz Fanon played a very important role in Quebec in the sixties and seventies. This role has essentially been forgotten or omitted, and is very instructive in terms of understanding the selective nature of Quebec’s recent nationalist history. French Quebecers read these thinkers in the fifties and sixties in French before their writing was widely available in English in North America. Césaire’s Notebook of a Return to My Native Land [pdf] was profoundly important to some of French Quebec’s most important writers and poets such as Gerald Godin, Paul Chamberlain, Andrée Ferretti, Yves Préfontaine, and Pierre Vallières. Vallières authored the famous book Nègres blancs d’Amerique (The White Niggers of America), a book that was very much influenced by Fanon’s writing on decolonization and race. Like other members of the Quebec Liberation Front (FLQ), the leading nationalist organization of the sixties, he was also profoundly shaped by the Black Power movement in the U.S. and anti-colonial struggles in Africa and other parts of the world. Part of Fanon’s appeal as Quebec attempted to free itself from control of the English elite and the Catholic Church in the province was his critical analysis of nationalist leaders and how they betray the majority of the population once they assume power. The FLQ was also attracted to Fanon’s analysis of violence and they carried out a series of bomb attacks and kidnappings of a British diplomat, James Cross, and a Quebec Liberal politician, Pierre Laporte (Laporte was eventually killed in their custody). I would suggest that the FLQ misread Fanon’s analysis of violence as, although Fanon does not disavow it as part of anti-colonial struggle, he also discusses how colonial conditions make forms of violence, including fratricide, inevitable as colonialism itself is a violent process.

Glissant’s influence in Quebec was different because he actually had a physical presence in Montreal and was a close friend of Gaston Miron, one of French Quebec’s most important poets and literary figures. Miron was a Quebec nationalist and Glissant engaged Miron and other French Quebec Writers in discussions about the use Joual, French Quebecers version of Creole, in literature, comparing it to the use of Creole in literary circles in Martinique, both languages having roots in rural regions. Glissant understood French Quebecers as an oppressed group, but was fully aware of the conditions of Indigenous peoples in Quebec who had been colonized by the French and British and stopped short of referring to the French in Quebec as a colonized people. When we add this to the fact that Quebec nationalism was also very much influenced by anti-colonial movements in Africa and other parts of the world, along with the Black Power movement in the U.S., it is obvious that there clearly needs to be a new narrative about the history of Quebec and Quebec nationalism. French Quebecers came to see themselves as nègres blancs, or the white niggers of America. But this raises the question of the invisibility of actual nègres in Quebec at this time, at least prior to the Congress of Black Writers and the Sir George Williams protest.

During your interview with Selma James at her home in London in 2004 you discovered you were the first person to interview her about C.L.R. What came out of the interview in terms of her personal reminisces of James, about their relationship? And given Selma James’ commitment to the wages for housework campaign, did she speak of CLR’s relationship to feminist organizing and the politics of gender?

I think that it is a shame that she has not been interviewed more, or at least that was true at the time. I know that there is a tendency to write without conducting interviews with individuals but in this case, this tendency also has something to do with gender and race. Selma James is a woman, and is white and she perhaps does not fit with the perception of James the autonomous Caribbean, Black, Marxist intellectual. We know that James was a brilliant theorist with extraordinary intellectual gifts. But it is also true that he had collaborators, and his chief collaborators in the U.S. during what was in some respects his most fertile intellectual period were women, including Grace Lee Boggs and Raya Dunayevskaya with whom he was in constant dialogue. As James’s wife, Selma James is seen as less of a collaborator. This, coupled with her no-nonsense political outlook, have perhaps made potential interviewers leery, but to the detriment of understanding her, her work, and James’s historical legacy. Selma James was very important to C.L.R. James in terms of encouraging him to think seriously about gender and power relations between women and men. As much as she was devoted to C.L.R.’s ideas, her work and ideas also informed his and she is obviously an important thinker in her own right. Walter Rodney understood this and in Walter Rodney Speaks he made a point of discussing her importance to the London study group in the James home in the early sixties.

It is worth noting that Selma James’s work played a role in Canada, collaborating with former CLR James Study Circle (CLRJSC) member Anne Cools who had become quite close to C.L.R. James and who had helped to raise funds for her legal fees after she was arrested for her role in the Sir George Williams protest. Cools was essentially the only women who played an active intellectual-political role in the small CLRJSC group. She later became an important feminist in Montreal, collaborating with French Quebec feminists and women across Canada. She is also said to have established the first or one of the first women’s shelters in Canada. Anne Cools did not write much and has been largely written out of Canada’s feminist history, in part because she became quite conservative. But you cannot un-write history. In a short article, “Womanhood,” (published in the February 1971 “Black Spark Edition” of the McGill Free Press) she discussed the unequal relationship between Black women and Black men and argued that there could be no genuine liberation without addressing this issue. I think this essay is a critique of her male peers in the Caribbean Conference Committee and the CLRJSC, of Black and Caribbean politics in Montreal in general.

Within the parameters of what I was writing about in Fear of a Black Nation, I tried to very consciously address the gender imbalance in my own writing and to seriously think about the roles that women played in that historical moment (1960s and 1970s); how both women and men understood their roles and the roles of the opposite genders; and without dismissing the reality that gender and sexuality exist on spectrums or represent gradations of being as opposed to fixed anatomical or sexual categories. Several theorists were very helpful as I worked through this. The work of Carol Boyce Davies, especially Black Women, Writing, and Identity: Migrations of the Subject, was helpful in terms of thinking about the relationship between feminism, gender, and black identity. So too was the work of Audre Lorde; and Angela Davis’s book, Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billy Holiday, which framed these singers as important women’s voices, feminists in their own right, but without the title. The work of Saba Mahmood was very helpful, especially her book The Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject which argues that women are able to exercise degrees of agency and autonomy despite male dominance within Islam in Egypt. All of these theorist, including Natasha Barnes, Belinda Edmondson and Patricia Hill Collins, whose Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and Politics I had read as a university undergraduate. I also have to add Afua Cooper’s The Hanging of Angelique: The Untold Story of Canadian Slavery and the Burning of Old Montreal and Katherine McKittrick’s Demonic Grounds: Black Women and the Cartographies of Struggle. These books and authors were important, not only in terms of attempting to understand male dominance and how women have been historically been pushed into the background of social movements, but also why, for example, women who played active political roles in movements or groups often minimized their involvement when I interviewed them, deferring to the roles that men had played in the movement. I was also very fortunate to have a loose circle of friends and colleagues in Montreal who were also thinking about these questions and with whom I could discuss these ideas. I don’t think we can overestimate the importance of that kind of discussion.

Over the years, you have become close to the economist and former New World Group member Kari Polyani-Levitt. What is the nature of the influence that she has had on you, personally, and how would you assess the legacy of Silent Surrender: The Multinational Corporation in Canada in Canada?

I have known Kari for nine or ten years now but have known of her for much longer. Her name would come up in conversations about the Caribbean left and Caribbean thought in Montreal and economic policies in the Caribbean in the sixties and seventies, and in relation to Lloyd Best and other Caribbean economists that lived or sojourned in Montreal during that period and with whom she collaborated. I sought her out in relation to her work on the Caribbean and her involvement in the New World Group. In fact the essay that developed into the book Silent Surrender was first published in the New World journal. Lessons from the book have definitely been lost or ignored by economic policymakers in Canada. Silent Surrender argued that Canada was essentially capitulating to U.S. economic interests and that this practice would have dire consequences for Canadian autonomy. This was written long before Free Trade and today Canada’s economy is more embedded than ever with the U.S.’s which now relies on Canada’s oil reserves in the Tar Sands of Alberta, as an example, for much of its oil, and the oil is extracted using the hazardous fracking or hydraulic fracturing method that is threatening water supplies and the general natural environment.

Kari’s reflections on the Caribbean and Canada in the sixties and seventies have been helpful for me in terms of understanding that moment in Montreal and in relation to the Caribbean where she spent a good portion of academic and professional life. After a while, we began talking about other issues, including her father, theorist Karl Polanyi, and economics. Kari serves as a constant reminder of the importance of economic questions and her most recent book, a collection of essay entitled From the Great Transformation to the Great Financialization: On Karl Polanyi and Other Essays, is very helpful in terms of understanding the historical context that has brought us to the current juncture in global economics and neoliberalism. So much of what is written today in the social sciences speaks about social phenomena as if it is divorced from economics. Slavery and the transatlantic slave trade become about race in-and-of-itself, ignoring the fact that the slave trade was part of an economic system for which Black labor assumed a central role. This is why today there is so much difficulty accepting that Black labor and Black laborers do not simply produce surplus labor, but in the post-plantation and post-plant era, have become surplus laborers in many respects, many of whom live behind prison bars or are tied up in the judicial system because the labor force cannot absorb them and because, as the Civil Rights and Black Power demonstrated in the 1960s and 1970s, they represent a potentially transformative force and catalyst. This represents a modern crisis, but not a new one, and it is part of the afterlife of slavery in the Americas, Du Bois’ unresolved problem of what to do with manumitted Black labor whose physicality is sometimes desirable, but whose overall presence by-and-large is seen as an unwelcome threat. This is not without contradiction as Black popular culture is embedded in the culture of the Americas; but even then, the writing is perhaps on the wall in terms of White surrogates whose emulation of Black popular culture demonstrates that the Black reign in this domain potentially has an expiry date.

For you what is most relevant in James’ writing and thought for understanding the situation of Blacks in contemporary Canada?

“Allow me to say once that this recognition of my work and of all of it by a group of West Indians centred in Canada seems to me to have political implications of far more than a merely national significance.” ~C.L.R. James to Robert Hill, December 31, 1965.

That’s a hard one. From the quote, James obviously had some sense that interest in his work in Canada was significant, but he doesn’t elaborate. I think James’s belief in the underclass and the ability for ordinary people to organize themselves for change as shapers of history is important. This is what happened in Canada in the 1960s, but I mention Montreal in particular because James was connected to people that were involved in both the Congress of Black Writers and the Sir George Williams protest as a result of his sojourn in Canada in 1966-1967. Rinaldo Walcott has written an insightful unpublished paper, “Within the ‘archipelagos of poverty’: CLR James, Sylvia Wynter and ‘wasted lives,’” in which he applies Sylvia Wynter and James’s work to the Canadian context. He draws on a 1971 statement by James about the indelible presence of Blacks in England, a country whose fate is tied to that of a growing Black population that refuses to accept second-class status. Rinaldo then suggests that James’s remarks can be applied to Blacks in Canada. James thought about Caribbean people as a new people – I am trying to avoid the word modern and the implications of the word modernity – who, shorn of certain cultural-historical “baggage,” engendered the possibility of creating a new Caribbean society. But I think we can say that of the Black diaspora in general and this notion of the Black “modern” is akin to what Richard Iton suggests about the political implications of diaspora precisely because of its essential homelessness in In Search of the Black Fantastic. Blacks in Canada live in a kind of liminal space in which, despite an over three hundred-year presence in this country, are yet to be acknowledged as full citizens. But, as Iton and Walcott’s more recent work suggests, and James’s work implies, we need to think beyond conventional notions of citizenship entitlements and inclusion and towards how our experience can be channeled in ways that encourage us to work toward creatively recreating society, refashioning it through our own self-activity in ways that radically transform its current destructive social and environmental course, and with a vision that extends beyond nation states. This is part of what the diaspora’s history tells us – that our struggles have often been at the forefront of human struggles for emancipation, or at least cast light on human possibilities, even though this is rarely acknowledged.

*It should be noted that a historical error creeps into the CLR James Journal interview that was missed by editor, interviewer, and interviewee. Austin states that CLR James co-wrote Facing Reality with Raya Dunayevskaya and Grace Lee Boggs. In fact, Facing Reality was co-written with Cornelius Castoriadis and Grace Lee Boggs. We thank Professor Robert Hill for bringing this error to our attention.

Image: Incendiary: Marie-Joseph Angelique © 2012 Kit Lang.

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The Archive of Occupation

Citing the need to protect American life and property while preserving political stability in the Caribbean region, on July 28, 1915 three hundred and thirty United States Marines landed at Port-au-Prince. Thus began a nineteen-year military occupation whose consequences for the Republic of Haiti (and for the Black World) were arguably as significant as the struggle for Haitian independence that the onset of US rule extinguished. Thousands of peasants were massacred, financial control of the republic was ceded to Wall Street interests, martial law reigned, a puppet president was installed, and a country that was viewed as a beacon of Black sovereignty was reduced to an American colony. The historiography of 1915-1934 is a rich one. Roger Gaillard, Suzy Castor, Kethly Millet, Francois Blancpain, Rayford W. Logan, Hans W. Schmidt, Brenda Gayle Plummer, J. Michael Dash, Mary Renda, Leon Pamphile, and others have all written on the causes, conditions, and consequences of the occupation. Here, The Public Archive offers an incomplete collection of publicly available, open-access sources with the hope that the memory of the U.S. military occupation of Haiti is preserved and extended in this moment, one hundred years later.

United States. Department of State. Foreign Relations of the United States. Haiti. Political and Financial Affairs, 1914.

Treaty between the United States and Haiti. Finances, economic development and tranquility [!] of Haiti. Signed at Port-au-Prince, September 16, 1915.

Georges Sylvain, Dix années de lutte pour la liberté, 1915-1925.

Rapport de m. Louis Borno, secrétaire d’État des relations extérieures a S. E. Monsieur le président de la République d’Haiti. Tome 1er. Négociations diverses, réclamations et litiges diplomatiques, 1916.

Annual Report of the Secretary of the Navy, 1920.

Memoir on the Political Economic and Financial Conditions Existing in the Republic of Haiti under the American Occupation by the Delegates to the United States of the Union Patriotique d’Haiti, May 25, 1921.

Foreign Policy AssociationThe seizure of Haiti by the United States: A report on the military occupation of the Republic of Haiti and the history of the treaty forced upon her, 1922.

United States Congress. Senate. Select Committee on Haiti and Santo Domingo. Inquiry Into Occupation and Administration of Haiti and Santo Domingo, 1922.

Occupied Haiti: being the report of a committee of six disinterested Americans representing organizations exclusively American, who, having personally studied conditions in Haiti in 1926, favor the restoration of the independence of the negro republic, edited by Emily Greene Balch.

Arthur C. Millspaugh, Haiti under American control, 1915-1930.

Report of the President’s Commission for the Study and Review of Conditions in the Republic of Haiti, March 26, 1930.

Stenio Vincent, Sur la route de la seconde independance en compagnie du soldat et du citoyen haitiens (1934).

[Also see The Public Archive's previous posts tagged "1915" and "intervention" as well the links posted by the Haiti Digital Library at Duke University's Haiti Laboratory. The African American Intellectual History Society Blog is also regularly posting on the history of the occupation.]

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Kings and Queens, Devils and Dictators: The Clintons and Haiti

When it comes to Haiti, Clinton is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent.

Jemima Pierre, “Bill Clinton Loves Haiti,” Black Agenda Report (October 23, 2012)

Clinton provides the kind face of US control of Haiti.

Jemima Pierre, “The Puppet, the President, and the Dictator,” Black Agenda Report (January 17, 2012)

Clinton said he had struck a “devil’s bargain” that ultimately resulted in greater poverty and food insecurity in Haiti.

Maura R. O’Connor, “Subsidizing Starvation, “Foreign Policy January 11, 2013

The only Devil in Haiti is to be found in the deals we cut with the worst elements in that society.

Bob Shacochis, “Bill Clinton’s Shameful Legacy in Haiti,” The Daily Beast, January 19, 2010

Clinton saw in the earthquake of 2010 his opportunity to become the new US High Commissioner of Haiti.

Dady Chery, “Time for Clinton and Co. to Pack and Go,” News Junkie Post (December 15, 2014)

Joking that he must be coming back to lead a new colonial regime, the Haitian press dubbed Clinton Le Gouverneur.

Jonathan Katz, “The King and Queen of Haiti,” Politico (May 4, 2015)

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A dossier of articles from The Nation on the United States Occupation of Haiti, 1915-1934

“Between 1918 and 1932 The Nation carried more than fifty articles and editorials on conditions in Haiti. Evidence of torture and massacres uncovered by The Nation’s 1920 inquiry into the American occupation of Haiti led to a congressional investigation and helped bring the island independence in 1934.”

Herbert J. Seligmann, The Conquest of Haiti, The Nation 111 (July 10, 1920).

James Weldon Johnson, Self-Determining Haiti I: The American Occupation, The Nation 111 (Aug. 28, 1920).

James Weldon Johnson, Self-Determining Haiti II: What the United States Has Accomplished, The Nation 111 (Aug. 28, 1920).

James Weldon Johnson, Self-Determining Haiti III: Government Of, By, and For the National City Bank, The Nation 111 (Aug. 28, 1920).

James Weldon Johnson, Self-Determining Haiti IV: The Haitian People, The Nation 111 (Sept. 25, 1920).

Helena Hill Weed, Hearing the Truth About Haiti, The Nation (Nov. 1921).

Ernest H. Gruening, Haiti and Santo Domingo Today, The Nation 114 (Feb. 8, 1922).

Ernest H. Gruening, Haiti under American Occupation, The Century 103 (April 1922).

Source: Windows on Haiti: The U.S. Occupation of Haiti (1915-1934). Also see: Bibliography of articles on Haiti that appeared in Nation magazine.

Image: Demonstration in Haiti. Ernest H. Gruening Papers. Archives, University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

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Dark Specters and Black Kingdoms: An interview with historian Ada Ferrer

THE PUBLIC ARCHIVE: Ada Ferrer is Professor of History and Latin American Studies at New York University. Her research focuses on the themes of race and slavery, and nationalism and revolution, in the nineteenth-century Caribbean and Atlantic World. Her first book, Insurgent Cuba: Race, Nation, and Revolution, 1868–1898, a critical, path-breaking study of the multiracial history of Cuban independence, was awarded the Berkshire Book Prize for the best first book by a woman historian in any field of history. Insurgent Cuba was translated into Spanish and published in Havana as Cuba Insurgente: Raza, nación y revolución and in French as La Guerre d’Indépendance Cubaine: Insurrection et Émancipation à Cuba! 1868-1898. Ferrer’s second book, Freedom’s Mirror: Cuba and Haiti in the Age of Revolution, has just been published. It promises to add to our understanding of both Haiti’s and Cuba’s struggles for freedom and the significance and impact of the Haitian Revolution on the Americas. Ferrer’s articles have appeared in the American Historical Review, Annales, Review: Journal of the Fernand Braudel Center, Revista de Indias, Caminos, and Radical History Review.

Insurgent Cuba: Race, Nation, and Revolution, 1868–1898, examines ideas of race, nation and citizenship in the context of Cuba’s late nineteenth-century anti-colonial struggles. Freedom’s Mirror examines the impact of Haiti and the Haitian Revolution on Cuban society. What led you from one project to the next?

My first book, Insurgent Cuba, examined the role of slaves and former slaves in the wars for Cuban independence and in the development of Cuban nationalism more broadly.  One of the things that struck me in doing the research for that book was how very important the idea—or even just the mention—of Haiti was. The Spanish government in Cuba constantly invoked Haiti as a warning and accusation, as a device with which to argue against Cuban independence. “This is a black movement,” they would say; or this is the prelude to “race war,” or to “a black republic like Haiti.” Opponents of independence constantly used the specter of Haiti. This specter of Haiti was not something I discovered; in fact, it was very common for historians and other writers to talk about how the specter of Haiti partly explained the “late” independence of Cuba. As is well known, most of Latin America became independent between 1810-1826, whereas Cuba did not defeat Spain until 1898.  Historians often explained that divergence by arguing that local elites were unwilling to risk a rebellion, for fear of unleashing “another Haiti.”

So, I became interested in getting behind or beyond that specter. It was that interest that led me to begin working on Freedom’s Mirror. I wanted to understand what people in Cuba actually knew about Haiti and how exactly they knew it.

And what I found surprised me. I found that for all the use of Haiti as a specter in nineteenth-century Cuba, in fact, Haiti in Cuba was much more than spectral. A specter is something incorporal, imagined. Haiti was definitely imagined in Cuba, but people also knew it and experienced it much more intimately, materially.

I’ll give you an example: There is a hugely important phase of the Haitian Revolution, in 1793-1794, when most of the black rebel slaves of Saint-Domingue ally with Spain (which controls Santo Domingo, right on the border with Saint Domingue). You have tens of thousands of rebels fighting against the French, and they do so as “auxiliaries” of the Spanish army. What we had not appreciated in the past is the extent to which the Spanish army on the Saint-Domingue border was actually composed of troops and officers from Cuba. So, in effect, you have men from Cuba dealing with Toussaint Louverture, Jean François, Georges Biassou, and other leaders of the black rebellion.  One of the Cuban officers, the Marques de Casa Calvo, who would later be the last Spanish governor of Louisiana, and who owned two sugar plantations and an unknown number of slaves in Havana, actually started a business with the rebels—buying sugar equipment from them and then sending it to Havana. He became the godfather of Jean-François and even flirted and danced with his wife. A sector of the Cuba elite thus had intimate contact and knowledge of the revolution. They thought they could control it and manage it. It was not some shadowy bogeyman, but a concrete, material part of their political education.

Among slaves and people of color you see something equivalent. Many scholars have argued that the Haitian Revolution –to quote Eugene Genovese—“propelled a revolution in consciousness” among African Americans. I agree, but again it was one based on material contact and knowledge. So, I was surprised for instance to see that documents such as the Haitian Declaration of Independence and other important texts of black leaders were actually translated into Spanish, published in newspapers, and circulated in Cuba, where they were read and discussed by people of color. Black people had real access to the words, ideas, and pronouncements of the revolution. Again, it was not only some vague abstract hope that slaves and free people of color in Cuba had; they engaged with the revolution and later with the Haitian state in more concrete ways. There are many other examples I could give and that appear throughout the book.

“A Black Kingdom of this World: History and Revolution in Havana, 1812,” one of the chapters in Freedom’s Mirror, riffs on the title of Alejo Carpentier’s novel The Kingdom of this World. Is Carpentier’s historical imagination important to your own reconstruction of Caribbean and Atlantic events? And what is the significance of 1812 and, as you put it, the “next Black Kingdom” of the world of José Antonio Aponte and others?

Carpentier is a beautiful writer, and I think that is important. His vision of the Haitian Revolution, even perhaps of revolution more generally, also strikes a chord with me. The Kingdom of this World is in many ways a pessimistic novel. The main character, Ti Noel returns to independent Haiti (having spent decades in eastern Cuba) and finds a majestic black world. Black men rule; the priests and saints are all black; so are the artists and musicians. This is power; this is something new created from revolution. But if the artists and saints and kings are black, so too are the men who force others to labor, who compel people to march, to carry stones and build fortresses, to plant and harvest, to obey. This too is created by revolution—a new freedom that contains within it new structures of domination. Some literary critics have argued that Carpentier’s vision of the revolution is too negative, too skewed, too focused on the repression of King Christophe. In some ways, however, Carpentier’s Haiti recalls the one imagined by José Antonio Aponte in Havana in 1811-1812. Aponte’s Haiti (like Carpentier’s) appears to be Christophe’s—not Toussaint’s or Pétion’s.

As some of you know, Aponte was a free black carpenter in Havana; he was a veteran of the colonial free black militia, maybe a priest of santería. And he was apparently the leader of an ambitious plot to rebel, raise the slaves and free people of color, and overthrow slavery in Cuba. The movement did manage to strike on several sugar plantations on the outskirts of Havana, but it was soon crushed.

Aponte was an exceptional, fascinating person—creative and erudite. He kept a book of paintings or drawings—a kind of mixed media scrapbook in which he drew and pasted in other images. It depicts a breathtaking array of stories, allegories, characters: Greek and Roman gods, European and mostly African kings and emperors, black priests, saints and other biblical figures, his own ancestors, Indian women, roosters, ships, moons, stars, and on and on. Unfortunately, the book is lost, and we know about it only through the descriptions Aponte gave to authorities when questioned. Still, there are many things we can glean from Aponte’s judicial testimony.

The book is many things, and I think Aponte created it as many things, as work of art and interpretation that could call forth different stories and different meanings depending on who saw it and what Aponte wanted to reveal to them. Thus an important-looking black figure in the book was—when Aponte spoke to authorities—a black dignitary in Rome. The same figure, when he talked to his co-conspirators, became King Christophe of Haiti. One way that I think Aponte intended the book to be read was as a meditation on black sovereignty. The book was a pictorial, intellectual, subversive experiment in thinking through a black kingdom—the one he and his companions were seeking to create, the one modeled by contemporary Haiti, by historical Ethiopia.

The significance of Aponte for Cuba has always been clear. This was one of the most ambitious antislavery movements in the island’s history. But Aponte—his book and his movement—also provide a wonderful opportunity to explore the intellectual history of the Black Atlantic. Even without the actual book and with only Aponte’s testimony about it, we have an incredibly rich source for exploring the worldview of a black artist and revolutionary, a rare if puzzling glimpse into what he knew and read and what he might have imagined. Still, we do well to think about the book in the context of the political movement that Aponte was making. Aponte showed the book to his fellow conspirators, explaining some of its images as a way to plan for and think about their own revolution. The book is a fascinating object, a missing visual text, but it was also part of the material history of an antislavery revolution.

The essay “Talk about Haiti: The Archive and the Atlantic’s Haitian Revolution” critically engages with the late Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s well-known and oft-deployed claim concerning the “silencing” of Haiti within the historiography of the Atlantic World by examining the remarkable efflorescence of narrative knowledge about Haiti in Cuba during and after Revolution. “If this was silence,” you state in the introduction, “it was a thunderous one.” But I’m wondering what your thoughts are on how and why Trouillot’s claims have gained such traction and how and why the metaphor of silence has persisted?

Trouillot’s metaphor, Trouillot’s work has had such traction because it captures something indisputable about history as written. We all know that history is written by victors. Reading Trouillot’s incisive critique reminds us of that: there is no Haiti in what have long been the standard references on the French Revolution. Indeed, even in the nineteenth century, it was rare to find historical actors writing about Haiti, for the most part they continued to write about Saint-Domingue, or Santo Domingo, or San Domingo. Part of the political isolation imposed on Haiti was intellectual—the powers of the world wrote as if the new nation did not exist. Silence was a political instrument, in addition to being an intellectual position. Trouillot’s insights point us to those truths.

But the intellectual and political work of silencing does not always require a literal erasure. Trouillot himself acknowledges that when he writes about what he calls “banalization”—when something by constant repetition, “gnawed by all sides” he wrote, becomes trivialized, emptied of revolutionary content. At the time of the Haitian Revolution, the revolution was everywhere invoked; power holders spoke constantly of the dangers of “other Haitis.” This was not a literal silence, but a figurative or “thunderous” one, maybe akin to the constant, seemingly automatic addition of the descriptor “the poorest nation in the hemisphere” after the name Haiti in popular and journalistic writing today. This is why Trouillot’s idea of silence—understood broadly as both erasure and banalization—has resonated so deeply; it brilliantly and evocatively captures the ways in which power pervades what we know as history.

There is one area, however, where I think Trouillot’s arguments could be developed differently, and that is in relation to the archive, which Trouillot understands as an institution of power. That is indisputable and I wholeheartedly agree. But having spent a lot of time researching and reading in archives, I appreciate how very messy and unpredictable they can be. Their scope and the every-dayness of the massive volume of records they hold is something that is hard to fathom from the outside. And so I think that in addition to understanding the archive as site of power, we can also understand it as a place that also reveals the fissures in that power. Silences exist clearly, but they do not emerge fully formed, or total. In the abundance and outsized character of the archive, we have an incredible resource for tracing the ways in which the very silences that Trouillot writes about are constructed, maintained, challenged day to day, by real people and institutions, in real places under concrete circumstances.

Ideally, I think, we should be able to somehow combine the eloquent critique of Trouillot’s with the intelligent faith of Arlette Farge in her book The Allure of the Archive.

Can you say something about the nature of the archives you visited and on the kinds of documents you were able to unearth?

For me, the archives—even in their tedium—are an incredible source of energy and creativity and thinking. Their messiness, their voluminousness is generative. For Freedom’s Mirror I worked in about twenty of them, mostly in Spain and Cuba, but also France, England, Haiti, and the U.S.

One kind of document that I used a lot is judicial testimony from cases of rumored or actual conspiracies and rebellions. Over days and weeks, and hundreds and even thousands of pages, authorities asked questions: who initiated the plot, what was their specific plan, who tried to recruit whom, who acceded? And so on. The testimony accumulates, much of it recounting conversations among conspirators or between conspirators and potential recruits. Throughout, denials are routine; also frequent are attempts to deflect blame. Often, one witness’s testimony at the beginning of the process contradicts that given later, and almost always, testimony from one witness directly contradicts that of another. What we encounter in this mountain of testimony, then, is contradictory fragments of captured speech, a profusion of questions “whose answers” to quote Arlette Farge “are incomplete and imprecise, snippets of speech and life, whose connecting thread is difficult to make out.”

Still, amidst the unavoidable uncertainty, we find some arresting surprises in this voluminous archive that records the speech of people whose speech and thought was not usually recorded. For example, witnesses often recount subversive conversations about freedom and revolution. That testimony—that captured speech—regularly reveals that conspirators invoked and discussed histories that they deemed relevant, they analyzed the past for lessons, discussing a range of precedents. For example, sometimes they discussed amongst themselves the rebellions and petitions for freedom by the King’s slaves in the copper mines of El Cobre; they discussed a deadly, but ultimately failed rebellion of slaves in Puerto Principe in 1798; in one instance, African slaves talked about Charlemagne and his twelve peers as an example. More often, they spoke of the Haitian Revolution and, later, of the actions of the Haitian state itself as guides and motivation.

It is the presence of such discussions that makes the testimony of enslaved and free black witnesses an invaluable source for pursuing the study of what Laurent Dubois called “the intellectual history of the enslaved,” or for writing an intellectual history of the Atlantic World in which enslaved and free people of color are active participants.

One of the things that is most exciting about the process of archival research is not knowing exactly what you’ll find. For example, I have spent years looking for Aponte’s missing book of drawings. At one point, I became convinced that maybe it was in the Nobility Section of the Spanish National Archives in Toledo, Spain. The papers of the Someruelos family are there, and Somoruelos was the Spanish governor of Cuba during the Aponte conspiracy. He left almost immediately after Aponte’s execution, and he had apparently asked to see some of the trial material before his return to Spain at the end of his tenure. Could he have taken Aponte’s book with him? And might it now be tucked among his family’s papers in Toledo? So, I went to look.

I didn’t find it. But I found something else, entirely unexpected: a couple of small half sheets of paper, in rushed, sloppy handwriting, with the briefest description of the start of the rebellion in the Havana countryside. I don’t think anyone had used them before, and they revealed something I don’t think anyone had known about before. Namely, that the rebels attacked the sugar plantation owned by Havana’s deputy to the Spanish congress, a man who had very publicly opposed the abolition of slavery and the slave trade just months before. That the rebels would target his property reveals something incredibly important about the political project of the rebels. Yet that aspect of the movement had been written out of contemporary accounts then and since. An instance of the kind of erasure Trouillot wrote about, perhaps. Still, the archive itself helped us find it.

Image: From Justo G. Cantero, Los ingenios: colección de vistas de los principles ingenios de azúcar de la isla de Cuba (Illustrator: Eduardo Laplante) (1857)

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Port-au-Prince, Haiti, January 12, 2010

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Reading Haiti: Ten Books for 2014


Our annual round-up of notable books from 2014 features novels and journals, translations and epistles, ethnographies and histories – all on Haiti.

1. Published by the Haitian Studies Association and edited by USCB Black Studies scholar Claudine Michel, the Journal of Haitian Studies is among the most important and influential venues for the interdisciplinary study of Haitian politics, history, and culture. The Journal’s recent special issue on the life and work of the late anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot counts among their best. With contributions from Nadève Ménard, J. Michael Dash, Patrick Bellegarde-Smith, Jemima Pierre, Carolle Charles, and others, the issue is always insightful – and oft-times moving – and serves as a critical testament to Truillot’s life and intellectual imprint.

2. We have much to be thankful for to Kaiama L. Glover and Archipelago Books for their translation of Frankétienne Ready to Burst, given how rare it is to find English versions of the work of the poet, playwright, singer, comedian, painter, and grand force behind Haiti’s “Spiralist” movement. Written in his inimical, electric style and first published in 1968, Ready to Burst is at once a smoldering account of life under the Duvalier dictatorship and a searing demonstration of the rendering of language in the cause of liberation. “I speak the madness of the sea in heat,” Frankétienne writes.  “Dialect of hurricanes. Patois of rains. Language of storms. Unfolding of life in a spiral.” Nuff said.

3. Also by Frankétienne, Chaophonie begins with a request from poet and editor Rodney St. Eloi for a short monograph for Montreal-based publisher Mémoire d’encrier’s Cadastres series. It ends as an epic, visionary, freewheeling eighty-eight page epistolary exploration of time and memory, the practice of writing and textualization, and the nature of cities from Port-au-Prince to Montreal. Another wonderful book from the remarkable Mémoire d’encrier.

4. Also from Mémoire d’encrier: a French-Kreyol edition of Edouard Glissant’s play, Monsieur Toussaint. Set in Fort de Joux, the French fortress where the imprisoned Toussaint L’Ouverture died in 1803, Monsieur Tousaint unfolds through a series of visitations, meditations, and historical flashbacks. Glissant gives us a stark, haunting reconstruction of Toussaint’s journey from enslaved African to Black revolutionary.

5. Historian Ada Ferrer’s Freedom’s Mirror: Cuba and Haiti in the Age of Revolution is a critical addition to a growing body of scholarship examining the impact and repercussions of the Haitian Revolution on the Caribbean and the Atlantic World. Meticulously researched and elegantly written, Freedom’s Mirror demonstrates how the end of slavery in Saint-Domingue prompted slavery’s retrenchment in Cuba, as Cuban planters scrambled to bolster production of sugar for world markets. But Ferrer also shows how the Haitian Revolution sparked a response in Cuba that is, arguably, still felt in the Americas today: the fear of “another Haiti.”

6. In Liberty, Fraternity, Exile: Haiti and Jamaica after Emancipation, Matthew J. Smith’s traces the movements of exiles and abolitionists, laborers and merchants as they crossed the waters between Haiti and Jamaica over the nineteenth century. In the process, Smith has written a brilliant, path-breaking micro-history of political-economic and social exchange that enhances our understanding of intra-Caribbean migration in the formation of the modern Caribbean while making a critical intervention into studies of the African Diaspora.

7. While the vexed state of Dominicans of Haitian descent is well known, elsewhere in the Caribbean, Haitian-descended migrants and citizens are also catching hell. The Bahamas, where Haitian migrants are regularly imprisoned, deported, and humiliated, is a case in point. In this context, anthropologist Bertin Louis’ My Soul is in Haiti: Protestantism in the Haitian Diaspora of the Bahamas, is especially timely. My Soul is in Haiti draws on fieldwork in the Bahamas, Haiti, and the United States to create a valuable analysis of citizenship, state formation, diaspora, and, importantly, religion.

8. Inspired by the monumental historical work of the late George Corvington, geographer Georges Eddy Lucien’s Une modernisation manquée: Port au Prince, 1915-1956 offers a necessary addition to the literature on Haiti’s capital. Richly documented, Lucien draws on archives in Haiti, France, and the United States, in addition to novels, historical works, and economic studies to tell the ambivalent story of Port-au-Prince’s development and modernization since the onset of the United States occupation of Haiti in 1915. The first published of two volumes, we eagerly await the second.

9. Law professor Fran Quigley’s How Human Rights Can Build Haiti: Activists, Lawyers, and the Grassroots Campaign is an inspiring account of the work of the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux and the Institute of Justice and Democracy in Haiti. From the 1994 Raboteau Massacre to the botched recovery efforts following the 2010 earthquake, Quigley documents the work of both organizations in legal battles surrounding everything from the 1994 Raboteau Massacre, to the prosecution of Duvalier, to the botched recovery efforts following the 2010 earthquake while showing the connection between poverty and human rights – and the critical role of grassroots organizations to social change.

10. As 2015 marks the centenary of the United States military intervention into and subsequent nineteen-year occupation of Haiti (1915-1934), we thought we’d close this list with reference to some of the classic studies on the Occupation.  Roger Gaillard, Suzy Castor, Kethly Millet, and Francois Blancpain are among the stand-out French language historians of the Occupation. In English, Rayford W. Logan, Hans Schmidt and Brenda Gayle Plummer have written critical diplomatic histories while both J. Michael Dash and Mary Renda have offered seminal readings of the Occupation’s literary and cultural discourses. Haitian historian Leon D. Pamphile Contrary Destinies: A Century of America’s Occupation, Deoccupation, and Reoccupation of Haiti will be published in July while the aforementioned Journal of Haitian Studies has out a call for papers for a special issue titled L’Occupation 1915-1934: Perspectives on Haiti and the US at the Centennial. We can only hope to see more.

Best wishes for 2015.

The Public Archive’s prior readings lists: Radical Black Reading: 2011. 2012. 2013. 2014. Reading Haiti: 2011. 2012. Radical Black Cities: 2012.

Image: John Relly Beard, “Toussaint Reading the Abbe Raynal’s Work,” “The Life of Toussaint L’Ouverture, the Negro Patriot of Hayti: Comprising an Account of the Struggle for Liberty in the Island, and a Sketch of Its History to the Present Period.” London: Ingram, Cooke, and Co., 1853. Source:  Documenting the American South. 2004. University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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