Echoes of the Haitian Revolution

Martin Munro – Elizabeth Walcott Hackshaw – Editors

Univ of West Indies Pr (January 2009)

Paperback – 191 pages

It’s not every day that I review a college textbook but this one was so important that I sent my husband down to U of O to borrow it. Happy side note: all we need to borrow books at the University library is our regular old library card.

In 2004 the Haitians celebrated the bicentennial of their independence.  Most Americans were unaware or did not care. Yet this country owes a great deal to that victory. In fact, our nation would be very different if those brave Haitian slaves had not risen up against their oppressors. In a series of essays we receive a careful analysis of the events and circumstances surrounding the revolution. We also learn about the terrible effects of racism and how it renders certain countries invisible.  Haitian art forms, books describing the horrific lives of slaves, and modern cultural influences are discussed as well.

The introduction and first essay give the history behind the revolution. In 1803 Thomas Jefferson’s delegates purchased from Napoleon Bonaparte the territory known as the Louisiana Purchase. Because of its natural resources, farmland, and most of all, it gave us that all important port of New Orleans. In many ways it is considered the backbone of the American rise to world dominance. If Bonaparte had taken possession, or New Orleans had remained in the hands of Spain or France, we would have a very different country today. It would either be under the thumb of France, unless Americans had crawled back to the British for help to defeat them.

As Bonaparte was poised to launch his Louisiana expedition, the revolution had already begun in Haiti. Thousands of French soldiers had already died of yellow fever and when Haitian leader Toussaint was betrayed and kidnapped, they rose in open warfare.  Almost all the black and mulatto population actively turned against the French and even though thousands were killed, Bonaparte eventually found he no longer had sufficient troops to occupy either St. Domingue or Louisiana.

Because of his defeat by the Haitian people, there would be no American empire for Bonaparte. He sold the vast Louisiana territory because he did not think he could control it, deciding instead to profit off it. But it was America who profited from the sale while the blood of the Haitian people  paid for it.

Some have said that the Haitians won their revolution because Americans helped them. Not so. In fact all evidence goes the other way, that we abandoned them to the French. Imports on sugar and coffee fell to half what the normal was and claims of arms going to them simply has no credence whatsoever.

One of the most disturbing aspects of the whole thing was how America discounted and turned the first black republic into an invisible country. Racism is at its core. One has to dehumanize a race or people first in their  mind and in turn it allows that person to do anything, including depraved and inhuman, acts to them.

One of the essays reviewed two books about women who were driven to the edge because of their husband’s philandering with their female slaves. Unfortunately it did not move them to compassion but rather to imitate the psychopathic treatment of their men. The descriptions of torture and murder are ghastly.

The term “racist” has been overused in recent years, kind of like “abuse”. It waters down the meaning significantly, turning it into a few nasty comments or a turned down job. As bad as those things are, I believe it overlooks the sinister aspect of true racism and the inhumanity it produces in those who believe themselves superior to other races.

Let’s not forget what the Haitian slaves were up against, and what they are still up against as free people.

Help Haiti. We owe it to them.


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