African Americans and the State of Haitian Studies

“African Americans and the State of Haitian Studies”

I would like to see more African American scholars writing more about Haiti’s national history & the Haitian Revolution. I believe their contribution will make a great impact–in terms of different perspectives, yet similar struggle, etc.) on the current state of Haitian Studies.

Beginning in the first half of the nineteenth century, African American writers and intellectuals were actively contributing to the field of Haitian studies; for example, James Theodore Holly

paved the way by publishing “Vindication of the Capacity of the Negro Race for Self-Governance and Civilized Progress” (1859); W. E. B. Du Bois discussed the significance of the Haitian Revolution in his Harvard doctoral dissertation, “The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade to the United States of America, 1638-1870 (1896) and also published a number of articles in The Crisis magazine during the American occupation in Haiti (1915-1934); James Weldon Johnson published “Self-Determining Haiti” and “The Truth about Haiti” (four articles in the 1920s); Zora Neale Hurston, “Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica” (1938);

Rayford Logan published one of the most important works on Haiti’s diplomacy history, “The Diplomatic Relations of the United States with Haiti, 1776-1891” (1941) and “Haiti and the Dominican Republic” (1968); Langston Hughes translated Jacques Roumain’s “Gouverneurs de la rosée” (1944) as “Masters of the Dew” (1948) in English; Mercer Cook, a friend of Dantes Bellegarde, published a number of seminal articles on Haitian literature and education; Carolyn Fowler published the first biography (1972) in English on Haiti’s most important Marxist and radical communist public intellectual Jacques Roumain; Brenda Gayle Plummer published “Haiti and the Great Power” (1988) and “Haiti and the United States” (2003); Katherine Dunham, “Island Possessed” (1994), etc. I can go on and on…

African American Studies scholars, activists, writers, anthropologists, intellectuals, historians, literary scholars, religious scholars, theologians, painters (Remember Jacob Lawrence’s majestic and stunning series of painting on Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian Revolution!): the Haitian people and Haitian Studies NEED you in such a time as this!

***Do check out Brandon Byrd’s excellent new book, “The Black Republic: African Americans and the Fate of Haiti” (2019) and of course, Gerald Horne’s important work, “Confronting Black Jacobins: The U.S., the Haitian Revolution, and the Origins of the Dominican Republic” (2015).

“Harriet Tubman as the Black Moses”

“Harriet Tubman as the Black Moses”

“Harriet Tubman” is one of the best movies about Black agency and freedom and the role of faith in the struggle for justice and emancipation in the United States. Harriet Tubman, the great abolitionist, listened to the voice of God and she acted and followed the road toward freedom, as planned by God himself. Slavery is the antithesis of freedom, and chattel slavery is also the antithesis of the will of God for human beings. Tubman grasped both truths and understood that it was the will of God for people to be born and live free; as a result, she acted on behalf of God and in the best interest of enslaved Africans. She was committed to their freedom because she knew God was also committed to the liberation of the oppressed and the enslaved.

There are two revolutionary stories of freedom in the Bible. One is supernatural; the other is natural. Both are equally important and necessary for human beings to live in peace and harmony with God and each other. One is not more important than the other; supernatural freedom is as indispensable as existential freedom. Existential freedom does not have more value than spiritual freedom. Human beings need both freedoms in order to live according to what God has purposed for them and reach their full potential in life.

Both supernatural and natural freedom are the collaborative work of God and human beings. In the Christian understanding of supernatural or spiritual freedom, in and through Jesus Christ, God the Greatest Freedom Fighter, rescues people from both the dominion of sin and the consequences of sin. Christians call this act of God “salvation” or “liberation.”

The second great story of freedom in the Bible is the Exodus, in which God radically intervened in human history and through a Hebrew freedom fighter called Moses to deliver the Hebrews out of the Egyptian slavery and pharaonic imperialism. In the Hebrew Bible, the story of the Exodus is the dominant theme and most important narrative in God’s intervention in global history for the sake of human liberation and to crush down human oppression and abuse.

Everywhere slavery exists, human beings are not free; where slavery triumphs, the image of God in human beings is challenged and human dignity is depreciated. God is the Greatest Abolitionist in human history who has willed that nobody shall live in bondage and oppression. Human liberation is a divine commitment.


“Letter from Frederick Douglass to Harriet Tubman, 1868

Rochester, August 29, 1868

Dear Harriet: I am glad to know that the story of your eventful life has been written by a kind lady, and that the same is soon to be published. You ask for what you do not need when you call upon me for a word of commendation. I need such words from you far more than you can need them from me, especially where your superior labors and devotion to the cause of the lately enslaved of our land are known as I know them. The difference between us is very marked. Most that I have done and suffered in the service of our cause has been in public, and I have received much encouragement at every step of the way. You, on the other hand, have labored in a private way. I have wrought in the day – you in the night. I have had the applause of the crowd and the satisfaction that comes of being approved by the multitude, while the most that you have done has been witnessed by a few trembling, scarred, and foot-sore bondmen and women, whom you have led out of the house of bondage, and whose heartfelt, “God bless you,” has been your only reward. The midnight sky and the silent stars have been the witnesses of your devotion to freedom and of your heroism. Excepting John Brown – of sacred memory – I know of no one who has willingly encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people than you have. Much that you have done would seem improbable to those who do not know you as I know you. It is to me a great pleasure and a great privilege to bear testimony for your character and your works, and to say to those to whom you may come, that I regard you in every way truthful and trustworthy.

Your friend,

Frederick Douglass.”

Source: Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman by Sarah Hopkins Bradford.

Letter from Frederick Douglass to Harriet Tubman, 1868

“On Writing Book Reviews and the Ethic of Academic Kindness”

“On Writing Book Reviews and the Ethic of Academic Kindness”

When I was a doctoral student, I used to write three to four book reviews annually. Not only did I get to receive a free book, I had an amazing opportunity to learn more about my academic fields of interest from experts and specialists. When it was time for me to write my own dissertation, I stopped doing book reviews because of the pressure and the anxiety associated with the writing process ✍.

As a result, I made a commitment to myself to be a positive reviewer and not to denigrate any book or undermine somebody’s efforts to write an academic book (unless the book promotes violence and hate and dehumanize people)

Folks: writing a (good) book is already hard work and a HUGE commitment and responsibility; writing a terrible, harsh, and heartless review of somebody’s book is not a mark of rigorous and careful scholarship.

Let’s extend some kindness, hospitality, and tolerance to our academic peers!
With your pen 🖊, you can humanize the academia and make the world a better place.