“Getting the Heroes and Historical Figures of the Haitian Revolution Right”

“Getting the Heroes and Historical Figures of the Haitian Revolution Right”

It is a grave misunderstanding of history and the forces and agents that bring about change in society to state that, for example, the revolutionary mission of Toussaint Louverture has failed because Toussaint did not lead the African revolutionaries to concretize the events leading to the Haitian Revolution and the birth of the Republic of Haiti. It is also a misreading of the historical trajectories and circumstances that brought about the achievement of the Haitian Revolutionary and the naissance of Haiti to assess the success of Jean-Jacques Dessalines (known as the Founder of the nation of Haiti) against that of other equally notable abolitionists and freedom fighters of this transcendent event in global history that resulted in the abolition of slavery and the founding of the Republic of Haiti.

Haitianists and historians of the Haitian Revolution should not have to portray the historical figures of the Haitian revolution against each other to highlight the success of one against the failure of the other. This attitude toward revolutionary Haiti and Black emancipation is a colonized way of thinking and interpreting what truly constitutes of Haitian heroism, Black radicalism, and Black sovereignty. By consequence, Toussaint Louverture did not fail Haiti and the enslaved Africans at Saint-Domingue, and Jean-Jacques Dessalines should not be regarded as a better leader and Haitian Patriot than Toussaint or Alexandre Pétion. The historical actions and intellectual aptitude of Henry Christophe and Jean-Jacques Dessalines should not be evaluated in light of the intellectual genius and military capability of Toussaint or Pétion. There would not have been a Toussaint or a Dessalines in Haitian history without the mentorship and military guidance of General Georges Biassou. There would not have been a Haitian revolution without the radical leadership and committed activism of historical figures such as François Makandal, Jean-Baptiste Chavannes, Vincent Ogé, Dutty Boukman, Cécile Fatiman, Dédée Bazile, Marie-Jeanne Lamartinière, Romaine-la-Prophétesse, etc. In the same line of thought, the realization of the Haitian revolution would not be a historical success and achievement without the contributions of the unknown African soldiers and African revolutionaries whose names are left out in the pages of history books.

The events of the Haitian revolution are linked, and its actors are connected to each other just like historical events and circumstances do not occur in isolation to those who orchestrate them. Heroes are created by a series of human networking and contingent circumstances, and historical actors and heroes are also the product of connected history and relational events. Each historical figure named above had left his or her own mark on the Revolution and Haiti’s national history, and each one contributed distinctively to the eventual emancipation of the enslaved African population in the French colony of Saint-Domimgue-Haiti. Each one of them has inspired the struggle against slavery, colonization, imperialism, and oppression in the land of Haiti and other societies in the world. The heroes and architects of the Haitian revolution are many, and their experience is not monolithic or homogeneous just like the events and trajectories of the Haitian Revolution. In the same vein, various religious traditions (i.e. Vodou, Christianity, Islam, Native American indigenous spirituality) and political systems (i.e. African, European, Caribbean) made the Revolution a historical possibility and an event of historical memory. Respectively, each actor of this watershed moment in human history contributed enormously to the formation and establishment of the nation-state of Haiti, directly and indirectly. There is not “one darling” of the Haitian revolution, and certainly, there is not “one hero or heroine” of revolutionary Haiti.

Finally, as it is often the case in global history and history of the nations, most heroes/heroines and freedom fighters in history (of emancipation, decolonization, independence, civil rights, desegregation, religious freedom, women’s rights, suffrage, and equality) such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., Moses (Lawgiver in Judaism), Prophet Mohammed (founder of Islam), Jesus of Nazareth (Founder of Christianity), Paul of Tarsus (Architect of Christianity), Patrice Lumumba, Steve Biko, Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, John Brown, Medgar Evers, Abraham Lincoln, Kwame Nkrumah, Che Guevara, Mohandas Gandhi, Karl Marx, and a host of other historical figures in this category did not live to see the fruit of their labor and faithful struggle for freedom and human flourishing. Yet they leave behind a cloud of witnesses and beneficiaries of their efforts and works.

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