By Ardain IsmaCSMS Magazine Staff WriterCelebrating black history with the sole understanding of honoring black history and achievements in America is a nice thing. It is great when the celebration goes beyond achievements by Blacks in America to include all great accomplishments by Blacks everywhere: in Africa, as well as in the African Diaspora. In that regard, CSMS says BRAVO!! to the organizers of the event last Thursday. Diversity transcends ethnicity and unites people under shared and common goals. It was that understanding that drove so many to look to Haiti when it became independent in 1804, thereby breaking the chain of slavery, the highest form of cruelty ever inflicted upon a human race. Yes, they had good reason to do so. After ten years of intense warfare (1791-1801), the revolutionary former slaves in Saint Domingue, the name of the colonial era of Haiti, achieved something that the whole humanity should owe them for: defeating the armies of tyranny, allowing freedom and hope to spring in the heart of all freedom lovers, vindicating the black race before the eyes of other nations, and breaking a record that still stands two hundred years later. Never before and never again, has a slave revolt brought about its desired end: freedom. Henceforth, Haiti became an instant celebrity; a dazzling place where every child of Africa wanted to reach at all cost. But if Haiti won friends all around the globe for championing the cause of all disenfranchised people everywhere, it also had its mortal enemies. Not withstanding internal contradictions, the absence of a national project to move the country forward, the political backwardness of its ruling elite, and the blatant hatred for the masses by the bourgeoisie, there were others since early on who were downright determined to put the genie back in its bottle. The European powers did all they could to undermine the existence of the new state. Great Britain, the world power of the day, was petrified over its plantations, just 75 miles away in Jamaica. France, having been dealt a colossal blow to its prestige, was about to lose Louisiana, as a result, and emphatically refused to recognize the new country. Spain was struggling to maintain its colonial empire in Latin America and blamed Haiti for its battlefield disasters and defeats at the hands the Bolivarian revolutionaries. The United States, although the country traded with the new state, was not ready to officially recognize Haiti. “Our position regarding Haiti is plain. We never can acknowledge her independence,” said South Carolina Senator, Robert V. Hayne, whose state was still a major bastion for slavery. Even as the Civil War was being waged over the issue of slavery, Senator Charles Summer, who raised the issue of recognizing Haiti and Liberia on the Senate floor, received a stinging rebuff at the hands of representatives of border states like Maryland and Kentucky, who strongly objected to the “presence of Black diplomats in Washington.” (The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 2, Oct., 1917) It is not so certain that this fame, or even the trace of it, this emblematic and awesome hope that leaped from the hearts of all descendants of Africa more than two hundred years could still be found in the hearts and minds of those who still claim to be part of the African Diaspora. The Haiti of today is nothing like what it used to be. It is now a country that has been forced to face a dreadful reality: survival or death. With its future uncertain, its independence compromised, its poverty entrenched, and its state bureaucracy utterly corrupted, it is hard to imagine that prosperity could be brought to its beleaguered population any time soon. Haiti stands alone to either sink or swim out of the ocean of despair. Yet, there is still hope. There is still hope that it will eventually crawl out of darkness and land on its feet to walk erect and high, for it was never destined to perish. Tomorrow, before the sun goes down, and to the great dismay of everyone, it will, once again, defy the odds to make its final journey out of that sugar-sand road, and out of that mud-clogged pathway, to reach the banks of the river of hope. It will soon cross the river, and deliverance will occur, as freedom will reign again. Oh yes, freedom will reign anew over its valleys, over its mountains, over its streams, and it will be a brand new day for all of its children. “The strength of a nation,” Mandela tells us, “cannot be measured by the fact it never falls, but rather in its ability to rise each time it falls.” To show the power that Haiti commanded more than one hundred years ago, here is an excerpt of a gut-wrenching article written by Theodore Holly in one of the abolitionist papers, The Anglo-African Magazine of New York, in 1859. Here, Hayti means Haiti. It was written as such because that was the way it was then pronounced, even by the Anglophones. Among all the nationalities of the world, Hayti stands without any question the solitary prodigy of history. Never before in all the annals of humanity has a race of men, chattelized and almost dehumanized, sprung by their own efforts and inherent energies from their brutalized condition into the manly status of independent, self-respecting free men at one gigantic bound; and thus took their place at once, side by side with nations whose sovereignty had been the mature growth of ages of human progress. The ancient glory of Ethiopia, Egypt, and Greece grows pale in comparison with the splendor of this Haytian achievement. Because civilization, having grown to gradual maturity under the most favorable circumstances on the banks of the Ganges, rolled its slow length along until it penetrated into Ethiopia, and from thence following the course of the Nile passed into Egypt, coursed onward in to Greece, and finally has rolled its restless tide over Modern Europe and the Western world. But the people of Hayti, without the elevating influence of civilization among them, without a favorable position for development, without assistance from any quarter, and in spite of the powerful combination of opposing circumstances—in which they found themselves at times contending against the armies of France, England, and Spain—these people, I say, in the face of all these obstacles, aroused themselves to the consciousness of their own inherent dignity and shook off from their limbs the shackles and badges of their degradation, and successfully claimed a place among the most enlightened and heroic sovereignties of the world. Such, in short, is the important position that Hayti holds when compared with the nations of all ages, past and present, that have figured in the world’s history. But this importance does not diminish in the least if we take a more circumscribed view of her relations. Let us confine ourselves to this continent alone and compare her with the nationalities of the New World. She is second on the list of independent sovereignties in the Western hemisphere that have successfully thrown off European domination during the last 80 years. The United States can claim to have preceded the honor of giving contributed to the success of American independence by the effusion of the blood of her sable sons, who led by the gallant Rigaud, a man of color, fought side by side with the American heroes in the Battle of Savannah. Since her independence, her government cannot claim the same stability of administration as that of the United States and Brazil, yet she can claim to have been far superior in this respect to all the Hispano-American nationalities that surround her.
From these thoughts, it will be seen that whatsoever is to be the future destiny of the descendants of Africa, Hayti certainly holds the most important relation to that destiny. And if we were to be reduced to the dreaded alternative of having her historic fame blotted out of existence, or that celebrity which may have been acquired elsewhere by all the rest of our race combined, we should say preserve the name, the fame, and the sovereign existence of Hayti though everything else shall perish. Yes, let Britain and France undermine, if they will, the enfranchisement which they gave to their West Indian slaves by their present apprenticeship system; let the lone star of Liberia, placed in the firmament of nationalities by a questionable system of American philanthropy, go out in darkness; let the opening resources of Central Africa be again shut up in their wonted seclusion; let the names and deeds of our Nat Turners, Denmark Veseys, Penningtons, Delanys, Douglasses, and Smiths be forgotten forever, but never let the self-emancipating deeds of the Haytian people be effaced; never let her heroically achieved nationality be brought low; no, never let the names of her Toussaint, her Dessalines, her Rigaud, her Christophe, and her Petion be forgotten, or blotted out from the historic pages of the world’s history. (The Anglo-African Magazine, New York, N. Y., June 1859)
Note: This article was first published last year in the CSMS NEWS, the old version of CSMS Magazine. Dr. Ardain Isma, Ph.D. is the chief editor for CSMS Magazine.