History and Healing: Week of January 14
"We should not forget that the freedom you and I enjoy today...is largely due to the brave stand taken by the Black sons of Haiti." Frederick Douglass
Why Black People Should Revere Haiti (Ayiti): The Haitian Revolution (1791-1804)
In the wake of the Trump’s ignorant and appalling comments, let’s talk about Haiti—the tiny nation that is often maligned by White people, especially those representing western power. Remember when, after a devastating 2010 earthquake, Pat Robertson claimed, that Haiti has been “cursed” by one thing after another because, according to him, the Haitians made “a pact to the devil” to gain their independence from their French colonizers? Trump, like Robertson back then, has dredged up some of the vile nonsense that has been used to denigrate Haiti ever since the people there had the audacity to brilliantly fight White people to get free. The truth is that the history of Haiti is something to behold, for in the process of getting free the Haitians defeated Spain, Britain, and France to become the first independent free Black nation in the Western Hemisphere.
It is impossible to tell the glorious history of the Haitian Revolution in a short writing, so I will just make a few important points. I will start by saying, at the time of the Haitian uprising, Haiti, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, was called Saint Domingue. Originally, it had been conquered by Spain, but it fell into the hands of the French, so that by the time of the slave rebellion it was a colony of France, which is why many Haitians speak French to this day.
Saint Domingue was a “sugar colony” where Black enslaved people performed extremely difficult labor under inhumane and indecent conditions. Saint Domingue was called “The Eden of the Western World” and “The Pearl of the Antilles” because it was the wealthiest, most profitable colony in the world—producing almost half of the sugar and coffee consumed in Europe and in the Americas, as well as other products. It generated anywhere from approximately two-fifths to two-thirds of France’s world trade income. (There were about 8000 plantations in Haiti.) So, it was highly coveted by western powers.
But why is Haiti so maligned? Think back to your elementary and high school days and what you learned about the hey-day of the French military. You likely learned that Napoleon Bonaparte was the “baddest” military “genius” walking the face of the planet at that time, right? Well, guess what? Under the extraordinary military genius of, first, a Black man named Toussaint L’Ouverture, and then a Black man named Jean-Jacques Dessalines (who declared “Haiti” free in 1804), Haiti infuriated, frustrated, and ultimately defeated and vanquished Napoleon’s forces—thereby embarrassing France and White folks. The battles were brutal and many lives were lost, but in the end, the Haitian Revolution represented an astonishing achievement that reverberated all over the world. It was a serious blow to the notion of “White Supremacy; and western White powers have been incensed ever since.
So, how could the fact that the Haitians defeated Napoleon, Spain, and England be explained to the satisfation of White people? Well, it is said that the night before the slave rebellion, the Haitian leaders participated in a Voodeaux or Voudou ceremony. You call it “voodoo,” but it is really Voudou (or Vodou) which is translated to mean “Spirit.” It is impossible to discuss something as complicated and sophisticated as Voudou in a few sentences. In fact, it is difficult to discuss it as one religious order, because it takes many forms. So, let me say that during the slave trade, as you know, African peoples were dropped off in Europe, North America, Central America, and South America in what is known as the African Diaspora (Diaspora meaning the movement or scattering of a people from their ancestoral homeland).
So, Haitian Voudou, Cuban Santeria, Brazilian Candomble, and Jamaican Revival Zion were (and continue to be) legitimate religious systems practiced by African people, in different parts of the world, who were attempting to preserve their own indigenous religious traditions and beliefs while being forced to take on the religious traditions of their captors. So, through a process called syncretism, what you see in Voudou are indigenous West African religious beliefs intermingled with elements of Roman Catholicism and even some Native American beliefs; and a lot of the symbolism in Voudou and Catholicism is the same. Voudou has spiritual, cultural, and social relevance to Haitians, and yes it is tied to their revolutionary struggle. Today, the country is about 80% Roman Catholic, and some say it is 100% Voudou!
So, because the Haitians practiced Voudou, and outsiders did not understand it, and since the Haitians defeated the Spanish, English, and French, many white people considered it the religion or spirit of resistance, and they sought to demonize it and make others think Haitians were wild people running around practicing so-called “Black Arts.” They were hoping that whatever the Haitians were doing, it would not be used to help other Blacks gain their freedom. In reality, the Haitians were men and women of tremendous faith who believed they had the right to be free. So, they sought to, and did, liberate themselves.
Now, in truth, practically everyone who has seriously studied Haiti walks away with the unmistakable understanding that the real reason Haiti has suffered what Randall Robinson calls “an unbroken agony” is because in the process of winning their freedom, the Haitians contributed mightily to the destruction of the fundamental tenets that slavery rested upon in the first place, including the notions of Whites supremacy and superiority.
The Haitians also inspired Black people throughout the Americas (and the world) who were still in bondage and helped them believe that they, too, could get free. It is said that many of the slave uprisings in the United States and in the rest of the Americas, were inspired, in part, by the Haitian Revolution, including the ones staged by Denmark Vesey (1822) and Nat Turner (1831). These rebellions were ultimately unsuccessful, but they rocked slaveholders to the core.
Other things that injured Haiti include the fact that, in defeat, the French demanded that Haiti pay them enormous sums of money, including 150 million francs, and Haiti paid France in an attempt to have a place in the international commercial community. So, Haiti paid reparations to the French for beating them! However, after the Haitian Revolution, Europe imposed a trade blockade against the country for many years, the United States did not recognize Haiti as an independent republic until 1862, and the US military occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934 with some very horrific consequences for Haiti.
I could go on and on about the ways Haiti has been punished by western powers—but it is not because of some pact with the devil, it is because they had the audacity to liberate themselves. Frederick Douglass, who, from 1889 to 1891, served as Minister Resident and Consul General to Haiti, said, “Haiti is Black and we have not yet forgiven Haiti for being Black.”
All Americans owe a debt of gratitude and support to Haiti. Prior to being defeated by the Haitians, Napoleon had wanted to use what was then Saint Domingue’s land mass as part of a military strategy, and he wanted to use some of those courageous and brilliant military men from Saint Domingue to attack the United States to enlarge the French Empire. France had already purchased a huge stretch of land in North America—referred to as the Louisiana Territory—from Spain. However, after the Haitians defeated him, Napoleon gave up that dream of military expansion and actually sold the land that had been purchased from Spain to the United States for the bargain basement price of 15 million dollars. Subsequently, the Louisiana Purchase was divided into 13 states or parts of states. Napoleon did this to keep the land from falling into the hands of the British, as France and Britain had been warring off and on for years.
I will end with Frederick Douglass’ words: “You and I and all of us have reason to respect Haiti for her services to the cause of liberty and human equality throughout the world, and for the noble qualities she exhibited in all the trying conditions of her early history… We should not forget that the freedom you and I enjoy today, that the freedom that eight hundred thousand colored people enjoy in the British West Indies, the freedom that has come to the colored race the world over, is largely due to the brave stand taken by the Black sons of Haiti.”
(The foregoing was adapted from a speech given by Dr. Rhonda Sherrod in Huntsville, Alabama in 2010.)
History and Healing: Week of November 19
"...she had nothing to fall back on; not maleness, not whiteness, not ladyhood, not anything. And out of the profound desolation of her reality she may well have invented herself."
Brilliant multiple prize-winning author
Black Women's Sexual Integrity
In addition to her courageous and enlightening work on lynching, the great Ida B. Wells, and many other prominent Black women, like Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, and Mary Church Terrell, worked to restore and reclaim the image and reputation of Black women. These women worked to confront racial and sexual atrocities.
Intent on sexually ravaging Black women, white men manufactured and propagated vicious and appalling lies about Black women that still resonate in the culture to this day.
They even created the false narrative that Black women couldn’t be raped because supposedly any sexual encounter with a Black woman was welcomed—no matter how brutal. The more she fought and struggled, the more she must have wanted it, so the lie went.
In fact, white men blamed Black women for the supposed "bestial" nature of Black men; there were just so many vile, destructive lies spewed out about the sexuality of Black women and men to justify unconscionable white male behavior.
Moving forward, before she ever refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man, Rosa Parks, on behalf of the NAACP, investigated the outrageous case of Recy Taylor, a beautiful, 24-year-old, Black, married mom who was abducted, at gunpoint, outside of her church as she and some friends left a night service in Abbeville, Alabama in 1944. Recy was driven to some woods, savagely raped by at least six of the white thugs, and left on the side of the road naked. A newspaper account at the time said the cretins who raped her were from "prominent" white families.
While this conversation is taking place in the culture about sexual misconduct and assault, make sure you recognize, honor, and say a prayer for the countless Black women all over this country who were and are traumatize and devastated by unimaginable and incomprehensible sexual violence. Stay awake.
Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin
** Edited the Women's Era, the first American newspaper published by and for African American women
** Abolistionist who also worked hard as a suffragist
** Husband was the first Black graduate of Harvard Law School, George Lewis Ruffin, who served on the Boston City Council, as a state
legislator, and as the first Black municipal judge in Boston
** Mother of four
** Was one of the founders of the Women's Era Club
** One of the founding members of the Boston NAACP
** Born in 1842; Died in 1924
Frances Ellen Watkins Harper
** A teacher, poet, activist, fiction writer, and essayist -- considered the mother of African American journalism for her anti-slavery writings
** Helped financially support the Underground Railroad with earnings from her writings
** Raised by her uncle and aunt; her uncle founded and taught at the the Watkins Academy School
** Lectured on the anti-slavery and temperance circuits
** A co-founder of the National Association of Colored Women, a member of the American Women's Suffrage
Association, and director of the American Association of Colored Youth
** Published the novel, Iola Leroy, and this was a watershed event in Black fiction publishing in 1892
Mary Church Terrell
**Born in 1863, she was the daughter of Robert Church, a brilliant, former enslaved man, who became one of the wealthiest Black men in the
country (some sources say he was a millionaire) by purchasing land in Memphis when many people moved away during the yellow fever
epidemic in the 1800s.
**A writer, activist, orator, and educator, Mary earned both her bachelor of arts and master's degrees from Oberlin College (now university)
and became one of the founders of the NAACP
**Taught at Oberlin and, later, at the M Street Colored High School, which became the famed Dunbar High School in Washington D.C.
**Her husband, Robert Terrell, was the chariman of the language department at M Street.
**Lobbied President Harrison to condemn public lynching without success, so formed the Colored Women's League to address racial social ills
**Co-founder, and first president of, the National Association of Colored Women
** Served on the Washington, D.C. board of education
**Published her autobiography -- A Colored Woman in a White World.
**Died in 1954, the year of Brown v. Board of Education
Updated November 29, 2017; errors corrected: yellow fever epidemic (not smallpox); Robert Church may not have been quite a millionaire, but he was very, very wealthy -- different sources read differently; a typo said Mary Church Terrell died at 20 :)
History and Healing: Week of November 5 "I can't die but once."
When Spirit Calls: Is your Spirit calling you to great things?
Harriet Tubman (History & Healing; Part 1)
Think you know everything you need to know about Harriet Tubman? Think again! This lady was the embodiment of what it means to be psychologically healthy.
When Spirit Calls…
What animated Harriet? Is your life force calling you to do something big; or, perhaps, something small that will have a big impact?
When you bring into consciousness the image of this tiny woman traveling into danger again and again to free Black people, you have to conclude, as did the influential psychologist, Abraham Maslow, that Harriet Tubman was the very representation of what it means to be psychologically well, to be healthy.
A spiritual woman, not only was Harriet the greatest conductor on the Underground Railroad, she was also a spy and a scout who gathered invaluable intelligence for Union commanders. A master strategist, she directed forces during the Civil War, including on the gutsy Combahee River Raid where her group destroyed millions of dollars worth of Confederate property and supplies—while liberating more than 700 slaves.
Like many of our ancestors, Harriet understood the medicinal properties of plants and herbs, so she was a reassuring nurse (or should we say "doctor") of tremendous reputation among military men in need of healing.
A suffragette with style, Harriet married a war veteran 22 years her junior.
Let’s all hail this queen by freeing ourselves from what Malcolm X famously called the prison of our minds. Do You. Free yourself of your psychological luggage, so you can be yourself.
Harriet’s genius and bravery allowed her to famously declare, “I never lost a passenger.” What will yours allow you to say?
What is the lesson of Harriet Tubman telling you? Are you grappling with something that has been laid on your heart, that you can’t shake, but that you consider too awesome. Something you think is out of your grasp? Will you be able to forgive yourself years from now when you realize you gave up too easily?
If it’s one thing that Black people know how to do, it’s strive and work hard—very hard. You work hard on your job—some of us work two and three jobs; why not work hard for your dream, whatever it is? Black people! We know how to innovate, how to make a way out of no way, how to improvise—never forget that. It’s in your DNA. Just decide for whom you want to do all that work!
Think of it this way: Five or ten years from now, you will have accomplished what you want to do, or you will not have even tried, but five or ten years will still have elapsed. Don’t die while you’re still alive. Free yourself and be yourself!
“I can’t die but once.”
“Once in Hilton Head, Harriet began her work as a spy and an organizer and leader of scouts. She selected and paid (out of “secret service money”) nine reliable Black scouts, riverboat pilots who knew every inch of the local waterways, and trained them in methods of gathering intelligence. Using Harriet’s knowledge of covert travel and subterfuge and their familiarity with the terrain, these scouts mapped the shorelines and islands of South Carolina… Historian H. Donald Winkler, in his book Stealing Secrets, writes: ‘Harriet and her nine-man spy team evolved into a kind of special-forces operation for the Black regiments. Her team sneaked up and down rivers and into swamps and marshes to determine enemy positions, movements, and fortifications on the shoreline beyond the Union pickets.’” To read more go to: https://www.army.mil/article/126731/harriet_tubman_nurse_spy_scout
Cool Fact: Harriet Tubman is to be honored on the 20 dollar bill—replacing the murderous Andrew Jackson.
Why the course? Because "the truth shall make you free." We need to know the truth, not the bastardized narrative we have been told in an attempt to dehumanizes us. Our historical reality is worlds apart from what most of us have been taught. The honest history of our people will both empower and provide us with an understanding of why the world around us looks the way it does. Our aim is to share knowledge, provoke thought, advance understanding, and promote healing. We hope you like it!