Monday, August 21, 2017

The Haitian Revolution: 21 August 1791 – 1 January 1804


The Haitian Revolution was a successful anti-slavery and anti-colonial insurrection by self-liberat[ing] slaves against French colonial rule in Saint-Domingue, now the sovereign nation of Haiti. It began in 1791 and ended in 1804 [21 August 1791 – 1 January 1804] with the former colony’s independence. It was the only slave uprising that led to the founding of a state, which was both free from slavery, and ruled by non-whites and former captives. With the recent increase in Haitian Revolutionary Studies, it is now widely seen as a defining moment in the history of racism in the Atlantic World.”

“We seek only to bring men to the liberty that God has given them, and that other men have taken from them only by transgressing His immutable will.” — François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture (20 May 1743 – 7 April 1803).

Recommended Reading:
  • Blackburn, Robin. The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, 1776-1848. New York: Verso, 1998.
  • Brown, Gordon S. Toussaint’s Clause: The Founding Fathers and the Haitian Revolution. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2005.
  • Dubois, Laurent. Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2004.
  • Dubois, Laurent and John D. Garrigus. Slave Revolution in the Caribbean, 1789-1804: A Brief History with Documents. Boston. MA: Bedford/St. Martin, 2nd ed., 2017.
  • Dun, James Alexander. Dangerous Neighbors: Making the Haitian Revolution in Early America. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016.
  • Geggus, David Patrick, ed. The Impact of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2001.
  • Geggus, David Patrick and Norman Fiering, eds. The World of the Haitian Revolution. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2009.
  • Girard, Philippe R. The Slaves Who Defeated Napoleon: Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian War of Independence, 1801–1804. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 2011.
  • Girard, Philippe. Toussaint Louverture: A Revolutionary Life. New York: Basic Books, 2016.
  • Horne, Gerald. Confronting Black Jacobins: The United States, the Haitian Revolution, and the Origins of the Dominican Republic. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2015.
  • Jackson, Maurice and Jacqueline Bacon, eds. African Americans and the Haitian Revolution: Selected Essays and Historical Documents. New York: Routledge, 2010.
  • James, C.L.R. The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution. New York: Random House/Vintage Books, 2nd ed., 1963/1989 (1938).
  • Munro, Martin and Elizabeth Walcott-Hackshaw, eds. Reinterpreting the Haitian Revolution and Its Cultural Aftershocks. Kingston, Jamaica: University of the West Indies Press, 2006. 
  • Popkin, Jeremy D. You Are All Free: The Haitian Revolution and the Abolition of Slavery. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
  • Ros, Martin. Night of Fire: The Black Napoleon and The Battle for Haiti. New York: Sarpedon Publishers, 1994.
  • Stinchcombe, Arthur L. Sugar Island Slavery in the Age of Enlightenment: The Political Economy of the Caribbean World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995.
  • West, Michael O., William G. Martin, and Fanon Che Wilkins, eds. From Toussaint to Tupac: The Black International since the Age of Revolution. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2009.
Here is some biographical background and introductory material to the 42 paintings in Lawrence’s series, The Life of Toussaint L’Overture (1938), several photos from which I’ve posted here: 

“Lawrence painted not just what he saw, but also what he heard from the oral historians of Harlem. Lectures on aspects of American and African-American history and culture given at the 135th Street library (history previously unknown to Lawrence since the topic was not part of the New York City public education curriculum) sparked his interest in these subjects. He, along with many other artists, heard lectures by Joel C. Rogers, Richard B. Moore, and the carpenter-cum-scholar “Professor” Charles C. Seifert. These lectures were part of a community-wide effort in Harlem to learn and value the history of African Americans and their contribution to American history. Lawrence was so impressed after having heard one of Seifert’s lectures that he was inspired to research the history and political struggles of his people. Motivated by the courageous events he studied, he was compelled to create, in rapid succession, a series of paintings on the important African American heroic narratives: The Life of Toussaint L’Overture (1938), The Life of Frederick Douglass (1939), and The Life of Harriet Tubman (1940). The stories and struggles of these monumental freedom fighters became icons of survival and hope.”—Leslie King-Hammond, “Inside-Outside, Uptown-Downtown:  Jacob Lawrence and the Aesthetic Ethos of the Harlem Working-Class Community,” in Peter T. Nesbett and Michelle DuBois, eds. Over the Line: The Art and Life of Jacob Lawrence. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, in association with Jacob Lawrence Catalogue Raisonné Project. 2000: 77-78.

“Influenced by storytelling techniques derived from film, the Toussaint L’Ouverture series unfolds episodically and kaleidoscopically, presenting scenes at various locations, during various times, and from various points of view. Each scene was carefully orchestrated for content; before picking up his brushes, Lawrence spent several weeks poring over biographies of Toussaint’s life, as well as historical and socioeconomic accounts of Haiti. Like a screenwriter, the artist emphasized, condensed, or omitted narrative details in order to underscore his overriding message. For Lawrence, Toussaint’s prominent roles in commandeering the Haitian Revolution and drafting the country’s new constitution epitomized the ability of an authoritative individual to bring about major social change.

Evident throughout the series is Lawrence’s strong acumen in manipulating shapes and colors to communicate with clarity and emotion. Demonstrating his penchant for dynamic yet cohesive patterning, the artist repeated colors and motifs in order to unify the sequence across its individual images. By employing flat shapes bereft of shading and cast shadows, he eliminated extraneous detail and strove for greater legibility. A pronounced sense of graphic design predominates throughout, so when viewed in their totality the 41 images generate a cumulative visual power, an upshot rendered even more forceful by the intimate spaces of our prints and drawings gallery.

Created in 1937–38, when Lawrence was just 20 years old, the Toussaint L’Ouverture series launched the artist’s career on a national stage, and its success provided momentum to further elaborate his aesthetic vision. For the next six decades, Lawrence continued to harness the power of abstracted forms to address significant social issues, and a host of gallery and museum exhibitions amplified his fame. At the time of his death at the age of 82, he was among the most distinguished artists in the nation.” — Mark Cole, curator of American painting and sculpture at the Cleveland Museum of Art since 2006.

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