ST. PETERSBURG – As part of the 2016 Heritage Lecture Series, Greater Mt. Zion AME and Cross & Anvil Human Services brought to St. Pete three days of very distinguished national speakers to discuss a variety of topics related to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. Gerald Horne spoke about his latest book, “Confronting Black Jacobins: The United States, the Haitian Revolution, and the Origins of the Dominican Republic” Jan. 13 at St. Petersburg College Allstate Center. Horne is an author, educator and John J. and Rebecca Moores Chair of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston.
Nationally renowned author and activist Dr. Cornel West called Horne “one of the few towering intellectuals of any color who is in the same ballpark as the inimitable W.E.B. Dubois and C.A.W. Clark.”
An important theme of this book, Horne noted, was that one of the many ways that African Americans have been able to escape the degradation of slavery and the despicable reality of Jim Crow is not only through the struggle, but also through maintaining relations in the international community. If you want to understand how and why slavery in the United Sates collapsed when it did, he said, you not only have to understand the U.S. Civil War—you really have to understand the Haitian Revolution.
It’s very striking that the Haitian Revolution, from 1791 to 1804, was the first successful revolt of the enslaved in global history, Horne explained, and a revolt that took place in what was probably the richest colony of all time, on a per capita basis. The Haitian Revolution helped to ignite a chain of events that led not only to the abolition of slavery on the island then called Hispaniola, but also had ramifications and reverberations on the North American mainland.
With this revolution, there was an intervention as the French were being defeated by the Africans, an intervention by the British Empire, which was very much concerned about its holdings in places like Jamaica, Barbados, St. Kitts and Antigua. Britain mounted a massive offensive on Hispaniola, and suffered one the most ignominious defeats in British imperial history.
As for slavery, it was becoming clearer that “the jig was up. It was time to move on,” Horne said. After the revolution, a number of the slave owners fled to Cuba, Florida and particularly to New Orleans. Yet Haiti still had to pay reparations to New Orleans and Paris after the slave revolt, keeping it, in essence, an underdeveloped country, the effects of which can be seen to this day.
“Those so bold as to revolt against the status quo oftentimes have to pay a steep price,” Horne said. “Haiti paid a steep price.”
In the period before slavery was abolished in the United States, many ships would sail into the Haitian ports and kidnap Haitians “and the next thing you know, they were working in a cotton field in Mississippi.” In fact, there were “certain forces in New York and Boston” who spent a great deal of time calculating how much the entire population of Haiti would bring on the open market as slaves.
In 1844, Haiti was divided. The U.S. Secretary of State John C. Calhoun helped to fund a revolt on the island of Hispaniola that led to the division of the island and the formation of what is now the Dominican Republic, which shares the island with Haiti. This also led to an endless cycle of conflict between Haiti and the Dominican Republic that extends to this very day. Referencing recent headlines, Horne said that a number of Dominican Republic nationals have been expelled because they were judged to be Haitians.
“And now they are suffering and starving on the border,” Horne said, “in the middle of the island between Haiti and the DR. It’s one of the most significant human rights violations of our time.”
One of the accusations against the people expelled from the Dominican Republic is that they’re dark-skinned and must be Haitians, he said.
Horne went on to explain that while many of the major world powers were happy to see the U.S. being divided, Haiti was one of places that banned Confederate ships from its ports. It was during the U.S. Civil War that America found out who its true friends were, and one of them was Haiti, Horne said.
How was Haiti paid back? The U.S. Congress in 1870 came up with a plan to annex the island of Hispaniola and then send the newly freed black population of the United States to this island. This “diabolical plan,” Horne said, only failed by a vote or two in Congress.
“Otherwise,” he said, “many of us would not be sitting here.”
As he outlined in his book, Horne said that historically there have been very close relations between Florida and Cuba, and talks about why there is such a substantial black population in Cuba today is due to the manic energy of North American slave trading—one of the major reasons why there are more black people in Brazil today than any other country outside of Nigeria.
He noted that there was a big slave trade from Galveston, Texas, to Havana, Cuba, and from Pensacola to Cuba, adding that since slavery broke up families, there may be people in this room, Horne told the crowd, that have relatives in Cuba they have yet to discover.
The black community here was crusading in behalf of the black population in Cuba, and vice versa. Martin Delaney, second only to perhaps Frederick Douglass as an abolitionist, wrote one of the most outstanding novels ever penned by a black American title, “Blake,” which has as its centerpiece a slave revolt in Cuba and posits the notion that the hope for black Americans was the successful revolt of the slaves in Cuba.
After black Americans were freed in 1865, many of them went to Cuba trying to organize the enslaved black population, as slavery wasn’t abolished in Cuba until the 1880s. The Spanish-American War of the late 1890s “knocked out” the Cuban independence movement and Spanish rule along with it, and proclaimed itself ruler of Cuba. Many black soldiers from all over the country departed from Tampa and St. Pete on the way to Cuba, and wound up staying in Cuba after the war was over. After the U.S. took over Cuba, it tried to impose the same Jim Crow dictates prevalent in America, and the U.S. was even responsible for massacres of black Cubans.
In his book, he notes that during the case of the Scottsboro Boys—a landmark trial of nine black teens accused of raping a white woman in 1931 Alabama—there was a massive campaign in favor of the Scottsboro Nine on the island of Cuba, and it was an important reason why Jim Crow began to crumble in North America.
One of the reasons why Jim Crow evaporated in the 1950s and 1960s is that the United States was in a titanic struggle with the Soviet Union, and to accuse the Soviets of human rights violations, the U.S. would first have to get its own “human rights house in order.” He cited the landmark Brown vs the Board of Education decision of 1954.
As you know, Horne said, the Soviet Union disappeared in 1991 and the international situation has changed altogether, yet what do you have? An epidemic of police killings, mortality rates going up, life expectancy going down, at total degradation of our condition, and part of that is because we have not learned the lessons of our ancestors in black Florida or the pioneers in the struggle against Jim Crow.
To reach Frank Drouzas, email firstname.lastname@example.org