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Haiti History 101, Haiti by the Decades, The 1930s

A view of Haiti’s Marbial Valley, as it looked in the 30s, irrigated by the Gosseline River. Farming continued to be a great source of income for those on the countryside. At this point, Haiti was a big producer and exporter of coffee, rice, produce, and especially cotton, which had the reputation of being the best in the world. The U.S. Marines who had been in Haiti since 1915 left Haitian shore on August 15, 1934. In their place was Haiti’s native police Garde d’Haiti, trained by the Marines.

A portrait of Haitian president Louis Borno. You know being Haitian that wasn’t his complete name. It was…[drum roll] Antoine Eustache Joseph Louis Borno. If you’re interested in trivia, in addition to being a man of the state, Mr. Borno also moonlighted as a poet. Mr. Borno was born in Port-au-Prince to Eugène Borno and Elizabeth Lelia Baude in 1865, the same year that the Civil War ended in the United States. Like other young men from wealthy families in Haiti at the time, he went to France to further his education. He returned to Haiti in 1890 with a law degree, but didn’t formally practice law for long, but rather delved into public administration serving as Minister of International Relations and Religion under president Nord Alexis. In 1930, Borno was president of Haiti, having had the post since 1922.


Sténio Vincent (he’s the guy in the middle in this photo above) took over at the end of Borno’s term. Also an attorney, Mr. Vincent was Haiti’s president for the entire decade practically, leaving office in 1941. An article about him that appeared in Time magazine in its March 24, 1941 issue said this:

“President Stenio Vincent of Haiti is a silver-haired, silver-tongued politician who is supported as loyally by the lesser politicians of Port-au-Prince as he is hated by Haitian exiles in Harlem. His friends say he is a statesman; his enemies call him a dictator; both agree that he likes a pleasant job. Such a job is the Presidency of Haiti.”

Haitian exiles in Harlem? Wow. Haitians in Harlem…that early? That was rather surprising to read, though not too surprising! Wonder if these exiles stayed in Harlem, or if they returned to Haiti after a while? Historians have said that Borno was really hard on freedom of speech and on the media. Writer Jacques Roumain went into exile during his term.

Haitians intellectuals like Roumain not only exerted their influence in Haiti, but those like Dr. Léo Sajou (spelled with an ‘s’ as Sajous in some records) who were living in France at the time, also influenced other Caribbeans. According to the book Africa in Europe: Interdependencies, Relocations, and Globalization by Stefan Goodwin, Sajou co-founded La Revue du Monde Noir. a widely-read literary journal that though it only had 6 published issues, was published in English, and in French and contributed to the Negritude movement that spread throughout the black world in that decade.

In his book Haiti and the United States: National Stereotypes and the Literary Imagination literary critic J. Michael Dash has noted that the 1930s was a time of great reflection in Haitian intellectuals especially the literary community. In her book Framing the Silence, Dr. Myriam J.A Chancy has pointed out that writers like Léon Laleau (Le Choc), Annie Desroy (Le Joug) and Cleanthe Desgraves (La Blanche Negresse), wrote novels that were reactionary responses to the U.S. Marines occupation of Haiti.

In 1937, the president of the Dominican Republic Rafael Leonidas Trujillo ordered the killings of Haitians in the Dominican Republic in what he considered to be an act of “cleansing” his country of all traces of blackness. Many of the Haitians killed were actually Dominican-Haitians born in the Dominican Republic. And according to historians and witnesses, Dominicans who were dark-skinned. Ironically, Trujillo’s maternal grandmother was Haitian.

This is Trujillo (on the left wearing the tie) having a drink in 1939 with Haitian minister at the time (and later on, president of Haiti) Elie Lescot (the one with the bow-tie on the right).

Photos: Bettmann/CORBIS

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4 Comments to “Haiti History 101, Haiti by the Decades, The 1930s”

  1. […] Haitian elite were in a world of their own, even in seemingly trivial matters. Of 1930s Haiti, African American anthropologist and student of Haitian dance Katherine Dunham would write: […]

  2. […] term, but he was also Haiti’s Special Envoy to Cuba, and an Ambassador. During the 1930s and 1940s, Mr. Fouchard, who was then serving as a diplomat was reportedly responsible for the […]

  3. Rosalie Grove says:

    My Uncle lived in Haiti in 1935 and worked for the US government. His title was Assirtont to Fier Cal Reprolantatone. Do you know what this means. He worked for the CIA.

  4. […] dad’s name was changed when he got naturalized by one of the Haitian presidents, President Louis Borno,” recalls Simone Wawa, of the former Hoo Ku Haa Kuai. This was before Ms. Wawa was born, and […]

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