Haitians and Black Americans (as in African-Americans) have crossed paths throughout history. They have been allies, each has at one time been the admirer of the other. From slaves in the USA being inspired by the revolution in the 18th Century to African-American celebrities donating money to the 2010 hurricane relief efforts, there’s always been some link between the two groups.
Nat Turner, who led one of the first slavery attempt revolts in the United States was said to have been inspired by Toussaint L’ouverture and the rest of Haiti. Turner got hung, but other Black Americans continued to be influenced and motivated by the Haitian revolution of 1791, including Gabriel Prosser, Dennmark Vesey.
After Haiti’s independence, Jean-Jacques Dessalines made a special invitation to Black Americans to come live in Haiti. Hundreds, came, though some did not remain, according to author Leon Pamphile in his book Haitians and African-Americans.
Haiti continued to be a source of pride for Black Americans in the USA, and was the subject of many plays including this one written by William Du Bois from 1937 being advertised, about Toussaint L’ouverture’s life. Produced by the Federal Theatre Project the play entitled “Haiti” was performed the Copley Theatre in Boston, and starred black theater actors.
Katherine Dunham who is regarded as the Mother of Modern Black Dance, went to Haiti to study dance in 1936 shortly after her graduation from the University of Chicago. She even bought a house in Haiti called Habitation Leclerc, a place where Pauline Bonaparte, Napoleon Bonaparte’s wife stayed at before the slaves revolted. According to many historians, Ms. Dunham even had a romantic affair with one of the Haitian presidents. Years later, Dunham protested the treatment of Haitian refugees in the USA by fasting.
Langston Hughes was a great admirer of Haiti throughout his life. He visited Haiti at least once, and befriended several writers there, several of whom he kept in touch with over the years.
More importantly, he translated the novel of noted Haitian writer and novelist Jacques Roumain from the French (Le Gouverneur de la Rosée) to English, making it more accessible to many.
Here’s Martha Jean-Claude with the singer-composer Nat King Cole in Harlem, NY in the 1950s.
During the presidency of Paul Eugène Magloire, African-American contralto opera singer Marian Anderson came to Haiti to perform at the 150th anniversary of the country’s independence from France. According to the January 11, 1954 edition of Time Magazine: “Anderson was there to sing for the celebrations, which included a dinner for 700 local and foreign notables at the ruined palace of the fabulous Black Emperor Henri Christophe. There were speeches, dances, pageants. But the eye-popping main event was a sham battle near Cap Haitien, watched intently by President Paul E. Magloire, U.S. Senator Mike Mansfield..”
Below is a brief article that appeared in Jet magazine about the celebration.
Several African-American notables were present, including Ralph Bunches and A. Clayton Powell with his wife Dr. Powell, seen having a good time below with Magloire (in the bottom photo).
Magloire Images: Flickr
As Haiti’s people felt the pinch of life in Haiti, they started immigrating to the United States. Josephine Premice’s family is one example. Adrienne Dejoie is another. Haitians who immigrated to the United States just blended into the general black population after a while.
Over the years, Black Americans and Haitians’ cultural path has crossed more than once, and will, without a doubt, continue that same pattern.