Books on Haiti and the
Hubert Cole. Christophe: King of Haiti. New
York: The Viking Press, 1967.
The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution
Caribbean Doscourse (2004)
/ Barbara Harlow.
Resistance Literature (1987)
Josaphat B. Kubayanda.
The Poet's Africa: Africanness in the Poetry of Nicolas Guillen and Aime
Framing Silence: Revolutionary Novels by Haitian Women
Paul Laraque and Jack Hirschman.
Gate An Anthology of Haitian Creole Poetry
David P. Geggus, ed.
The Impact of the
Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World.
University of South Carolina Press, 2001.
* * *
of the French West Indian
By Mercer Cook
In its issues of April 1st and 15th, 1925,
the Revue Mondiale published the opinions of a number of
distinguished Frenchmen on colonial literature. While there was
unanimous agreement on the importance of colonial literature,
almost no one mentioned the French West Indies. Three years
later Roland Lebel published his Etudes de littérature
coloniale, and once again the French Antilles went almost
unnoticed, although the author did deplore the lack of a
"literary history of these old French colonies." As a
matter of fact, with the exception of the various publications
which accompanied the Tricentenary of these islands in 1935,
this neglect has been the general rule, and for at least two
almost obvious reasons.
First, Martinique and Guadeloupe are both
tiny possessions. In 1938, the population of the former was
244,908, or 221 per square kilometer, whereas Guadeloupe had
304,239 inhabitants. When one compares these figures with the
millions of North Africans and Indo-Chinese, it is readily
apparent why the French West Indian's literary contribution has
been smaller and less interesting to literary historians.
Secondly, Martinque and Guadeloupe are among
the oldest and most loyal French colonies, and have never been
fertile soil for autonomous movements, such as have occasionally
sprung up in Algeria and French Indo-China. An Algerian author
like Robert Randau writes almost always as an Algerian, while
French West Indian authors often become so thoroughly
assimilated into the literary life of Paris as to lose their
This is particularly true of Martinique,
which has never troubled to compile a volume on its
contributions to French culture. Two such volumes were prepared
for Guadeloupe five years ago and proved most revealing. This
literary assimilation is but an outgrowth of the almost
continual racial amalgamation which has allied the Negro élite
of the islands with the Français de Franc.
In my brief paper this morning, I shall be
able to indicate only the general trend of the French West
Indian's literary production through an introduction to several
key figures. Some of the gentlemen whom I shall mention would be
not a little surprised to hear themselves referred to as
Negroes, but I shall be using the term in its American
connotation; and, according to our standards, 97% of these
islanders are Negroid. The first of our authors,
Chronologically, denied that he was a mulâtre and always
called himself an homme de couleur. One advantage of our
American system is that it dispenses with such fine
In the days when Haiti was Saint-Domingue,
France's most prosperous colony, Julien Raimond was born on the
island of Martinique. Little is known of his youth or of his
ancestry, but in 1791 he referred to himself as "the
legitimate son and grandson of European fathers, land owners in
Saint-Domingue." In 1783, when he was about forty years of
age, we find him in Saint-Domingue, wealthy in land and slaves,
but smarting under the injustices suffered by the men of color,
who could own property but who could not practice certain
professions, own carriages, wear the same color clothing as the
whites, or eat in the same restaurants. A generous donation to
the construction of a vessel the colony was presenting to Louis
XVI won him the ear of the royal administrators, and in 1784 he
went to Paris to plead the cause of his oppressed brothers.
In the hectic days that followed the French
Revolution, Raimond published, often at his own expense, a
barrage of pamphlets and brochures, most of which were addressed
to the National Assembly, and all of which urged recognition of
the rights of the free men of color in the colonies. Wealthy
Raimond was no radical demanding the abolition of slavery. As he
himself stated: "One could scarcely suppose that I should
wish to ruin with one blow my entire family which possesses
seven or eight millions [of francs] in property at Saint-Domingue."
Nevertheless, he soon realized that his only
chance of support was to ally himself with the newly formed Société
des Amis des Noirs. It was doubtless Raimond who influenced
this group to work first for political rights for free men of
color, a campaign which resulted in the momentous decree of May
In the meantime Raimond was contributing
articles to Brissot's Patriote français, appearing
frequently before the National Assembly with various petitions,
defending himself from the attacks of the powerful Club Massiac,
and writing some of his most forceful brochures. His Observations
on the Origin and Progress of the Prejudice of White Planters
against the Men of Color appeared on January 26, 1791,
shortly before the debate on the aforementioned decree.
Two years later when the pro-slavery planters were blaming
Raimond and other members of the Société des Amis des
Noirs for the insurrection in Saint-Domingue, he published
his Reflections on the True Causes of the Troubles and Disasters
of our Colonies.
Despite these eloquent and logical
publications, Raimond was imprisoned during the Reign of Terror,
and it seemed likely at one time that he would meet the same
fate that had befallen his influential friend Brissot. Once
again, however, his pen came to his defense; after fourteen
months in prison he published his correspondence to prove that
he had neither fomented the colonial disorders nor attempted to
defraud his compatriots to bribe [Jean Pierre] Brissot [de
Warville, 1754-1793 founder of Société des Amis des Noirs],
[Abbé Baptiste-Henri] Gregoire [1750-1831], and other members
of the Society of Friends of the Blacks.
Photo Left: Abbé Gregoire
In 1796, Raimond had regained his influence and was named to
the commission sent to Saint-Domingue, where Toussaint
L'Ouverture had now become the all-important power. One year
later Raimond was recalled to Paris and was once again under
fire. He reported, however, that he had saved the colony for
France. Who can say that his words might not have proved true if
napoleon had refrained from sending the Leclerc expedition to
The last years of Raimond's life are almost as hazy as the
first. We do know that by 1800 he had returned to Saint-Domingue,
for Napoleon listed him as one of the islanders to be
imprisoned. we also know that he served on a committee of
important Haitians, and that he must have been largely
responsible for two of Toussaint's pronouncements: the Report
of 1797 and the 1801 Constitution.
Few people today read the fifteen or sixteen dusty pamphlets
which made Julien Raimond an important figure in an important
era. His pleas for his his mulatto brothers did much, however,
to extend the meaning of the doctrine of Liberty, Equality, and
Fraternity which had just found expression, and even such a
brief account as this would seem to indicate that he was more
than the "cowardly" and "subservient"
Raimond to whom Lothrop Stoddard refers.
Like Raimond, many of the important French West Indian
authors have been more or less interested in politics; few have
followed the Parnassian theory of "Art for Art's
Our second neglected figure, Charles Bissette, also a free
mulatto, was born in Martinique on July 9, 1795. Deported in
1824 after having been publicly burned with the branding iron on
a charge of inciting the mulattoes to revolt, Bissette was
released from prison two years after his arrival in France, and
later was awarded a pension by Louis-Phillipe because of the
Like Raimond, Bissette began to publish pamphlets and
petitions attacking injustices to mulattoes, afterwards
including all Negroes in his campaign. In the Bibliothèque
Nationale there are more than fifty entries under his name.
In 1834 he founded a magazine, the Revue des Colonies,
for the purpose of defending Negroes everywhere. This was, I
believe, the first periodical published by Negroes in France. It
appeared with decreasing regularity for about eight years;
Bissette was bankrupt before it ceased publication. Some of the
issues are richly informative and contain, for example,
interesting studies of conditions in the French colonies, of
distinguished Haitians like Henri Christophe, a short story by
Victor Séjour, and occasional poems by French Negroes
Photo right: Charles Bissette
Buried in one of the issues is a letter from Alexandre Dumas
the elder, which is one of the few printed statements of his
interest in such movements. Through the Revue, Bissette
became a champion of Negro rights in France, and it is not
surprising that he was elected in 1848 to represent Martinique
in the Constituent Assembly. He resigned, however, when his
election was challenged on the ground that no person still in
bankruptcy could hold political office in France. The following
year Bissette was able to satisfy his creditors--and he was
named to the Legislative Assembly.
The final chapter of his career is characterized by
mudslinging and an almost inexplicable change of policy. Between
Bissette and Victor Schoelcher, sometimes called the French
Abraham Lincoln, there had been a feud of long standing.
Bissette charged that Schoelcher was not sincere in his
professed friendship for the Negro, and it is also possible that
he was jealous because Schoelcher and not he had been selected
to draft the plans for the abolition of slavery. Whatever the
reason, upon his election to the Assembly, since Schoelcher was
identified with the leaders of the liberal Left, Bissette
[1795-1858] joined the reactionary Right, the very group which
had opposed the principles for which he had fought all his life.
In contrast to Bissette, the Guadeloupan Melvil Bloncourt [b.
1825] began and ended his career as an ardent republican. One of
the best educated of the nineteenth century French West Indian
authors, Bloncourt contributed articles to such newspapers as La
Vraie République, Le Peuple, and La Voix du
Peuple during the Second Republic. Under louis Napoléon he
was imprisoned for a time and his own publication, La France
parlementaire, was banned. On regaining his freedom, he was
compelled to desert political writing "for literary and
Evidence of his wide erudition is seen in the fact that he
published articles in such works as Didot's Biographie
universelle, the Dictionnaire universel, the Encyclopédie
générale, the Dictionnaire du Commerce et de la
Navigation, and in such periodicals as l'Illustration,
the Citoyen, the Courrier de Paris, and the Revue
du Monde Colonial. It is also significant that in 1865
Bloncourt sponsored a campaign to raise funds for the recently
emancipated Negro slaves in the united States.
Early in 1871, Guadeloupe elected this distinguished son to
the short-lived commune. President Thiers' friendship for
Bloncourt doubtless saved the latter from imprisonment or
execution with other members of the ill-fated Commune, and
enabled him to continue to serve as a deputy until 1874.
Bloncourt's career as a parliamentarian was especially
noteworthy for his interest in founding and stocking libraries
From 1874 to 1879, he was in exile in Geneva, where he wrote
several volumes on Voltaire under various nom de plume,
and began work on a manuscript which was to have been a history
of Haiti, Martinique, and Guadeloupe during the First French
Republic. Like the Bissette-Schoelcher feud, there was hard
feeling between Bloncourt and the celebrated novelist Alphonse
Daudet, which has been explained in various ways, In his novel Jack,
Daudet depicted Bloncourt as the detestable mulatto, Moronval.
The fact in this case are much kinder than fiction, for Julius
Levallois has called Bloncourt "one of the men who best
uphold our country's intellectual and philosophical
In the direct line of Raimond, Bissette, and Bloncourt,
French West indian intellectuals have continued to interest
themselves in politics down to the present day. Because most
professions have been crowded and capital limited, they have
made politics the plague of the French Antilles. Some have
succeeded, like Candace and Lémery.
The former [Candace] was until recently vice president of the
Chamber of Deputies. We mention him here because he has written
two books [La Marine marchande française et son importance
dans la vie nationale (Paris, 1930) ; La Marine
française (Paris, 1937)] on the French navy and has edited
a newspaper in Guadeloupe.
Henry Lémery, Senator from Martinique, shining example of
that rare animal, the Negro fascist, is now Colonial Minister in
the Pétain government. he has contributed to numerous rightist
periodicals and has published a volume of his speeches [De la
Guerre totale à la paix mutilée (Paris, 1931)] and a study
of La Révolution française à la Martinique [Paris,
The second major trend in French West Indian literature is
poetry. This is hardly surprising to one who has seen their
magnificent sunsets and exotic beauties, both scenic and
feminine. many of their short stories and novels have an
undeniable poetic flavor, in much the same manner that Pierre
Loti's prose is poetic. three examples will serve to introduce
this final group of writers.
First, meet Privat d'Anglemont [1815?-1859], the gifted
Guadeloupan who forsook the study of medicine for that of
Parisian night life in the eighteen thirties and forties. Friend
of Baudelaire, Dumas, Balzac, Murger, and of most of the writing
fraternity, Privat lived a care-free Bohemina existence and was
admittedly the person best qualified to tell the story of Paris
Inconnu, which became indeed the title of his most important
volume. He was a legendary figure, and anecdotes about him were
Held up by robbers one night, he is supposed to have said,
"Why, I'm Privat!" Whereupon the bandits apologized
and took him to dinner. On another occasion his brother in
Guadeloupe sent for him to return home. Privat took the long
voyage back to the Antilles, spent twenty-four hours at home,
decided that he had been away from Paris long enough, and took
the same boat back to France. In 1859, at the age of 44, he died
of tuberculosis in his beloved Paris.
Obviously, work did not play the major rôle in his
happy-go-lucky existence. Ocassionally, however, he would
contribute poems to various newspapers, like l'Artiste
and the Revue de Paris, and articles on little-known
parts of Paris to Le Siècle, Le Figaro, and other
periodicals. After his death, his friends collected some of his
articles, short stories, playlets, and poems into two volumes
which constitute his literary legacy. in his prose, as in his
hectic career, he was primarily a poet.
A more conscientious artist than Privat is the Martiniquan
Daniel Thaly, who has published at least eight volumes of his
verse since 1900. His poetry has appeared in such important
periodicals as the Mercure de France, and his work has
been praised by critics generally. Unfortunately, French poetry,
like her American sister, is rarely lucrative, and Thaly has
spent most of his time practicing medicine on the island of
Dominica. About two years ago he returned to Martinique to
accept a position as librarian. his career seems to bear out the
truth of one of his poems:
Airplane, jazz and cinema
That is the new life.
Dead is the blue panorama
Love, the beauty of nature, and patriotism provide his usual
inspiration. Rarely does he touch upon the race question or any
other social problem. His is the poésie pure,
reminiscent of a bygone age.
René Maran, my final example, is known primarily as a
novelist, the author of Batouala. his first two volumes,
however, were books of verse, La Maison du Bonheur and La
Vie Intérieure, published in 1909 and 1912 respectively.
Every book he has since written, including his biography of
Livingstone, bears the distinct imprint of his penchant for
verse. this is why he is so meticulous in his choice of words,
and why he is a difficult author to translate. A paragraph like
the following in which he describes daybreak in his masterpiece Le
Livre de la Brousse could almost be written in couplets:
la brousse s’anime, en proie à une joie panique. Les
tam-tams exultant. Plus rien n’existe qu’eux. La frénésie
de leurs rythmes, gagnant de proche en proche, gorge enfin
les plus lointaines étendues d’une trepidation à
laquelle participent: bourdonnements, crissements,
coassements, croassements, gloussements, bêlements,
rauquements, aboiements, frisselis, gazouillis, clapotis,
appels, cris, chants, stridulations, rires, froufrous des
termites, martélement de pilons, les mille bruits humains,
animaux, végétaux ou vermineux de la nature en fête et
de la terre en travail.
The son of Guianan parents, René Maran was
born in Martinique fifty three years ago [1887-1960]. When he was
but six years of age he was placed in boarding school at Bordeaux.
Incidentally, one of his most beautiful prose poems is the passage
in Le Coeur serré, an autobiography of his youth, which tells how
his parents left him in the principal’s office, promising that
they would return immediately. He sees them enter the carriage,
dashes out to follow them, but is unable to catch up with them.
“Never again,” he concludes, “will I have confidence in my
After completing his studies at
Bordeaux, Maran entered the colonial service in French
Equatorial Africa, where he remained for more than ten
years. This rich experience has been the inspiration for
most of his works, not one of which treats of his native
West Indies. Batouala , which won him the
Goncourt prize in 1921, Le Livre de la Brousse
, Djouma, chien de brousse, and his
other animal stories are all laid in French Equatorial
Africa which he knows so well. His works have been
translated into German, Spanish, Japanese, Russian,
Portuguese and other languages; only Batouala
been published in English. The use of extracts from Le
Livre de la Brousse in various French schools attests
to the excellence of his prose.
Moreover, he has contributed regularly to such
periodicals as Vendémiaire, Candide, and Je Sais
That his pen has not made him a wealthy man is
easily explained. He has been unable to collect royalties due him
in countries like Russia and Japan, where
wide popularity. His outspoken criticism of certain colonial
abuses in Equatorial Africa made him persona non grata in
France for a number of years. In addition, his almost tactless
frankness and objectivity have created antagonisms for him even
among his own compatriots.
Maran has never been willing to compromise with
his principles; he has refused to play politics, and has taken
pride in the fact that he has never voted. Finally, in an age of
facile literature, he has produced less than the average author.
After taking eight years to write Batouala, he waited
seventeen more years before completing what he reluctantly
consented to call the definitive edition of the novel. He never
autographs one of his books without going through it to correct
all misprints. In short, he has retained his self-respect even at
the expense of his pocketbooks.
If I may be permitted a personal note, my last
letter from M. Moran was dated Bordeaux, June 18th.
With his wife and almost penniless he had fled from the Nazis to a
town in southern France. To the end he was determined not to
compromise, for he vowed that he would commit suicide before
allowing the Germans to capture him. Confidently M. Maran awaits
some future era that will have time for literature and that will
re-evaluate his African epic Le Livre de la Brousse as one
of the great novels of the early twentieth century.
In conclusion, I have attempted to show that
the French West Indian Negro has made his greatest literary
contribution in politics and poetry. Indirectly, of course, he has
inspired writers like Hugo, Lamartine, Baudelaire, Michelet.
Lafcadio Hearn, Mme. Desbordes-Valmore, Balzac, Pierre Benoit, and
a host of others. I need not remind you that he has produced
Alexandre Dumas to write about the world, and Toussaint
L’Ourverture for the world to write about.
Source: The Journal of Negro History, Volume 39
(October 1940), No. 4.
* * *
Mercer Cook (1903-1987)— distinguished
linguistic scholar and author and diplomat — was born in Washington, D.C., the son of Will Marion Cook and singer Abbie
Mitchell. After graduating from Dunbar High School, he
entered Amherst College, where he graduated with honors in 1925.
The college awarded Cook, a member of the Phi Beta Kappa
society, the Simpson fellowship prize of $1,800, which made it
possible for him to study the French language and literature at
the Sorbonne in Paris where he received a diploma in 1926. After a brief period
of teaching at the Agricultural and technical College in
Greensboro, North Carolina and at Howard University, he entered
Brown University and obtained his master’s degree and finally
his doctor of philosophy degree in 1936.
On resuming his career as a teacher, he became
head of the department of Romance languages at Atlanta
University. He taught French at Atlanta University for
seven years during which he wrote and edited a number of books
in English and French. Most notable were: (Le Noir 1934),
Portraits Americans (1939), and Five French Negro
Authors (1943). Cook also served on the editorial
board of the Journal of Negro History.
In 1943, he was called upon by the office of
Inter-American Affairs to direct the English-teaching project in
Haiti. In 1945, he returned to Howard University as professor of
In 1961, president Kennedy appointed Cook
ambassador to the Republic of Niger, a post he held for three
years. From 1964 to 1966, he was special envoy to Senegal and
Gambia. In 1969 he co-authored with Stephen Henderson
Militant Black Writer in Africa and the United States..
In May 1973, Dr. Cook joined 12 other ambassadors and 2 under
secretaries of state from the Kennedy and Johnson
administrations in issuing as statement deploring the Nixon
administration increased contacts with minority governments in
Southern Africa. The statement said these contacts “convey a
sense of collaboration and retard the eventual independence of
1970, Dr. Cook retired from active teaching. He died of
pneumonia in Washington D.C. on 4 October 1987.
* * *
(Editor) Le Noir: Morceaux
choisis de vingt-neuf français célèbres, American Book Co.,
(Editor) Portraits americains,
French Negro Authors, Associated Publishers, 1943.
Handbook for Haitian Teachers of English,
H. Deschamps, 1944.
(Editor) The Haitian-American Anthology:
Haitian Readings from American Authors,
Imprimerie de l’Etat, 1944.
Education in Haiti, Federal Security
Agency, Office of Education, 1948.
(Editor) An Introduction to Haiti,
Department of Cultural Affairs, Pan American Union, 1951.
(Translator) Leopold Senghor, African
Socialism, American Society of African Culture, 1959.
(Translator) Mamadou Dia, The African
Nations and World Solidarity, Praeger, 1961, reprinted,
(With Stephen Henderson)
Militant Black Writer in Africa and the United States. University of Wisconsin Press,
(Translator and editor) Cheikh A. Diop,
The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality?
Lawrence Hill, 1974.
Masters of the Dew. Heinemann 1978
“Haiti’s ‘Youngest’ Ambassador,” Crisis,
* * * * *
Slave Revolution in the Caribbean, 1789-1804
A Brief History with Documents
Dubois and John D. Garrigus
* * *
* * * *
Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays
Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a
collection of fourteen essays by scholars and
creative writers from Africa and the Americas.
Called one of two significant critical works on
Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late
1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of
Carter G. Woodson and
Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as
well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations
were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early
essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish
medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an
historical context for understanding 20th-century
creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone
writers, such as Cuban
Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist,
Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the
significance of Negritude in Latin America. This
collaborative text set the tone for later
conferences in which writers and scholars worked
together to promote, disseminate, and critique the
literature of Spanish-speaking people of African
descent. . . .
Cited by a
literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the
field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which
most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."
* * *
Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in
By Melissa V.
According to the
author, this society has historically exerted
considerable pressure on black females to fit into one
of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the
Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless
Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to
white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of
those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the
relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable
temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as
an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the
characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television
shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
points out how the propagation of these harmful myths
have served the mainstream culture well. For instance,
the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for
black females to feel a maternal instinct towards
As for the source
of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their
own bodies during slavery given that they were being
auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless,
it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate
the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate
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Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
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update 6 May 2010