Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and Haitian History

Our hearts go out to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. For those who care to donate, I have added a link to the American Red Cross at the top right of this blog. For those missing loved ones or looking for further information about the aftermath of the storm, Rex Hammock’s Weblog has a list of survivor/missing databases, and a wiki, ThinkNOLA has been set up as a clearinghouse of information and resources.

There are also several blogs and other online sources who are providing information. Nola.com has been an excellent resource. Also check out Metroblogging New Orleans, Kaye’s Hurricane Katrina Blog, the Hurricane Katrina page at Wikipedia, Eye of the Storm, Storm Digest, and the links here and here.

While much of the Gulf Coast has been affected by Katrina, New Orleans in particular has been the subject of intense focus. The city’s history is inextricably linked with Haiti’s own. The port of New Orleans was coveted by American traders in the late 1700s as the revolution in Haiti was being fought. Toussaint Louverture’s successes against the French troops attempting to retake the island contributed to Napoleon’s decision to sell the Louisiana Territory to the United States in 1803. You can read more about the dynamics at play in the Louisiana Purchase in this article at the Louverture Project wiki.

Carl A. Brasseaux at the University of Louisiana’s Center for Cultural and Eco-Tourism points out that:

Haitian immigrants have established a significant community in New Orleans over the past two decades. These emigrants from Hispañola are by no means the first to reach Louisiana. During a six-month period in 1809, approximately 10,000 refugees from Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti) arrived at New Orleans, doubling the Crescent City’s population. Approximately one-third of the refugees were white, an additional one-third were free persons of color, and the remaining one-third were slaves (primarily domestics). The vast majority of these refugees established themselves permanently in the Crescent City.

The early nineteenth-century immigrants had a profound impact upon New Orleans’ development. Refugees established the state’s first newspaper and introduced opera into the Crescent City. They also appear to have played a role in the development of Creole cuisine and the perpetuation of voodoo practices in the New Orleans area. More importantly, they were responsible for preserving the city’s French character for several generations.

This article at Slate attempts to explain why New Orleans came to be built where it is, below sea level and surrounded by massive levies. Some are asking whether New Orleans should be rebuilt. I can only imagine that those who ask that have never visited the city. There is a certain kind of magic there, and an undeniably unique sense of history. For all Americans, and especially the Haitian American residents of New Orleans, the city must survive and rebuild. To lose the Big Easy would be to lose a part of our soul, and to destroy a vital link between Haiti and America.

Haiti Revolutionary Symbolism?

Kathleen Hulser, Public Historian for the New York Historical Society recently sent an email to the Haiti list asking for help.

For an exhibition comparing revolutions in Saint Domingue, France and United States, I am interested in learning about the material culture and visual imagery from the revolt in Haiti. We are particularly seeking images that show Erzulie/Erzili/Mary figure as a revolutionary “muse” comparable to Marianne (France) and Columbia (US). Syncretic Christian and voodoo versions are of interest as well.

If you can help out Ms. Hulser, please leave a comment or click on the “Contact” link above to send me an email, and I’ll put you in touch.

List of Famous People of Haitian Descent

Thanks to James L-C for permission to reprint the following list of famous people of Haitian descent. There were some surprises for me on this list. Anyone know of any to add? ~ed.

UPDATE: J.S. Alexis has emailed the following to the editors: “In your list of famous people of Haitian descent, you should add actor Sydney Poitier. His father was a Haitian farmer.”

POLITICAL

W.E.B. Dubois – Famous American Civil Rights Leader whose parents migrated from Haiti

Toussaint Louverture “The Black Napoleon” – Black Freedom fighter who in 1803 would open the way for the First Black Republic in the World, Ayiti (Haiti). He died in a french jail before seeing a free Haiti, which in 1804 became the 2nd country in the Americas after the U.S. to become independent

Jean-Jacques Dessalines – Leader of the First Black Republic in the World

Alexandre Petion – Haitian Leader who would help the founder of Latin American Independence, Simon Bolivar (The country of Bolivia is named after him), by providing weapons and soldiers with the promise Bolivar would free all the slaves in places he liberated. The flag of Venezuela was actually sewed together in Haiti

Henry Christophe – Famous Haitian King who build the Citadelle in Haiti which is a huge fortress representing freedom. As a young boy, he was one of many slave soldiers recruited by the French in then the colony of Saint Domingue (which would later become Haiti) to fight alongside the Americans in the American Revolution in 1779 against the British in Savanah Georgia. Today, there is a Statue in Savanah Georgia representing the little known fact of Haiti’s small contributions in U.S. History

ARTS & CULTURE

John James Audubon – Was born in Haiti and would become a legendary, revered bird watcher and art enthusiast in America. The Audubon Society is named after him

Jean Michel Basquiat – Son of Haitian and Puerto Rican parents who was a graffiti artist in NYC using the tag SAMO who would later become one of the most successful, controversial and glamorous artists in the world

Jacques Stephen Alexis – Haitian writer who is a descendant of Jean-Jacques Dessalines. One of his works is GENERAL SUN, MY BROTHER

Ludovic Lamothe – A graduate of L’Institution Saint Louis de Gonzague in Port-au-Prince Haiti, he was sent to Paris to study music composition. He is one of Haiti’s most renowned classical composers

Wyclef Jean – Musician, singer and producer who founded the Fugees

Praz – The other guy from the Fugees

Won-G – Haitian American Rapper who has a video out with Paris Hilton. Wait…Not that kind of video (imagine the outrage of P.H. caught doing it with a black guy). This one is actually not rated X and is a music video

Edwidge Danticat – Famous Haitian American writer of such books like THE FARMING OF THE BONES and KRIC? KRAC?

Quddus – Haitian Canadian MTV VJ / Model

Oswald Durant – Haitian Poet who wrote “choucoune” which would later become the lyrics for the songs “little bird” by Harry Belafonte.

Alexandre Dumas – French writer who is the son of a Haitian slave woman and a French soldier. His famous writings includes, THE THREE MUSKETEERS and THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO

Gabrielle Casseus – Actor in movies such as BLACK HAWK DOWN, and BEDAZZLED

Vanessa Williams – Not the singer, but the one who acts in SOUL FOOD the series.

Tyrone Edmond – Famous Haitian model

Jimmy Saint Louis – Famous Haitian actor / model. He was in THE BOURNE IDENTITY, TEARS OF THE SUN, and soon to be released THE GAMES OF THEIR LIVES where he plays the role of Haitian Joe Gaetzens (see sports below). {I have a cameo in this movie by the way, where I play the role of soccer players Eddie Pope and Robin Frazer ~J~}

Garcelle Beauvais – Born in Haiti and moved to NY. She would become a model than an actress on NYPD Blue

Gary Dourdain – Actor from CSI Las Vegas. His parents or grandparents came from Haiti. Sadly enough, his older brother died in Haiti (there are questions as to whether he was pushed off a balcony, or simply fell) while on a visit there to research his Haitian lineage

Marjorie Vincent – Daughter of Haitian immigrants who would become Miss America in 1991

Raoul Peck – Haitian Film director who has many films in his credits. One of which is the famous documentary LUMUMBA: Death of a Prophet

Josephine Premice – Haitian born American actress/dancer/singer. Some of her acting credits is THE JEFFERSONS, THE COSBY SHOW, A DIFFERENT WORLD…

Rene Depestre – Famous Haitian writer of many books, one of which is THE FESTIVAL OF THE GREASY POLE

Jacques Roumain – Famous Haitian writer and one of his most famous work is GOUVERNEURS DE LA ROSEE

Jean-Jean Pierre – Haitian composer, musician, journalist, and playwright, who was profiled on the New York Times Public Lives segment in December 23rd 2004

Ronal and Rony Delice – Haitian Brothers who are acclaimed fashion designers in New York City

RELIGION

Pierre Toussaint – Haitian born slave who is under consideration by the Vatican for canonization for his humanitarian work in New York

Elizabeth Clarisse Lange – Freed slave who first migrated to Cuba then to Baltimore, Maryland. In Baltimore, she founded the first Catholic school for black children, the St. Francis Academy. Today, she is also being considered for canonization by the Vatican

OTHERS WORTH MENTIONING

Jean Baptiste Pointe Du Sable – Free Black Slave from Haiti who would become a very successful trader in America. In 1779, he established the first permanent settlement of the city of Chicago. He is known today as the founder of that city.

Dr. Rose Marie Toussaint – One of only two women liver transplant surgeon in the world

Joseph Laroche – Haitian businessman traveling with his french wife and kids on the Titanic which was somewhat of a choc to people to see a black man and his white wife traveling aboard a very expensive ocean liner at that time. He was taking his family to live in Haiti when he died with many others on the sunken ship. We all know what happened. She along with their 2 kids survived. He didn’t. He was the only black man to die on the Titanic. His wife and kids never made it to Haiti as they decided to return to France

Dr. Carole Berotte Joseph – She is the new president of MassBay Community College in Massachussetts

SPORTS

Joe Gaetjens – Haitian born soccer player who scored amazing goal for the underdog U.S. in match against mighty England in 1950 World Cup of Soccer in Brazil. This game is still today one of the biggest upset in sports history. He would later die under mysterious circumstances in Haiti under Papa Doc (see below). In 1976 he was inducted into the United States Soccer Federation Hall of fame.

William Joseph – DT for NY Giants

Jonathan Vilma – LB for NY Jets

Samuel Dalembert – C for Philadelphia 76rs

Mario Elie – Former G for Houston Rockets

Olden Polynice – Former NBA player

Bruny Surin – Haitian / Canadian Track and field star

WISH THEY WEREN’T HAITIANS

Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier along with his father Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, combined to ruled Haiti under a brutal dictatorship for about 30 yrs. Papa Doc was the inspiration of Graham Greene in his book and movie adaptation of THE COMEDIANS. When Baby Doc left for France in 1986, it is estimated he took most of the country’s wealth with him. Today he lives broke in the South of France with his wife having taken most of the stolen money before leaving him

WISH THEY WERE HAITIANS

Danny Glover – American Actor and Activist who’s been working for the past decade to get Hollywood to make a movie on TOUSSAINT LOUVERTURE. Unfortunately, Hollywood thinks the story is too black.

Jonathan Demme – Film Producer who just recently released THE AGRONOMIST a story of Haitian journalist Jean Dominique who died under shady circumstances

Lauryn Hill – Much love for you girl. Can’t wait for the FUGEES reunion concert this summer in Haiti. You bet I will be on the plane to PAP

Katherine Dunham – The Matriarch of black American dance, she spend many years in Haiti studying Haitian dances. She incorporates many Haitian dances in her works. If you found this instructive, let me know. If I am missing anyone from this list, let me know. My job is to promote my culture in a positive light and if you have learned something new, than I did a good job. Like we say in kreyol, “deye mon se mon”, which means behind every mountains is many more mountains – in short, the struggle continues.

Peace! ~J~

Peanuts and the Arawak

I’ve been reading Cecil Adams’ column The Straight Dope for years. The man is a fount of knowledge, and he now enlists a team of helpers to keep pace with the steady stream of internet inquiries. I’ve spotted a few references to Haitian history in Adams’ columns over the years.

The following reference to Hispaniola and the Arawak showed up in response to a recent batch of questions about peanuts:

bq. The earliest European exposure to the peanut most likely occurred when the Spanish arrived at Hispaniola in 1502, where the Arawak peoples knew of the food and called it “mani” … The first printed Spanish account, from 1535, says, “They sow and harvest it. It is a very common crop . . . about the size of a pine nut in the shell. They consider it a healthy food.

Bones of Contention…

From MSNBC and the Associated Press, here’s an article about a team of Spanish researchers who are attempting to verify the claim that a tomb in the Dominican Republic holds the remains of Christopher Columbus.

After detailing the dispute between the researchers and the Dominican government, the article tells the story of how Columbus’s bones ended up on the island of Hispaniola, and the Haitian Revolution plays a key role:

Columbus was buried in the northern Spanish city of Valladolid, where he died on May 20, 1506. He had asked to be buried in the Americas, but no church of sufficient stature existed there. Three years later, his remains were moved to a monastery on La Cartuja, next to Seville.

In 1537, Maria de Rojas y Toledo, widow of another of Columbus’ sons, Diego, sent the bones of her husband and his father to the cathedral in Santo Domingo for burial. They remained there until 1795, when Spain ceded the island of Hispaniola to France and decided Columbus’ remains should not fall into the hands of foreigners. (emphasis added)

A set of remains that the Spaniards believed were Columbus’ were first shipped to Havana, then back to Seville when the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898.

In 1877, however, workers digging in the Santo Domingo cathedral unearthed a leaden box containing bones and bearing the inscription, “Illustrious and distinguished male, Christopher Columbus.”

The Dominicans say these are the genuine remains and the Spaniards took the wrong body with them back in 1795.