Connect with us

Black History

Inside the Kingdom of Hayti, ‘the Wakanda of the Western Hemisphere’

MINNESOTA SPOKESMAN-RECORDER — The fictional kingdom has a real-life corollary in the historic Kingdom of Hayti.

Published

on

By Marlene Daut

Marvel’s blockbuster Black Panther, which recently became the first superhero drama to be nominated for a Best Picture Academy Awards, winning three, takes place in the secret African Kingdom of Wakanda. The Black Panther, also known as T’Challa, rules over this imaginary empire — a refuge from the colonialists and capitalists who have historically impoverished the real continent of Africa.

But fans of the box-office hit might not realize that they don’t need to look to the make-believe world of the Black Panther to find a modern-day Black kingdom that aspired to be a safe haven from racism and inequality.

The fictional kingdom has a real-life corollary in the historic Kingdom of Hayti, which existed as a sort of Wakanda of the Western Hemisphere from 1811 to 1820.

The Haitian Revolution led to the creation of the first free Black state in the Americas. But the world was hardly expecting a former enslaved man named Henry Christophe to make himself the king of it.

Media accounts from the era, some of which I’ve collected in a digital archive, serve as a window into a brief period of time when the kingdom stood as a beacon of Black freedom in a world of slavery. Yet, like Wakanda, the Kingdom of Hayti wasn’t a utopia for everyone.

A new kind of kingdom

On Jan. 1, 1804, an army led by former enslaved Africans in the French colony of Saint-Domingue staved off France’s attempt to bring back slavery, and declared themselves independent and free forever.

The leader of the revolutionaries, General Jean-Jacques Dessalines, had defeated Napoleon’s famous army and made himself emperor of the newly-renamed Haiti.

But in October 1806, Dessalines was assassinated by political rivals, leading the country to be divided into two separate states: General Henry Christophe named himself president of the northern part of Haiti, while General Alexandre Pétion governed a completely separate republic in the southern and southwestern part of the country.

In March 1811, President Henry Christophe surprised everyone when he anointed himself King Henry I and renamed the northern republic, the Kingdom of Hayti. Henry I soon had a full court of nobles that included dukes, barons, counts and knights to rival that of royal England.

Haiti’s first and only kingdom immediately attracted the attention of media outlets from around the world. How could there be a republic on one side of the island and a monarchy on the other, they wondered? Was the new Black king trying to mimic the same white sovereigns who had once enslaved his people, others asked?

The edicts establishing the royal order of Haiti were immediately translated into English and printed in Philadelphia, while many American and British newspapers and magazines ran celebrity profiles of the Haitian king.

One newspaper described him as “the elegant model of an Hercules.” Another described him as “a remarkably handsome, well-built man; with a broad chest, square shoulders, and an appearance of great muscular strength and activity.”

The ‘First Monarch’ of the ‘New World’

In 1813, construction of the opulent Sans-Souci Palace – meaning literally “without worry” – was completed. The palace was partially destroyed by an earthquake in 1842; today, its remains have been designated a world heritage UNESCO site. During its heyday, the palace dazzled.

There were the elegantly manicured gardens and a unique, domed cathedral. The structure was flanked by a dramatic double staircase leading to the entryway and two arches detailed with etchings and inscriptions. One acknowledged Henry, rather than Jean-Jacques, as the country’s “founder.”

There were also two painted crowns on the principal palace façade, each of which stood at 16 feet tall. The one on the right read “To the First Monarch Crowned in the New World.” The one on the left said “The Beloved Queen Reigns Forever Over Our Hearts.”

King Henry lived in the palace with his wife, Queen Marie-Louise, and his three children, Prince Victor Henry, and the princesses, Améthyste and Athénaire.

An April 1815 issue of The Gazette Royale details how the Kingdom of Hayti foiled France’s attempt to reconquer its former colony.

An April 1815 issue of The Gazette Royale details how the Kingdom of Hayti foiled France’s attempt to reconquer its former colony.

Newspapers around the world reprinted articles from the monarchy’s official newspaper, the Gazette Royale d’Hayti, detailing the royal family’s lavish dinners, replete with bombastic speeches and lengthy toasts to famous contemporary figures such as King George III of England, U.S. President James Madison, the King of Prussia, and the “friend of humanity,” the “immortal” British abolitionist Thomas Clarkson.

The Gazette also recounted the decadence of Queen Marie-Louise’s August 1816 official birthday celebration, which lasted for 12 days and had 1,500 people in attendance. On the final day of the party, 12 cannons fired after the Duke of Anse toasted the queen as “the perfect model of mothers and wives.”

A free island in a sea of slavery

There was much more to King Henry’s reign than luxurious parties.

On March 28, 1811, King Henry installed a constitutional monarchy, a move lauded by many in the British elite. The famous British naturalist Joseph Banks championed Henry’s 1812 book of laws, titled the “Code Henry,” calling it “the most moral association of men in existence.”

“Nothing that white men have been able to arrange is equal to it,” he added.

Banks admired the code’s detailed reorganization of the economy, from one based on slave labor to one – at least in theory – based on free labor. This transformation was wholly fitting for the formerly enslaved man-turned-king, whose motto was “I am reborn from my ashes.”

The code provided for shared compensation between proprietors and laborers at “a full fourth the gross product, free from all duties,” and it also contained provisions for the redistribution of any land that had previously belonged to slave owners.

“Your Majesty, in his paternal solicitude,” one edict reads, “wants for every Haytian, indiscriminately, the poor as well as the rich, to have the ability to become the owner of the lands of our former oppressors.”

Henry’s stated “paternal solicitude” even extended to enslaved Africans. While the Constitution of 1807 had announced that Haiti would not “disturb the regimes” of the colonial powers, royal Haitian guards regularly intervened in the slave trade to free captives on foreign ships that entered Haitian waters.

An October 1817 issue of the Gazette celebrated the Haitian military’s capture of a slave ship and subsequent release of 145 of “our unfortunate brothers, victims of greed and the odious traffic in human flesh.”

Too good to be true?

Yet life in the Kingdom of Hayti was far from perfect.

Henry’s political rivals noted that people frequently defected to the southern Republic of Haiti, where they told stories of the monarch’s favoritism and the aristocracy’s abuse of power.

Illustrator Mahlon Blaine depicts King Henry on the cover of the 1928 book Black Majesty. // @paulclammer/Twitter

[/media-credit] Illustrator Mahlon Blaine depicts King Henry on the cover of the 1928 book Black Majesty.

Worse, Henry’s famous fortress, the Citadelle Laferrière, was, according to some accounts, built with forced labor. For this reason, Haitians have long debated whether the imposing structure, which was restored in 1990, ought to symbolize the liberty of post-independence Haiti.

Henry’s dreams of a free Black kingdom would not outlive him. On Aug. 15, 1820, the king suffered a debilitating stroke. Physically impaired – and fearing a fracturing administration plagued by the desertion of some its most prominent members – Haiti’s first and only king killed himself on the night of Oct. 8, 1820.

Despite some questions about living conditions in the Kingdom of Hayti, its ruler can still be recognized as a visionary. Even one of his most ardent rivals from the south, Charles Hérard Dumesle, who often referred to Christophe as a “despot,” nonetheless praised the remarkable “new social order” outlined in the Code Henry. Dumesle appeared to lament that the king’s “civil laws were the formula for a social code that existed only on paper.”

For all those who still dream of Black liberation, strong – if ultimately flawed – leaders, like both the King of Hayti and T’Challa, have always been central to these visions.

King Henry was even depicted as a sort of superhero in his time. As one article from 1816 noted of Henry,

“History demonstrates that no people has ever done anything great entirely by themselves; it is only ever in collaboration with the great men who become elevated in their midst that they raise themselves up to the glory of accomplishing extraordinary deeds.”

Marlene Daut is the associate professor of African Diaspora Studies, University of Virginia

This story was republished by permission from The Conversation.

This article originally appeared in the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder

Black History

DeBoraha Akin-Townson: Trailblazing Cowgirl

According to the Texas State Historical Association, weekend rodeos featuring Black cowboys began in the late 1940s, thanks to the formation of the Negro Cowboys Rodeo Association in 1947.

Published

on

Rodeo is a sport in which cowboys and cowgirls showcase their skills in riding and roping. Its storied history has deep roots among many Blacks and Native Americans in the Midwest and South. 

Developed during the second half of the 19th century, events mainly took place in northern Mexico, the U.S., and western Canada. Despite the numbers of Black cowboys at that time, none were able to compete.
According to the Texas State Historical Association, weekend rodeos featuring Black cowboys began in the late 1940s, thanks to the formation of the Negro Cowboys Rodeo Association in 1947. Many from this organization would eventually pass the torch to DeBoraha Akin-Townson.
Quickly rising in the sport, Townson not only picked up the torch but made history by becoming the 1989 International Professional Rodeo Association Western Region Champion and, in 1990, the first Black cowgirl to compete in the International Professional Rodeo finals in Tulsa, Okla. 

She is also the only Black woman to compete with a professional card in the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association at the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association events throughout the U.S.
Very little has been recorded about Townson’s life. What is known is that she is of Native American heritage (Cherokee and Arkansas Indian) and was born in Rockford, Ill. She is about 62 years old and still married to her long-time husband, Stewart Townson. Her all-time hero, she told Indian Rodeo News, is her “maternal grandmother, who taught me to please God first through obedience and discipline. She was a true Proverbs 31 woman, and I try with all that I am to model myself after the godly example that she showed me.”
In 1980, Townson attended her first rodeo in Hemet, Calif. That’s when her interest in participating in the sport’s professional ranks was piqued.
Her event of choice was ‘barrels,’ something she had enjoyed since she was a child. In this event, a horse and rider attempt to run a cloverleaf pattern around preset barrels in the fastest time. 

Participants in this women-only event are known for quick turns and high speeds. The winner is determined by thousandths of a second, and Townson was fast. Yet she joked about a time when her horse finished the race before she did.
“It wasn’t so funny when it happened,” she told Indian Rodeo News, “but it became something that I could laugh about later. I fell off the back of my horse trying to pick up the third barrel. My horse finished the pattern without me with the fastest time of the rodeo. The barrel was up, but since I wasn’t on him when he crossed the finish line, it was a [disqualification].”
Today Townson works as a horse-racing instructor and has passed her love of the rodeo down to her children. She advises all youth to “dare to not just dream but dream big and find a rodeo mentor to advise you and spur you on.”

Continue Reading

African American News & Issues

Company Will Pay African Americans $125 to Participate in Research Project

Participants in the survey need a stable, high-speed internet connection since the interviews are all being conducted via Zoom. The researchers are also asking potential interviewees to make sure that they have access to a quiet room and a dedicated telephone, and that they should be willing to share their experiences and opinions for approximately one hour.

Published

on

Glasses, Notebook and Laptop courtesy of Dan Dimmock via Unsplash

Evitarus, a Black-owned, Los Angeles-based public opinion research firm, is surveying African Americans in California to gauge opinions on healthcare and racism. The goal of the project, the company says, is to gather data that can influence healthcare policy.

“We are conducting one of the largest scale studies of Black people in the U.S. regarding their perspectives on health and experiences with health care,” said Shakari Byerly, partner and principal researcher at Evitarus.

“This research will be focused on Black Californians with the goal of changing both practice and policy as it relates to health care delivery and the elimination of racism in the health care system in California,” Byerly added.

People Evitarus select for the one-hour interview will be paid $125 for their time. Researchers plan to interview 3,200 people.

During the second phase of the survey, researchers will conduct interviews with African Americans to discuss their personal experiences with the healthcare system, healthcare disparities and the impact of racism.

Participants in the survey need a stable, high-speed internet connection since the interviews are all being conducted via Zoom. The researchers are also asking potential interviewees to make sure that they have access to a quiet room and a dedicated telephone, and that they should be willing to share their experiences and opinions for approximately one hour.

Byerly, former director of the California Governance Project at the Center for Governmental Studies, is also a National Academy of Sciences Ford Foundation Fellow, a Rev. James Lawson Teaching Fellow at UCLA, and a member of the American Association for Public Opinion Research.

She is also active in a number of African American-focused statewide and local civic and community-based organizations, including serving on the boards of Black Women Organized for Political Action, the African American Community Empowerment Council, and the Los Angeles African American Women’s Political Action Committee.

Byerly said, with the study, Evitarus intends to do a deep dive into the demographics of African Americans in California.

“We are especially interested in reaching Californians in harder to reach segments of our community, including those 70+ years of age, men of all ages, the LGBTQ+ community, lower income Black Californians, and those in key regions such as the Far North, Central Valley, Central Coast, and Orange County and San Diego counties,” she said.  “That said, all Black Californians are encouraged to participate.”

For more information about participating in this project, visit https://evitarus.ca1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_enXQ1qkDsWWQfau.

Continue Reading

African American News & Issues

Reparations Task Force Agrees It Needs the Ideas, Input of Black Californians

Regions in the southern, northern, and central part of the state (where many Black farmers reside) should be involved in the process, said Grills. The “listening sessions would go beyond” formal task force meetings and would not infringe upon scheduled discussions, Grills added.

Published

on

Reparations Word Scramble Stock Via Google

On July 9, California’s Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans held its second meeting in a series of 10.

During the Zoom conference, the group’s nine members shared differing views on how to best get Black Californians involved in their deliberations.

But they all agreed on one key point: having voices and ideas of African Americans across the state influence their conversations would be the best approach to successfully accomplish their work.

“A lot of things that’s important is we as a task force not let ourselves operate in a vacuum,” said Dr. Cheryl Grills, a member of the task force and professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. “Not to assume that the public comments that happen at the end of our meetings are adequate to represent the community voice.”

Grills delivered a presentation titled “A Community Engagement Strategy for Taskforce Consideration.” In it, she put forth a plan to get Black Californians involved.

Grills suggested the task force host “listening sessions” across the state since it only has limited time to assess California’s role in slavery and Jim Crow discrimination — and follow up that work with developing resolutions to compensate African Americans for past and ongoing race-based injustices.

Regions in the southern, northern, and central part of the state (where many Black farmers reside) should be involved in the process, said Grills. The “listening sessions would go beyond” formal task force meetings and would not infringe upon scheduled discussions, Grills added.

The intent, she said, would be to involve Black Californians from varying backgrounds.

“Black folks exist in an ecosystem and the system includes a diverse, cultural base of people, social class, education levels, etc.,” said Grills. “So how do we make sure that those people are impacted. They need to be at the table.”

Through news coverage, Grills also suggested the National Association of Black Journalists could play a role in keeping the ongoing discourse about reparations “in the forefront and minds” of the Black community.

Lisa Holder, Esq. a nationally recognized trial attorney and task force member, emphasized that the proposal she prepared was not “in conflict” with Grills’ outreach plan and that her proposal offered a framework within which the task force can draw up its strategy to move forward.

Holder told fellow task force members that she and Grills are on the same page.

“This plan, for a lack of a better word, is in alignment with the blueprint we just saw (presented by Grills),” Holder clarified. “Grills focuses a little bit more on the details of how we can implement the community engagement plan. This outline I put together is a little bit broader and more of a concept.”

The meeting’s other seven participants were task force chair Kamilah V. Moore, a Los Angeles-based attorney, reparations scholar and activist; vice-chair Dr. Amos Brown, a civil rights leader and respected Bay Area pastor whose journey to leadership started under the tutelage of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s; Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena); Assemblymember Reginald Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles); San Diego Councilmember Monica Montgomery Steppe; Dr. Jovan Scott Lewis,  chair of the Department of Geography at the University of California Berkeley; and Attorney Don Tamaki, Esq. is an attorney best known for his role in the Supreme Court case of Korematsu v. the United States. Tamaki overturned the conviction of Fred Korematsu who refused to be taken into custody during the imprisonment of Japanese Americans in World War II.

After hearing Grills’ presentation, Brown raised concerns about transparency.

He also said that other groups around the state should have an opportunity to present a plan for community engagement.

“What will we do around this state without our giving due diligence to announce to everybody, that you can present a plan, too?” Brown asked. “Whether it’s northern, central California, whatever. We talk about transparency, but if we are going to be about it, then we should be about it.”

The task force voted 8-0 to consider both Holder’s and Grills’ community engagement plans. Brown opposed the motion and abstained, withholding his vote.

Bradford said he favored a “blending” of the two proposals. Both Grills and Bradford suggested that the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA and the Mervyn Dymally African American Political and Economic Institute at California State University Dominguez Hills could assist in facilitating the statewide listening sessions, possibly through the California Department of Justice. Both academic research institutes are located in Southern California.

Steppe expressed confidence in her colleagues and the process.

“The (Black) community is going to play a huge role in getting whatever we present across the finish line,” she promised.

The task force also agreed to move public comments during the meeting from the end to the beginning of the sessions. Public comments will also expand from two minutes to three, Moore announced.

Continue Reading

CHECK OUT THE LATEST ISSUE OF THE OAKLAND POST

ADVERTISEMENT

WORK FROM HOME

Home-based business with potential monthly income of $10K+ per month. A proven training system and website provided to maximize business effectiveness. Perfect job to earn side and primary income. Contact Lynne for more details: Lynne4npusa@gmail.com 800-334-0540

Facebook

Trending