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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.

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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

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Bay Area

“Youth Sports Nation” to Support Northern California Youth Baseball All-Star State Tournament in Oakland

Terry T. Butler (“Mr. Community”) and MLB-Oakland A’s legend Bip Roberts of Youth Sports Nation will host by providing ballpark entertainment and building excitement around baseball. “As alumni of the Oakland Babe Ruth Baseball League, our goal at Youth Sports Nation is to teach the conception of unification and sportsmanship through the game of baseball,” said Roberts.

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MLB-Oakland A’s Legend Bip Roberts (left) and music legend Terry T. “Mr.Community.” Photo courtesy of Youth Sports Nation.
MLB-Oakland A’s Legend Bip Roberts (left) and music legend Terry T. “Mr.Community.” Photo courtesy of Youth Sports Nation.

Special to The Post

Music & Sports Legends Group Youth Sports Nation will support the Oakland Babe Ruth Cal Ripken Baseball League as the league hosts the Northern California Youth State Baseball All-Star Tournament.

The seven-day tournament — from July 2 – 8, 2022, will take place at Oakland’s Carter Gilmore Field at 1390 66th Ave. Games begin at 9 a.m. including the holiday weekend. There is no cost to attend.

Terry T. Butler (“Mr. Community”) and MLB-Oakland A’s legend Bip Roberts of Youth Sports Nation will host by providing ballpark entertainment and building excitement around baseball.

“As alumni of the Oakland Babe Ruth Baseball League, our goal at Youth Sports Nation is to teach the conception of unification and sportsmanship through the game of baseball,” said Roberts.

Oakland is one of eight cities in northern California that will host games. The other cities are Hayward, Rohnert Park, Tracy, Woodland, Elk Grove, River Park and Windsor.

This statewide tournament, which differs from Little League baseball in that players use a regulation size field, is for 12-year-old competitors. The winners of this tournament will advance to a regional section tournament and perhaps move on to compete in the Babe Ruth Cal Ripken World Series.

“With the need to increase community activities, we’re bringing families together through the game of baseball,” say board members of Cal Ripken Babe Ruth Baseball.

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Bay Area

Community Banking to Community Building

At the heart of our business is the local community bank branch. But a local bank branch, especially in underserved neighborhoods, can be successful only when it fits the community’s needs. That’s why, over the last several years, we have shifted our approach from community banking to “community building” – a boots on the ground approach to better serve the needs of our local communities.

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As we celebrate Juneteenth this year, we are reminded of the promise and hope of the future.
As we celebrate Juneteenth this year, we are reminded of the promise and hope of the future.

Juneteenth is a day like no other. It is both a celebration of freedom and a reminder of the work that still must be done to bring about a more equitable society. So, as we recognize Juneteenth this year, now is the time to harness what unites us and help bring about changes that benefit all communities.

Taking actions focused on racial equity, along with diversity and inclusion, requires collaboration and building trust in the community. JPMorgan Chase is helping to drive sustainable changes through its five-year $30 billion racial equity commitment. With a business-led approach, this commitment aims to help address key drivers of the racial wealth divide in Black, Latino and Hispanic communities by investing in them directly.

Since its launch in October 2020, we have deployed or committed more than $18 billion toward our $30 billion goal. To sustain this progress, we must measure this effort and listen to feedback so we can have even greater impact in closing the wealth gap.

Here is just some of the progress we’ve made toward our commitment while working alongside our community partners across the country thus far:

  • Helped homeowners save money on their monthly mortgage payments by refinancing 19,000 of our 20,000 incremental loans goal
  • Approved funding for approximately $13 billion in loans to help create and preserve more than 100,000 affordable housing and rental units across the U.S.
  • Expanded our homebuyer grant program to $5,000 to help with down payment and closing costs
  • Helped customers open over 200,000 low-cost checking accounts with no overdraft fees
  • Spent an additional $155 million with 140 Black, Hispanic and Latino suppliers
  • Invested more than $100 million of equity in 15 diverse financial institutions that serve more than 89 communities in 19 states and the District of Columbia
  • Mentored more than 1,000 Black, Hispanic and Latino small businesses

Creating Community Impact

At the heart of our business is the local community bank branch. But a local bank branch, especially in underserved neighborhoods, can be successful only when it fits the community’s needs. That’s why, over the last several years, we have shifted our approach from community banking to “community building” – a boots on the ground approach to better serve the needs of our local communities.

Our Community Center branches are the most tangible symbols of our commitment to community building, as they were created to be a unique space in the heart of urban communities that hosts grassroots community events, small business mentoring sessions and financial health seminars.

Currently, we have 12 Community Center branches in neighborhoods like in Oakland, Stony Island in the South Shore of Chicago, Crenshaw in Los Angeles, and Wards 7 and 8 in Wash., D.C.

We’ll continue to add these Community Center branches in underserved communities in Miami, Atlanta, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Tulsa by the end of this year. We’ve also retrofitted over 300 existing branches, to now include spaces for the community to use to help expand access to banking and boost financial health and inclusion among Black, Hispanic and Latino communities.

A More Diverse Workforce

Creating a lasting impact is just as much about the people we hire as it is about the programs we implement. More diverse teams will allow us to generate better ideas and better outcomes, enjoy a stronger corporate culture and deliver a more transformational banking experience to our customers.

Despite the pandemic and talent retention challenges, we continue to boost our representation especially among women and people of color.

We want our branches to represent the neighborhoods they serve, which is why we continue to hire from our local communities. During this time, we’ve hired more than 300 people to community-focused roles: nearly 150 Community Managers, 150 Community Home Lending Advisors, as well as 25 diverse Senior Business Consultants.

The Community Center Manager, in particular, is a new role within the bank whose main job is to serve as local ambassadors to build trust and nurture relationships with community leaders, nonprofit partners, and small businesses.

Over the last year our Community Managers have hosted more than 1,300 community events reaching more than 36,000 nationwide with discussions ranging from ways to increase homeownership, and how to build generational wealth and stability.

As we celebrate Juneteenth this year, we are reminded of the promise and hope of the future.

We are committed to ensuring that you have the resources you need to own a home, start a business, save for college – or achieve any other goals or dreams. We look forward to working together and continuing to create lasting impact for your community and family for years to come.

Sponsored content from JPMorgan Chase & Co

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Black History

COMMENTARY: Juneteenth Holiday Touches Collective Memory of African American: It Deserves Honor

Dec. 31, 1862, then, would become the Watch Night of all Watch Nights. Ninety-nine days earlier, Pres. Abraham Lincoln had announced his intention to free people enslaved in most of the Southern states. It was sometime late the morning of Jan. 1, 1863, when Lincoln finally signed the document known as the Emancipation Proclamation and word immediately crossed the country, tapped out in Morse code on telegraph wires.

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Martha Yates Jones (left) and Pinkie Yates (right), daughters of Rev. Jack Yates, in a decorated carriage parked in front of the Antioch Baptist Church located in Houston's Fourth Ward, 1908. Photo courtesy of Houston Public Library Digital Collection.Martha Yates Jones (left) and Pinkie Yates (right), daughters of Rev. Jack Yates, in a decorated carriage parked in front of the Antioch Baptist Church located in Houston's Fourth Ward, 1908. Photo courtesy of Houston Public Library Digital Collection.
Martha Yates Jones (left) and Pinkie Yates (right), daughters of Rev. Jack Yates, in a decorated carriage parked in front of the Antioch Baptist Church located in Houston's Fourth Ward, 1908. Photo courtesy of Houston Public Library Digital Collection.

By Wanda J. Ravernell

It was a long time coming.

For centuries, they had prayed, fought and died seeking freedom from slavery.

The day they had awaited they called ‘Jubilee.’

Depending on where they resided, the day of ‘Jubilee’ came in fits and starts. In New Hampshire, the last slave was freed in 1853, New York in 1827 and Pennsylvania by 1810.

Enslaved people vicariously celebrated the 1791 revolt in Haiti leading to the first Black republic in the Western Hemisphere in 1804. The 1834 manumission of Blacks in Jamaica was another milestone.

During the slave era, New Year’s Day was dreaded as it was when enslavers settled their debts with the lives of their ‘property.’ New Year’s Eve, then was not celebrated, but rather spent in fervent prayer that their loved ones not be sold away.

Dec. 31, 1862, then, would become the Watch Night of all Watch Nights. Ninety-nine days earlier, Pres. Abraham Lincoln had announced his intention to free people enslaved in most of the Southern states. It was sometime late the morning of Jan. 1, 1863, when Lincoln finally signed the document known as the Emancipation Proclamation and word immediately crossed the country, tapped out in Morse code on telegraph wires.

But news of Jubilee didn’t reach Texas.

It would be two and half years and more than two months after the Confederate army surrendered to a Union Army that included Black men that soldiers brought the news to Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865.

The date would be contracted to Juneteenth and become the most widely and continuous celebration of the end of slavery in the U.S. Other states had Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, but those observations had died out as, for the sake of assimilation, Blacks distanced themselves from that dark past.

But not Black Texans, who took their custom with them during the Great Migration that began in earnest in 1915.

In Western cities with sizeable Black populations Juneteenth observations sprang up without the sanction of local government. (Texas would declare Juneteenth a statewide holiday in 1980.)

San Francisco (48 years), Berkeley (35 years), San Jose (41 years) and Vallejo (28 years) are Bay Area cities that have formalized the observation.

In Oakland, for the third year, Councilmember Loren Taylor and Project Lend A Hand– which provides school supplies for needy children — will hold a Juneteenth fundraiser called In the Town.

Barbara Howard of Brilliant Minds Inc., has held a Juneteenth the Last Saturday of the month since 2008. It will take place on June 25, 2022 ,at 925 Brockhurst St. It is free and open to the public

Others, like American Canyon, are holding their first Juneteenths, now that it has become the latest federal holiday, signed into law by Pres. Joe Biden on June 17, 2021.

Juneteenths have typically followed the pattern of those in Texas with parades, barbecues, and festivals, but making Juneteenth a national holiday has some Black people wondering what to do.

Unlike the other holidays that mark the summer, this one has meaning closer to our collective heart.

Frederick Douglass famously asked, “to what is the slave the Fourth of July?” because they had no freedom to celebrate.

Flowers brought to gravesides mark the monuments to loss on Memorial and Veterans’ Day.

But for many of us, these holidays (holy days) are mostly opportunities to gather with loved ones, have some food, play cards, eat some ’que and dance to recorded music in the summer and sleep late on chilly November 11.

So, what do we do with this holiday? This clearly holy day for our enslaved ancestors? How do we honor those who didn’t live to see the day of Jubilee?

And then there’s the quintessential question pushing forward from the back of the collective Black mind: How free are we? With mass incarceration and the persistent ills of the modern Jim Crow era, some would say that slavery never ended.

Research shows that in the initial decades after the news reached Galveston, the formerly enslaved went to church and prayed and gave thanks for the freedom they had attained.

More than 150 years later, perhaps we can set our natural cynicism aside long enough to be happy for our ancestors’ moment.

Perhaps, we won’t go to church. But we can light a candle. We can sing a freedom song together or sing the Black National Anthem in its entirety. We can hang the black, red and green Liberation colors or the Juneteenth flag in the front window.

We can set aside a symbolic plate of ’que, potato salad and greens and pour on the ground a libation of some red drink – hibiscus or Johnny Walker Red.

We can express our gratitude that they lived so we could live.

But perhaps most important, we need to teach our children. And maybe, just maybe they’ll bless us with a freestyle rhyme in the holy names of our ancestors.

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