The Real Story of Haiti

By Drew L Smith



RACE COLOUR, AND CHAOS It cannot be denied by even the most casual observer that the race issue is America's most serious domes- tic problem. Will the doctrine of racial equality and a national program of civil rights, now impressed by Federal statute upon the people of this country, tend to solve this problem? Does race consciousness, and colour `prejudice' persist where a mongrelization of race has been effected? For some answers to these most momen- tous questions let us examine the history of Haiti.

HAITI Situated some six hundred miles southeast of the United States is the island of Haiti. It is the only negro republic in the Western Hemisphere. Approximately the size of the state of Maryland, it was discovered by the Spanish in the year 1492. The Spaniards soon virtually extermi- nated the Indian aboriginies and were forced to import African negro slaves to labour on the growing sugar cane plantations. In 1697 Spain ceded the western one-third of the Island to France which they then called St. Dominique, now the black Republic of Haiti, while the Spanish retained the easternmost two-thirds of the island under the name of Santo Domingo, the present day Dominican Republic. By 1789 St. Dominique was the finest gem in the colonial empire of France. The French colonists supplied the home country and much of Europe with an ever increasing sugar, coffee and cotton export, the basic economic wealth of the island. At this time, according to the estimate of Moreau de Saint-Mery in, his Description de la Partie Francaise de l'Isle Saint Dominique, the total population of the colony was 518,500, divided into three parts: 39,000 white, 27,500 free coloured, and 452,000 slaves.

THE WHITES The white population, almost entirely foreign-born Frenchmen, although in complete control of the island, were themselves disunited by virtue of a class stratifica- tion, which formed among them a three-layer society. The planters and nobility constituted the upper strata, the merchants and shopkeepers the middle class, and a lower class living mainly in the sea-coast towns. There was no native white labouring class as this was not possible of development because of the huge slave population. Originally, it was the intention of the French Gov- ernment to make an entirely white colony of St. Dominique by the establishment of a small landowning class of Frenchmen, and by the creation of a white labour force of indentured men from Europe. Unfortunately, no sooner had this plan been put into action than it began to languish and finally completely fall under the impact of a fast growing slave society in this hemisphere. From this time onward the fate of St. Dominique as an outpost of Caucasian civilization was sealed.

THE MULATTOES The mulatto population of the island gradually devel- oped out of this mounting presence of the negro slave in a community where there was a pronounced scarcity of white women. The following figures show the upward climb of the mulatto numbers beginning with only 240 counted by the census of 1681 to 3,000 by 1745 and then 27,000 in 1789. Intermarriage of the races, although never prohibited by law, was not responsible for this condition as it was considered beyond the pale of white conduct in the colony. While tragically undermining their racial integrity the whites attempted to maintain a rigid colour line in this respect. They had neither the perception nor the re- straint to understand that their miscegenous practices would one day bring about their utter destruction. It is interesting to note that in addition to their strong social ban against interracial marriage that they also prac- tised racial segregation in almost every contact between the white and coloured people. The mulattoes were set apart by assigned sections in churches, public houses, theatres and public conveyances. This separation of the races became increasingly strict as the mulatto population became larger. These were the measures used by the white French colonists to maintain absolute control of the colony. In this resolve they were supported by the home govern- ment without deviation. It was a valiant effort to guard against the obliteration of their stock amidst a growing intermixture of the races.

THE NEGROES It has been seen that the African slaves constituted the vast bulk of the population of the island. These slaves were obtained from the same African sources as were those imported into Brazil and the United States. They came from the entire west coast of Africa, from the Senegal river to the Cape of Good Hope and around it as far eastward as Mozambique. Significantly, it may be observed that while far the largest number of these slaves were used as field labour on the white plantations, yet in many instances they were utilized by the thousands on the plantations of mulatto landowners. Segregated and restricted in almost every other way, as has been stated, the mulattoes were never restrained by law or custom from the ownership of land. It has been estimated by Gouy d'Arcy, one of the colony's deputies to the States-General, that in 1789 the mulattoes of St. Dominique owned one tenth of the land and fifty thousand slaves. There was no spirit of unity between the negroes and the mulattoes and when finally white authority in the colony ended, the mulattoes formed a solid front against Black domination.

THE FRENCH REVOLUTION The cry of "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity" raised by the Revolutionists in their overthrow of the French mon- archy was in effect a declaration of war by the mother country against the colony. When the National Assembly promulgated the Rights of Man in 1791 it necessarily embodied the political freedom of the mulattoes and the emancipation of the slaves in St. Dominique. The white colonists soon realized that a calamirv had befallen them, for they were now abandoned to their fate by their white brethren in the homeland and were left to deal with their race problem as best they could. The mulattoes seized the opportunity to rise against white rule and strike for full freedom. The negro slaves revolted and attacked both the whites and the mulattoes. For fifteen years a sanguinary [sic] struggle raged, ending with the loss of the island as a French possession and with the establishment of the Black Republic of Haiti.

A NEGRO NATION Since 1804 Haiti has been a completely free country peopled entirely by negroes and mulattoes. The passing of the white man from the Haitian scene produced neither peace, harmony nor national unity. A struggle for power between the mulattoes and the negroes continued unre- mittingly. Revolution after revolution placed one side and then the other in temporary ascendancy. Conditions finally became so bad America was forced to intervene, landing United States Marines at Port-au- Prince in 1915. In describing the conditions prevailing in Haiti at that time the Encyclopedia Britannica says: "Irrigation projects fell into decay; production and foreign trade dwindled. Political mismanagement increased the public debt. The courts were corrupt. Education practically ceased. There was little pro- tection of property and no industrial encourage- ment. Poverty and disease added to the general distress. The interior swarmed with bandits." With the return of the white man Haiti began to recover. Millions of American dollars went into the rehabilita- tion of the island Republic. When the Marines departed in 1934 they left behind them a rejuvenated country. The public debt had been reduced. Foreign trade was revived. Bridges and public buildings had been constructed. Harbours were im- proved. Old roads had been repaired and new ones built. Sanitation and health services were restored and greatly expanded along with many other improvements. Haiti had been given a fresh start, but it was not long before the country was again in trouble with a return to dictatorships and revolutions, putting one faction or the other in brief control of the government. These conditions persist up to the present day, as is evi- denced by the civil war, which has been raging on and off since May 26, 1957. Those who have observed existing conditions believe that the country may be in even worse shape than it was in 1915.

THE BAR OF COLOR What is the reason for this continued chaos in Haiti extending over a period of one hundred and fifty years? With the white man gone why have the Haitians in a century and a half been unable to progress and achieve national unity? According to most sociologists and ethnologists this perpetual disunion and even retrogression is principally caused by the racial differences in the population. To even the uninformed traveller it becomes quickly appar- ent that racial background is the most determinative factor in the lives of the people. To a large extent it fixes the role each person plays throughout his life. In brief, there is a race problem in Haiti and a definite colour consciousness which pervades their whole political, economic and social existence. The Haitian society of today is entirely made up of two roughly distinct classes, the mulattoes and the blacks. Just as in the period of French ownership the blacks far outnumber the mulattoes, the former numbering ninety percent of the total population by the census of 1950, and the latter the remaining ten percent. Thus, the mulattoes are a mere fraction of the nearly 400,000 inhabitants of the Island. In spite of their numerical inferiority, the mulattoes represent almost the entire upper strata of Haitian soci- ety sheerly, on the basis of their physical difference from the pure negro and more definitely negroid elements forming the black population. John Lobb, writing in the American Journal of Sociology for July 1940, empha- sizes the importance of skin colour and other white physical features in the life of the people of Haiti stating as follows: "In each class to be sure, there are individuals of contradictory physical characteristics, but the two classes are on the whole differentiated according to physical stigmata both recognizable and restrictive." These ineradicable racial dissimilarities have in truth raised and maintained a colour bar in a negro nation, in some respects more rigid and uncompromising than the colour barriers existing in some Caucasian countries. Interestingly this colour awareness is nonetheless sharp, despite the absence of any segregation laws in a land where there are no true whites involved in the racial equation. In addition to and growing out of these fundamental background racial distinctions, arises yet another important source of friction, expressing itself in wide- spread cultural differences between the mulattoes and the negroes. The former follow a pattern of living which is predominantly European, whereas the latter remain very largely steeped in West African customs. Nowhere has the colour line in Haiti been more no- ticeable than in politics. The Encyclopedia Americana states that the revolutions and usurpations which have shaken Haiti were, "often mere contests between repre- sentatives of the mulatto and black elements," These conditions persist right up to the present time. An Associated Press release of June 10, 1957 empha- sizes the all-importance of racial differences in the po- litical affairs of the Island under the following column heading: `COLOR BIG ISSUE IN ELECTION OF HAITI PRESIDENT'. The article in explanation of this headline declared: "Whether a Haitian is a full blooded negro or a mulatto can have an important bearing on his future in politics. A fierce colour consciousness will help determine who becomes Haiti's president for a six year term." The release then states further in discuss- ing Provisional President Daniel Fignole, and former Senator Louis Dejoie, the two principal candidates for the presidency: "No black skinned Haitian wants a mulatto such as Dejoie for president. No mulatto wants "black" Fignole. " Could anything more clearly answer the question as to whether or not the theory of racial equality and civil rights tend to solve the race problem? Does anything more emphatically demonstrate that a colour question and a problem of race cannot be eliminated, even in a mongrelized country? In Haiti the doctrine of the equality of races is an accepted fact by everyone, and yet they cleave unwaver- ingly to the colour line. In Haiti, everyone has long since had his civil rights, and yet the fear of colour is raised on all sides. In Haiti mongrelization has been effected, and the problem of race remains. Clearly it is to be seen that the race issue cannot be solved by either equalitarian propaganda or by any law, court decree, executive order or by mongrelization itself.

This essay, by Drew L. Smith, member of the Louisiana Bar, New Orleans, USA, was first written in the late 1950s. For further supplies of this leaflet please send 1 per 10 copies to the Historical Review Press, PO Box 62, Uckfield, East Sussex, TN22 1ZY, UK. Website:




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