Black Spartacus: The Epic Life of Toussaint Louverture

Pooja Bhatia writes:

T he​ movement for Black liberation made its world-historical debut in August 1791 when ten thousand slaves in the north of Saint-Domingue rose up and laid waste to sugar plantations. Within three months, the numbers involved in the insurrection had grown eightfold. Sugar production almost ceased. Fortunes burned. Planters fled, and some were killed. By 1794, the rebels had compelled France to abolish slavery throughout its colonies. Here was one of the most astonishing achievements in history, but it was fleeting. Napoleon, who seized power in 1799, reneged on France’s promise of ‘liberté, égalité, fraternité’ for those with dark skin. His regime couldn’t tolerate a former slave ruling over its most valuable colony. But Toussaint Louverture’s army of self-freed soldiers – men and women uprooted from their homelands and families, survivors of the Middle Passage and of an especially brutal form of slavery – wouldn’t submit to bondage again. The French general Charles Leclerc promised to subdue Saint-Domingue within two weeks, but nine months later he was dead, along with tens of thousands of his soldiers. In 1804, Haiti became the second republic in the New World and the first Black one. The second article of its constitution abolished slavery; the fourteenth declared all Haitians, regardless of their skin colour, to be Black. Haiti was post-colonial before many colonies existed.

(LRB 19 Nov 2020)

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