The U.N. Is Commemorating Haiti’s Role in Ending the Slave Trade. Here’s Why.

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tags: slavery, Haiti, slave trade



Manisha Sinha is the author of "The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition."

UNESCO has chosen Aug. 23 to commemorate the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and Its Abolition, but the historical significance of that day may escape many. On the night that spanned August 22 and 23, 1791, slave rebels in the French colony of Saint-Domingue started the Haitian Revolution, the only instance of a successful slave rebellion in world history and the founding event of the first modern black republic. More than the American Revolution and its aftermath, which resulted in the gradualabolition of slavery in the northern states, the Haitian Revolution, which continued until 1804, constitutes a landmark in the history of abolition. It highlighted the abuses of slavery and dealt a blow to the Atlantic Slave Trade, the profitable and inhumane traffic in human beings from the west coast of Africa to European colonies and countries in the Americas.

The history of abolition begins with those who resisted slavery at its inception. African resistance to enslavement—epitomized in the more than 200 shipboard insurrections that dot the four centuries of the slave trade and in maroon communities of runaway slaves on both sides of the Atlantic—is often forgotten in the recent scholarship on African nations’ participation in the slave trade.

The “Black Jacobins” of Haiti were not only influenced by the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen of the French Revolution of 1789, but also by the long tradition of petit marronage and slave resistance established by enslaved Africans in Saint-Domingue. Under the brilliant military leadership of Toussaint Louverture—who warded off challenges to his authority by slaveholders, free men of color, French emissaries and the armies of the slaveholding British and Spanish empires—black Saint-Dominguans laid the foundation for Haitian independence after 13 years of unremitting warfare. Louverture was eventually imprisoned and died in France, but his successors defeated the world-conquering army of Napoleon, who, after the first French Republic attempted to abolish slavery, re-established the practice in the rest of the French empire.

More than 300 years after Christopher Columbus landed in Hispaniola, destroyed its native population and introduced African slavery, the island witnessed the birth of the independent Republic of Haiti, its native name, on Jan. 1, 1804. The Haitian Declaration of Independence simply stated, “We have dared to be free, let us be thus by ourselves and for ourselves.”

Four years later, on that very date, Britain and the United States abolished the African slave trade. ...




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