They were Black. They were fierce. And when they took on Napoleon’s French army in battles that would rage on and off for 13 years, their fighting spirit was so powerful that there could be but one outcome: Black victory. It’s been two hundred years since Haiti, led by the mighty Toussaint L’Ouverture, defeated the French, liberating the country from slavery and establishing the first free Black republic in the Western Hemisphere.
The singular triumph of that revolution is being commemorated with a cruise in the Caribbean culminating in a celebration in Haiti this summer that will feature an international Black arts festival aboard ship. Essence spoke with Ron Daniels, chairman of the Haiti Support Project, sponsor of the event, on why African-Americans should get on board this cruise into history.
Audrey Edwards: What does the victory of the Haitians over the French in 1804 have to do with Blacks in America?
Ron Daniels: The Black world should be saluting Haiti because it shattered the myth of White supremacy when it finally routed the French. The Haitian soldiers then went on to liberate their bordering neighbor, later known as the Dominican Republic. And the Haitian revolt was the inspiration for Denmark Vesey’s slave revolt in South Carolina years later.
A.E.: What lessons can we learn from a tiny country’s defeating such a military power?
R.D.: The Haitian victory proved what sheer determination, tremendous unity and energy and a ferocious fighting spirit can do. The Haitian people knew the terrain, employed successful guerrilla tactics and were willing to give up life and limb.
A.E.: How will a cruise commemorate this victory?
R.D.: We’re viewing this as a seven-day Pan-African pilgrimage. We’ll be taking over half of a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, leaving from Miami on August 14. The ship will make stops in Nassau, St. Thomas and San Juan. There will be a welcome for us and salute to Haiti in each port before we arrive at the final destination—Haiti itself—where we’ll spend a day. Passengers can buy world-renowned Haitian art, taste the cuisine and choose among five tours showcasing the country’s proud history.
A.E.: What about the arts festival you’re planning?
R.D.: Artists and activists such as Danny Glover, Harry Belafonte and Hugh Masekela will be performing. There will also be an international film festival, and workshops and forums on everything from Black women’s issues to the state of the Black world led by people such as Representative John Conyers, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Bev Smith.
This is ultimately about much more than a cruise. It’s about engagement and a greater sense of connectedness to a country that now needs our help with finishing its revolution by building its economy. We want a lasting relationship with Haiti to come out of this.