By Senator Lena C. Taylor
Scenes of thousands of Haitians immigrants, seeking asylum in the United States and camped out near the international bridge in Del Rio, Texas, have jolted and exacerbated the continued fault line of race in this country. Images of white U.S. Federal Border Patrol Agents on horseback, using the reigns of their horses to chase Black Haitians, evoked images of violence reminiscent of slavery. As people grappled to understand the harsh treatment they were seeing, they also started asking why Haitians were showing up in such large numbers.
Those questions forced Americans, and quite frankly African Americans, to learn more about Haiti. What many of us didn’t realize, is that Haiti’s history, is tied to American history. When we were young kids in school, we walked right up to the line of learning about Haiti. It was hidden inside our classroom discussions about the Louisiana Purchase. In case you’ve been out of school for a while and need a refresher, just go to the website History.com.
A quick review says that “The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 brought into the United States about 828,000 square miles of territory from France, thereby doubling the size of the young republic. What was known at the time as the Louisiana Territory stretched from the Mississippi River in the east to the Rocky Mountains in the west and from the Gulf of Mexico in the south to the Canadian border in the north. Part or all of 15 states were eventually created from the land deal, which is considered one of the most important achievements of Thomas Jefferson’s presidency.”
You have to nearly go to the bottom of the page before you see any mention of slavery. It sparsely says “It’s believed that the failure of France to put down a slave revolution in Haiti, the impending war with Great Britain and probable British naval blockade of France – combined with French economic difficulties – may have prompted Napoleon to offer Louisiana for sale to the United States.” Maybe, History.com really wasn’t the place to go. Even the wording of the failure to “put down” a slave revolution, demands that we continue researching that history.
The harsh truth is that the story of Haiti includes the enslavement of nearly 800,000 Africans who were brought to the area to work cotton, sugar and coffee crops in the 17th century. The abuse that they suffered at the hands of the French government was absolutely unconscionable. Enslaved Africans would revolt against their condition in 1791. They fought for the next 12 years to gain their freedom and independence in 1804. However, in winning the war, one of the battles they lost is the decision that the formerly enslaved Africans would have to pay reparations to France. Those reparations, which were finally paid off in 1947, the physical location of Haiti, earthquakes and hurricanes, a recently assassinated president, and a number of other factors have created horrific living conditions for the people of Haiti. There’s a lot more to the story and I encourage you to seek out the truth. However, we need to start with this: Haiti’s history is a part of American history and Haiti’s blood runs through America’s veins.