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Antebellum African Americans, Public Commemoration, and the Haitian Revolution: A Problem of Historical Mythmaking

Antebellum African Americans, Public Commemoration, and the Haitian Revolution: A Problem of... The slave uprising and revolution in the French colony of Saint Domingue between 1791 and 1804 created the modern era's first black republic and sent shock waves through the Atlantic World. Haiti's example of self-liberation and independent governance inspired African Americans seeking their own freedom, and the event and its heroes were widely admired and written about by antebellum black activists. Of the various events antebellum black Americans publicly commemorated, however, the absence of any public demonstrations commemorating the Haitian Revolution is conspicuous, if not surprising. Given the horror with which white Americans viewed events on Saint Domingue, black Americans realized that publicly identifying with the bloody slave revolution would both alienate the very people whose support they needed, and exacerbate white violence against black public celebrations and black communities. Nonetheless, numerous scholars have asserted the existence of antebellum African American commemorations of the Haitian Revolution without ever documenting an actual observance publicly commemorating that event. This essay reviews the secondary historical literature that has promulgated the inaccurate claim that black Americans commemorated the Haitian Revolution, traces the evidentiary trail relating to the ostensible celebrations, and discusses the issue's implications for historical practice. Like other recent scholarly debates in antebellum African American history regarding documentation and reliability of sources, this case cautions researchers against the hasty embrace of interpretations that validate one's affective attachments to historical subjects, and argues for more skeptical and critical readings of both primary and secondary sources. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Journal of the Early Republic University of Pennsylvania Press

Antebellum African Americans, Public Commemoration, and the Haitian Revolution: A Problem of Historical Mythmaking

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Publisher
University of Pennsylvania Press
Copyright
Copyright © 2006 Society for Historians of the Early American Republic.
ISSN
1553-0620
Publisher site
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Abstract

The slave uprising and revolution in the French colony of Saint Domingue between 1791 and 1804 created the modern era's first black republic and sent shock waves through the Atlantic World. Haiti's example of self-liberation and independent governance inspired African Americans seeking their own freedom, and the event and its heroes were widely admired and written about by antebellum black activists. Of the various events antebellum black Americans publicly commemorated, however, the absence of any public demonstrations commemorating the Haitian Revolution is conspicuous, if not surprising. Given the horror with which white Americans viewed events on Saint Domingue, black Americans realized that publicly identifying with the bloody slave revolution would both alienate the very people whose support they needed, and exacerbate white violence against black public celebrations and black communities. Nonetheless, numerous scholars have asserted the existence of antebellum African American commemorations of the Haitian Revolution without ever documenting an actual observance publicly commemorating that event. This essay reviews the secondary historical literature that has promulgated the inaccurate claim that black Americans commemorated the Haitian Revolution, traces the evidentiary trail relating to the ostensible celebrations, and discusses the issue's implications for historical practice. Like other recent scholarly debates in antebellum African American history regarding documentation and reliability of sources, this case cautions researchers against the hasty embrace of interpretations that validate one's affective attachments to historical subjects, and argues for more skeptical and critical readings of both primary and secondary sources.

Journal

Journal of the Early RepublicUniversity of Pennsylvania Press

Published: Aug 5, 2006

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