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Revolutions and Revisions: An Interview with Charles Forsdick and Christian Høgsbjerg

In Toussaint Louverture: A Black Jacobin in the Age of Revolutions (Pluto) Charles Forsdick and Christian Høgsbjerg have produced what is arguably the most important biography of Louverture since CLR James’ magisterial Black Jacobins was first published in 1938. Kicking against the contemporary anti-Black and anti-radical revisionism that downplays the historical importance of the revolution while dismissing the significance of Louverture himself, Forsdick and Hogsbjerg’s short monograph is urgent, timely, and strikingly well-written. They have also created a sort of supplement to the book, editing The Black Jacobins Reader (Duke), an excellent collection of essays, commentaries, and primary source material that provides additional context and critique for the writing, production, and circulations of James’ classic history.  

Charles Forsdick is James Barrow Professor of French at the University of Liverpool and the author Victor Segalen and the Aesthetics of Diversity (Oxford University Press, 2000), Travel in Twentieth-Century French and Francophone Cultures (Oxford University Press, 2005), among other works, and he has published widely on colonial history and postcolonial literature, travel writing, and Haiti, the Haitian Revolution, and the representations of Toussaint Louverture. Christian Hogsbjerg is a Lecturer in Critical History and Politics at the University of Brighton. He is the author of C.L.R. James in Imperial Britain (Duke, 2014) and Chris Braithwaite: Mariner, Renegade, and Castaway (On Our Own Authority!,  2017), as well as numerous essays and articles. Hogsbjerg’s research interests focus on Caribbean history, the black presence in imperial Britain, the black experience of the British Empire, and CLR James. 

The Public Archive: Why Toussaint Louverture – and why now? And what led you both to historical projects on Black radicalism?

CH: When we are thinking of the origins or roots of contemporary movements like #BlackLivesMatter, the Haitian Revolution represents a foundational, inspirational moment but one of also wider world-historical impact and importance – “the only successful slave revolt in history,” as George Padmore first put it – and so as the most outstanding leader to emerge during that revolutionary upheaval Toussaint Louverture will always retain relevance and iconic significance.   From 1793, when Toussaint dropped his name Breda and became “Louverture” and began calling for universal “general liberty” he began to define freedom in more radical terms than anyone else.  As he put it at one point when critiquing liberal French republicans of the time –“we will obtain another freedom, different from the one you tyrants want to impose on us.” Fundamentally, Toussaint stressed that freedom was not a gift or something that could be bestowed from above, by tyrants – but it was something that had to be fought for and taken from below by the masses themselves. 

There is a quote from James Baldwin in the superb 2016 film I Am Not Your Negro,directed by Haitian director Raoul Peck, “When any white man in the world says “Give me liberty or give me death,” the entire white world applauds. When a black man says exactlythe same thing, word for word, he is judged a criminal and treated like one and everything possible is done to make an example of this bad nigger so there won’t be any more like him.”  History is a little bit more complex than that, but Baldwin has a point.  For fighting for liberty in colonial Saint-Domingue, Toussaint Louverture was judged a criminal by Napoleon, captured, deported and left in an isolated prison in the Fort de Joux near the French Alps, where he died in 1803.  We were privileged to be able to reproduce David Rudder’s calypso “Haiti” (1988) in The Black Jacobins Reader, and the opening of that speaks eloquently to Baldwin’s point:

Toussaint was a mighty man
And to make matters worse he was black
Black and back in the days when black men knew
Their place was in the back

Yet the intriguing complexities of Louverture – the sense he was a tragic hero who lost his way and before his capture by the French became in a sense the representative an emerging new black ruling class in Haiti, need teasing out and exploring as well – and this can also help us to better understand the wider revolutionary process underway historically – and also help illuminate some of the subsequent fates of anti-colonial leaders of nationalist revolutions in the twentieth century.

My interest in historical projects on Black radicalism in part came from the anti-racist and anti-fascist activism that I was involved with, campaigning against the fascist British National Party while an undergraduate and post-graduate student in Leeds in the late 1990s and 2000s, as well as anti-war and anti-imperialist activism around the Stop the War movement at the time of Bush and Blair’s neo-colonial “war on terror.” My reading of C.L.R. James and The Black Jacobinsopened up this rich hidden history of Caribbean revolt and black British resistance that seemed an immense and timely “resource of hope” amidst the horror of things like the Iraq war and occupation – and also James’s Marxist approach was a timely antidote to contemporary prevailing intellectual fashions then underway in cultural history. I then began my doctoral work on C.L.R. James’s time in 1930s Britain at the University of York in 2004, building on a MA dissertation on the same topic at the same institution back in 2002, and this only further reinforced my sense that there was still so much work to be done in the fields of resistance among the enslaved and colonized across the Caribbean as well with respect to the history of black British radicalism.

Having the honour of editing James’s play Toussaint Louverture: The story of the only successful slave revolt in historyfor its first ever publication in 2013 with Duke University Press as part of their C.L.R. James Archives series drew me into reading further about revolutionary history in Haiti. (The play is currently being adapted into a graphic novel by Nic Watts and Sakina Karimjee with Verso). When Pluto got in touch about writing a popular biography of Toussaint for their “Revolutionary Lives” series it seemed an obvious project for Charles and myself to undertake alongside our editing of The Black Jacobins Reader, not least because Charles and myself had already collaborated to co-write an essay together recovering the story of Sergei Eisenstein’s doomed attempt to make a film about the Haitian Revolution starring Paul Robeson. I think we both had a sense that there had not been a decent easily accessible political biography of Toussaint Louverture for a while, at least not in English, one that took him seriously as a great anti-imperialist fighter who could still inspire radicals today, and which could register and take account of the new research and writing in Haitian revolutionary studies that has emerged since James’s great work.

CF: Christian and I came to these projects from different perspectives – but serendipitously our trajectories converged and we were able to collaborate on the article about Eisenstein for History Workshop Journal, the Black Jacobins Readerand finally the biography of Louverture in Pluto’s “Revolutionary Lives” series. I had read C.L.R. James’s history of the Haitian Revolution long before I would develop a research interest in French colonial history and the so-called “French Caribbean.” I came back to the topic in 1998, in the year of the 150thanniversary of the abolition of slavery in the French colonial empire. I grew increasingly frustrated that the state-endorsed commemorative practices followed a predictable pattern (we would see the same in Britain in 2007, the year of the so-called “Wilberfest”), foregrounding abolition as a legislative, philanthropic process (embodied in French in figures such as Victor Scholecher) and downplaying, even denying the agency of the enslaved. James outlines the process in The Black Jacobins: :Sad though it may be, that is the way that humanity progresses. The anniversary orators and the historians supply the prose-poetry and the flowers.” Edouard Glissant described the 1998 celebrations in France along similar lines as a “Franco-French affair” – and this extended to the treatment of Toussaint Louverture, presented in that year’s events (when a plaque to him was unveiled in the Paris Pantheon) as a French Republican general and not as the Haitian freedom fighter who led a struggle against France, Britain and Spain that would lead to emancipation not only from the shackles of enslavement but also from those of colonial oppression. That process of domestication and gallicization fits into a longstanding assimilation of Louverture into more self-congratulatory narratives of French republicanism (there were even plans to Pantheonize him in 1989) – narratives that tend to deny the shortcomings of the French Revolution when it comes to questions of ethnicity (colleagues with whom I have collaborated in the ACHAC public history group call this “fracture colonial”) and also fail to acknowledge the singularity of the Haitian Revolution in its quest for universal emancipation.

In the late 1990s, when I was working on Edouard Glissant’s work in the context of ongoing research on exoticism and diversity (I’m currently editing a collection of translations of his later writings for Liverpool University Press), I knew he had written a little-studied radio play on the Haitian Revolution in the late 1950s, subsequently published as Monsieur Toussaint. It is a remarkable piece of theatre, in which the dying Louverture, imprisoned by Bonaparte at the Fort de Jouxin the Jura, relives his past with his cell haunted by figures from Haitian history. For Glissant, this was a key work, the first clear articulation of what he would call a ‘prophetic vision of the past’, and an attempt to reflect in terms of spatial performance (the initial radio play became a stage version) on pan-Caribbean solidarity – it’s important to note that the first version of Monsieur Toussaintwas written in 1959, the year that Glissant established, with Paul Niger, the Front Antillo-Guyanais pour l’Autonomie, as a result of which Charles de Gaulle prevented him from leaving France to return to the Caribbean until 1965. The play is a radical work in that it demonstrates how Louverture – even if, as its title suggests, he had been stripped by Napoleon of the trappings of his rank and returned to anonymity – transcended the confines of his prison cell to ensure that the incendiary nature of the Revolution continued. In a conference paper in 1998, I read Glissant’s work in relation to James’s 1936 drama – for which I then had to rely not on Christian’s 2013 edition with Duke University Press but on what is actually a version of the 1967 rewriting included in Errol Hill’s 1976 edition of eight Caribbean plays, A Times and a Season.

This initial work led me to focus on cross-cultural representations of Louverture more generally, a project that took on encyclopedic proportions as I realized how the revolutionary has been instrumentalized in so many different contexts in the two centuries following his death. The corpus I assembled included novels, poetry and plays; it extended to the visual arts and cinema; it now encompasses comics and video games – there is even now a Toussaint Louverture liqueur, and his image is emblazoned on barbecue aprons and mugs.  This proliferation of representations suggested to me a translatability, even an acceptability to Louverture that we do not associated with Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the revolutionary leader and liberator whose standing has always been greater in Haiti itself than elsewhere – and it was that translatability that led me to ask a series of questions about Louverture’s revolutionary legacies. Does the reproducibility of his image suggest that, like that of Che, his incendiary impact will slowly be exhausted in a process of neo-liberal appropriation, or are there flashpoints – like James’s engagement with Haiti in the 1930s – when those revolutionary afterlives are aligned with contemporary struggles and reignited? The context of #BlackLivesMatter, Rhodes Must Fall and other international activist movements aimed at challenging Afriphobia whilst demanding reparations suggest that this might be a particular moment in which Louverture frees himself again from the chains of more limiting, conservative representations. Our collaboration needs, I think, to be read in that context.

Your biography of Louverture has two major points of historiographical engagement. The first is with James’ classic study; the second with what you call a “conservative revisionism” that has offered some serious critiques of not only James’ work, but also of certain interpretations of Toussaint Louverture and the project of the Haitian Revolution. Two questions emerge from these engagements. First, in what ways did The Black Jacobinsboth open up and delimit your own attempts to tackle Louverture’s life? Second, what is the nature and origins of this conservative revisionism and how have you responded to it?

CH: We felt it was important to defend and restate the main underlying thesis of The Black Jacobins, including the way in which the French and Haitian Revolutions were intrinsically intertwined throughout, and James’s analysis of Toussaint Louverture in particular as a “black Jacobin.”  We had a sense that there would be few other scholars attempting to do such a thing, for doing so meant swimming against the stream of two dominant strands of thought in academia which not only reject such an approach theoretically but also in many ways felt emboldened by some of the new research that has come to light about the Haitian Revolution since James wrote his pathbreaking work back in 1938. Firstly, rightly, there has a growing attention to the African roots and dynamics of the Haitian Revolution among historians – but accompanying this has been a sense among many that we should avoid too much of an allegedly “Eurocentric” focus on the impact of the Enlightenment and the ideas of the French Revolution, which James is said to have overstated at the expense of a recognition of the “African” ideologies of both kingship and also that of vodou  – the latter a strong theme in Madison Smartt Bell’s 2007 biography of Toussaint Louverture. Yet the very title of James’s work – BlackJacobins – shows James was arguably well aware of the importance of the “Africanness” of the revolution in terms of ideologies of kingship and so on, and also of vodou as a revolutionary ideology – “the medium of the conspiracy” he called it in his work.  One strength of James’s work was his clear grasp that one of the most important processes during the revolution was that over the course of the struggle old ideas of “kingship” began to give way to a new discourse of “liberty and equality,” and these ideals became embodied as a powerful material force in the black revolutionary slave army under Toussaint’s leadership. The ideals of The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen in 1789 and the National Convention’s abolition decree of 1794 fired Louverture’s rhetoric when addressing his own fighters. On 18 May 1797, in an Address to soldiers for the universal destruction of slavery,” for example, Louverture declared: “Let the sacred flame of liberty that we have won lead all our acts … Let us go forth to plant the tree of liberty, breaking the chains of our brothers still held captive under the shameful yoke of slavery.  Let us bring them under the compass of our rights, the imprescriptible and inalienable rights of free men.  [Let us overcome] the barriers that separate nations, and unite the human species into a single brotherhood.”

Secondly, there have always been attempts to downplay Toussaint’s political radicalism – perhaps he was a ”black Girondin” rather than a “black Jacobin” for example – but there has been a more recent conservative revisionist turn in historiography, epitomized for us by the recent otherwise quite impressive biography of Toussaint Louverture by Philippe Girard.  For Girard, it is time to drop the idea that “Louverture was the idealistic herald of slave emancipation” and “the forefather of an independent Haiti.”  Rather, as Girard tells us, “above all, he was a pragmatist … [concerned above all with] personal ambition … his craving for social status was a constant. Educating himself, seeing to his children’s future, making money, gaining and retaining power, and achieving recognition as a great man: he never wavered from the pursuit of these ends. He was a social climber and a self-made man…”

Our work fundamentally challenges Girard’s argument here.  Though new sources have come to light since James wrote, for example revealing Toussaint’s status as a slave-owner in pre-revolutionary Saint Domingue, he was not – and never claimed to be – a revolutionary until the revolution erupted in the last dozen years of his life. As a black person living in a non-revolutionary situation in a barbaric slave society most of his life, where black people could be killed on a whim by white people as a matter of course, with little (if any) chance of any legal or other repercussions, sheer survival and existencerepresented in itself a form of resistance. Girard himself relates one incident relating to Toussaint that happened while walking back from the Mass one day with his prayer book:  “According to the story, which he shared ten years later, ‘a white man broke my head with a wooden stick while telling me ‘do you not know that a negro should not read?’”  Louverture prudently begged for forgiveness and slipped away, a decision that likely saved his life.  But he kept his blood-soaked vest as a reminder and neither forgot nor forgave. Running into the same man years later, after the outbreak of the slave revolt, he killed him on the spot.”

Moreover, once the Haitian Revolution began in 1791, as we argue it is surely a little odd to maintain that Louverture was “above all” a “pragmatist” concerned with “personal ambition,” “social status” and “making money.”  Such a person, it might be suggested, would be an unlikely person repeatedly to risk life and limb by putting themselves on the frontline of a black slave army fighting under the banner of “Liberty or death” – and indeed, would be the least likely person to be able to inspire others to follow him into battle under such a slogan. If Louverture had wanted money and status above all, there were surely safer ways to try and secure them, even once the revolt had begun.  Indeed, rather than seeing Louverture essentially as a “self-made man,” we would re-iterate the point made by James, who stressed that on a fundamental level “it was the revolution that made Toussaint.”

Incidentally, Philippe Girard in his review of our work in the New West Indian Guidefor some reason avoids engaging with the substantive critique of his work that we make, instead accusing us of “ideological bias,” arguing “historians normally comb archives and then follow the sources wherever they may take them. Forsdick and Høgsbjerg proceed the other way around, beginning with a wish ‘to reassert the incendiary political implication of [Louverture’s] life, actions, and revolutionary political thought’…” Quite how one is supposed to start historical work researching the leader of the greatest slave revolt in world history without having any pre-existing “ideological” preconceptions is unclear, and indeed James in The Black Jacobinsdismissed the kind of ultra-empiricist approach apparently favoured by Girard as a completely inappropriate method when writing revolutionary history. As James put it, historians who try to be “fair to both sides” in a revolution tend to miss not only “the creative actions and ideas of the revolutionary forces” but even “the clash of an irresistible conflict, of suddenly emergent forces pursuing unsuspected aims” which overtly reactionary historians can sometimes give a clearer sense of.

CF: Unlike Christian, who is a historian, I have always come to James as a student of France and as someone who has emerged from a British tradition of “French Studies.” According to a sort of methodological nationalism, my disciplinary background is one that has often had a mimetic relationship to intellectual traditions in France, often failing to question either the ethnolinguistic assumptions of much French thought or the ethnocentric emphases of revolutionary historiography. My more recent work – notably on Pierre Nora’s Lieux de mémoire– has attempted to reveal colonial blind spots and contribute to the decolonization of French intellectual histories. For me, the experience of reading James’s Black Jacobinswas inevitably central to this work – and I suspect his uneven reception in France, at least until recent years when scholars such as Matthieu Renaulthave made the importance of his work so much more accessible, reflects the highly disruptive nature of his thesis. It overturns so many assumptions in France, not least those that for many years reduced the Haitian Revolution to a poor tropical imitation of its more serious French counterpart, some exotic sideshow to the events in Paris. The visibility of Haiti and its Revolution still remains limited in France, and knowledge of the country – past and present – has until recent years been surprisingly partial. James reminds us that at certain points in the 1790s, the centre of gravity of revolutionary struggle was focused in Saint-Domingue; he demonstrates that the Haitian revolutionaries were able to imagine possible futures – not least relating to universal emancipation – that were, in the terms deployed by Michel-Rolph Trouillot – “unthinkable” for their French counterparts. Building on these reflections, we can suggest that the tensions between universalism and ethnic diversity with which France still grapples are rooted in the historic failure to acknowledge Haiti and its Revolution –  a failure cemented by the massive debt imposed on the country in 1825 in return for recognition of its independence, a debt that was only paid off in 1946 and that led in part to the chronic underdevelopment of independent Haiti.

In relation to your specific question about conservative revisionism in the area of revolutionary historiography, this needs to be read in a much wider frame of re-figurings of Louverture. Historical characters associated with legend inevitably lend themselves to a greater malleability. This was as true in the interwar period, when James was researching The Black Jacobins, as it has been more recently. Let’s not forget that James’s version of the Haitian revolutionary is just one of a number that emerged in the 1930s. We tend to retain the more progressive ones of these – Césaire’s anti-racist rendering of Louverture in his Cahier d’un retour au pays natal; Jacob Lawrence’s pictorial interpretation, in the context of the Harlem Renaissance, in the 42 panels of his remarkable Life of Toussaint L’Ouverture, now at the Amistad Research Center in New Orleans – and then conveniently forget others, most notably the reading of Louverture as a ruthlessly ambitious dictator in Die Revolution von Saint Domingue(1930), by the Nazi historian Erwin Rusch. More recent readings of Louverture that deny his revolutionary ambition and claim that he was committed to protecting a status quo (and his own interests within that status quo) may be associated with a long-standing French historiographic tradition in this area. Pierre Pluchon’s Toussaint Louverture: Un révolutionnaire noir de l’Ancien Régime (1989) argued, for instance, as its subtitle suggests, that Louverture was an Old Regime revolutionary, seeking to replace white with black rule in an attempt to maintain colonial order.

In your introduction to The Black Jacobins Reader you argue that The Black Jacobinsis “much more than a book” and you describe it as part of a “text-network” made up of a series of “translations without an original.” What do you mean by this – and what are the texts (and contexts) that produced The Black Jacobins? How does this enhance our understandings or interpretation of The Black Jacobins?

CF: The idea of the “text-network” made up of a series of “translations without an original” is one we borrow from Susan Gillman’s highly suggestive study of The Black Jacobinsincluded in an excellent collection of essays edited by Peter Hulme and others, Surveying the American Tropics. Gilman in turn adopts the concept from the classicist Dan Selden. In a 2010 article in Ancient Narrative, Selden had challenged the ways in which studies of the “ancient novel” tend to privilege an understanding of single-authored texts to detriment of reading works as evidence of a “multiplicity of different versions, in a wide variety of different languages, retailored to fit a host of different cultural contexts.” A figure we might use to understand such forms of production and dissemination is that of the rhizome, central to Caribbean thought as a result of its adoption by Edouard Glissant in Poétique de la Relationand other writings. We suggest in the Readerthat to read The Black Jacobinsrhizomatically has major implications for the ways in which we understand the text and its impact. On the one hand, it allows us to undermine any cult of authorship: despite the distinctive nature of his writing, James’s writing of his work was openly dialogic, the result of conversations with a range of interlocutors including, for instance, Haitian diplomat Auguste Nemours and James’s compatriot Eric Williams; at the same time, the text includes fragments from a plethora of sources, published and manuscript – we still need a comprehensive critical edition of The Black Jacobins, identifying in detail the material on which James drew and the differences between editions.

The answer to your question is provided as a result in large part by Rachel Douglas’s The Making of the Black Jacobins(Duke University Press, 2019), a meticulous study of the ways in which James engaged with the history of the Haitian Revolution across six decades of his life. These rewritings stretch from the first mention of Toussaint Louverture in his 1931 article in The Beacon, written even before he had left Trinidad, critiquing the pseudoscientific racism of Sidney Harland, to a series of articles, lectures and other engagements in his later years. In a literal sense, The Black Jacobins– drama or history – is a profoundly unstable text, and this not only because of the multiple versions that exist, with, as David Scott has demonstrated, often very different emphases. Already, within James’s own writing practice, we see evidence of transgeneric translation, as a narrative that began life as a play is transformed into a history (in which traces of Shakespearean tragedy of course persist). But his engagement with Haiti spills beyond these works. Anyone who explores James’s wider oeuvreor who visits his archives at UWI St-Augustine, Columbia University or elsewhere will be struck by the recurrence of references to Haiti, in articles, lectures, book reviews, prefaces, correspondence. The Haitian Revolution was a result catalytic to James’s thought at the beginning of his career, during the initial six-year period in Europe that Christian studies so well in his C.L.R. James in Imperial Britain(2014), but continued to play an important role in his thinking for the rest of his life – a process within which there is a clear evolution in attitudes to the meanings of the Revolution and crucially to the agency of various actors within it.

Reading The Black Jacobinsas a “text-network” also means reflecting on the role of translation in its production and dissemination. There is the hidden work of translation by James himself as sources in languages other than English (primarily French) were processed and assimilated as a result of his original research; as we explain in the introduction to the Reader(and as Rachel Douglas explores in more detail in The Making of the Black Jacobins), the book itself has also been translated into multiple languages (we include translations back into English of the prefaces to the French, Italian and Cuban versions, written by Pierre Naville, John Bracey and Madison Smartt Bell respectively), all of which have contributed to the afterlives not only of The Black Jacobinsitself, but also of the Haitian Revolution more generally.

Also let’s not forget transmedial translations, a particularly good example of which is Lubaina Himid’s engagement with Haiti via her reading of C.L.R. James in 1980s Britain (this is studied in detail in the recent Liverpool University Press book, Inside the invisible: Memorialising Slavery and Freedom in the Life and Works of Lubaina Himid). In Himid’s work, I’m particularly interested in Toussaint L’Ouverture, a mixed media portrait of the revolutionary leader from 1987 recently acquired by the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art. It uses a collage of words from contemporary newspaper headlines – “RACIST”, “TORTURE”, “ABUSE” – to underline the contrast between the promise of universal emancipation won by the Haitian Revolution and the persistence of inequalities relating to race and ethnicity in the modern world. “The news wouldn’t be news,” Himid wrote in the piece, “if you had heard of Toussaint L’Ouverture.”      In short, reading the book not as a static, single volume but as a “text-network” helps us understand how it functions and inspires as a classic of revolutionary historiography.

CH: Reflecting on the writing of The Black Jacobinsin 1980, C.L.R. James noted “my West Indian experiences and my study of Marxism had made me see what had eluded many previous writers, that it was the slaves who had made the revolution.”It is critically important to understand something of the interwar period – historically, politically, culturally – to make sense of the writing of The Black Jacobins, whether James’s experiences of the 1919 mass strike in colonial Trinidad and the subsequent growth of the Trinidad Workingmen’s Association as a mass nationalist organization, through to his campaigning for “West Indian Self-Government” and wider Pan-African liberation while in Britain in the 1930s, his reading of Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolutionin Nelson, Lancashire, while supporting a mass strike of cotton workers in 1932, through to his witnessing mass demonstrations and strikes against fascism while researching the Haitian Revolution in Paris in 1934, his building of solidarity with the Ethiopian people at the time of Mussolini’s war in 1935, and with the Spanish Revolution in 1936 and the Caribbean Labour Rebellions of the late 1930s – with much of the researchundertaken while Haiti itself was under US military occupation. Stuart Hall– to whom The Black Jacobins Reader is dedicated – once well described how “what is riveting … is the way in which the historical work and the foregrounded political events are part of a kind of seamless web … they reinforce one another.” It is important to recall that James was writing in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution – and like many black colonial subjects he was greatly inspired by that process – and the wider revolutionary movements that shook Europe in this period – outlined in James’s own work World Revolution, 1917-1936– meant that ideas of “revolution” and the importance of revolutionary history, questions of revolutionary theory, organization, strategy and tactics and so on had an urgency and relevance then that that they have not had subsequently.  James as a “black Bolshevik” identified as strongly with the Russian Revolution as the “black Jacobin” Toussaint Louverture did with the French Revolution, and James’s sense of the degeneration that had accompanied the rise of Stalin by the 1930s gave him an insight into how the degeneration of the French Revolution with the rise of Napoleon in a fundamental sense had betrayed the hopes of Haitian revolutionaries.   As Charles has already mentioned, the way the work then gets revised by James over the course of his life amid the changing contexts and the breakthrough of decolonization is something explored well by Rachel Douglas in her new work, The Making of The Black Jacobins.

You also make the point that although it sometimes feels as if The Black Jacobins has dominated the historiography of the Haitian Revolution since it was first published in 1938, the reality was and is somewhat more complicated. How so?

CH:The Black Jacobinsin the first edition was an expensive hardback, and so was either passed hand to hand by activists (there is a fantastic story of James trying to ensure Louis Armstrong’s copy of the work was passed on to Martin Luther King in 1957 for example) or perhaps read in a university library.   In that sense, while figures such as the Jamaican Pan-Africanist Amy Ashwood Garvey could hail it in 1940 as “the most revolutionary book on Toussaint L’Ouverture,” it could be ignored by most of the wider Western historiography of the Haitian Revolution – just as the first edition of Eric Williams’s Capitalism and Slaveryin 1944 was more or less ignored by British historians.  This said, it was read and did begin to make it into the footnotes of some of the more radical historians, including Eric Hobsbawm’s work The Age of Revolution, and including in Haiti itself thanks to the 1949 French translation by Pierre Naville.  It was not really however until the rising Civil Rights Movement in the US meant there was a market suddenly for a Vintage paperback edition in 1963 that helped the work shape the thinking of a new generation of both activists and scholars during the 1960s and 1970s, just as Capitalism and Slaverybegan to be taken more seriously by the wider historical establishment in Britain with the 1964 edition of that work – slowly both books became more and more impossible for even bourgeois scholars to ignore any longer.

CF: This is an important question. The Black Jacobins now has all the trapping of a classic: a popular Penguin edition (prefaced by James Walvin, and recently selected by The Left Book Club as its choice in January 2020); the multiple translations I’ve referred to already; now an academic “reader” devoted to it… But let’s not forget that the first edition of the book risked disappearing from view and had a relatively limited impact. 1938 was, in retrospect, not the best moment for The Black Jacobinsto appear, in part because imminent global conflict would deflect (temporarily at least) from the pressing debates about anti-colonialism to which James was responding and contributing, in part because its publication coincided with James’s departure for the USA. It might also be argued also that the first edition was premature in terms of its contribution to debates about postcolonialism and neo-colonialism, phenomena with which Haiti engaged – as Nick Nesbitt has so eloquently suggested – 150 years before they would become hallmarks of the ideology and praxis of the second half of the twentieth century.

Until the second edition of The Black Jacobinsappeared in 1963, the book was an underground, more confidential form of intervention. It was a new generation of readers from the Caribbean – George Lamming in particular, Walter Rodney as well – who encouraged James to revisit and republish his work, which appeared in the new Vintage edition to which Christian has alluded, with the postface “From Toussaint Louverture to Fidel Castro” situating it in a new context of contemporary political struggle. Despite James’s own focus on the Caribbean at that time, The Black Jacobinsthen spoke to a range of movements, local and global, that transcended the Caribbean: Black Power, anti-apartheid, tricontentinentalism; but it also served as a point of reference for an emerging group of historians – David Geggus, for instance, whose PhD produced in York in the 1970s remains the definitive account of the largely disavowed place of British troops in the Haitian Revolution – committed to granting Haiti the place it merits in accounts of what Hobsbawn called the “age of revolution.” In a bibliography that is still expanding of lives of Louverture or histories of the Revolution (I eagerly await Sudhir Hazareesingh’s Black Spartacus: The Epic Life of Toussaint Louverture, for instance, due to appear in the Autumn, as well as the graphic novel of James’s play currently being drawn by Nic Watts and Sakina Karimjee), James’s account has retained its central role – it remains the initial text that I recommend to students wishing to understand the place of Haiti in world history. Additional archival sources have been uncovered, new theses explored, but no other account competes with James’s for its breadth and incisiveness of analysis and for the ways in which it captures the persistently incendiary meanings of the Revolution for those seeking to imagine what David Scott has called possible postcolonial futures.

Another question on circulation. How was The Black Jacobins taken up in the Caribbean and Africa?

CH: This is a fascinating question, and one that surely requires more research  – I once came across a reference to “Toussaint Louverture clubs” in existence in colonial Trinidad in 1938, but my sense is that these were short-lived middle class literary societies and it seems unconnected to James or his work.  George Padmore worked to ensure The Black Jacobins was known among anti-colonial activists in colonial Africa and the Caribbean, writing a widely republished review praising the work and aimed to send a few copies to Pan-Africanist contacts in West Africa – perhaps the most notable reader of the work to emerge out of this milieu would have been Kwame Nkrumah.  Intriguingly there was a copy of the French edition in the library of Frantz Fanon.  James himself testifies to the impact of the work in apartheid South Africa among students, while Thabo Mbeki once stated that after he read The Black Jacobins, he knew that apartheid would ultimately be defeated.  Many radical intellectuals and writers of the 1960s and 1970s aside from Mbeki engaged with it deeply – whether one is talking about Walter Rodney, George Lamming, Stokely Carmichael, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o or the circle of young black Caribbean radicals in the C.L.R. James Study Circle in Montreal, Canada that David Austinhas written about.  James’s 1967 revised playThe Black Jacobins was produced and staged in Nigeria of course, and the circumstances of this have been discussed extensively by Rachel Douglas.

CF: Yes, this is a question that interested us greatly while we were preparing The Black Jacobins Reader– and we both concluded that considerably more research is required. We were grateful to Matthew Smith for his chapter on Haiti in British West Indian thought before The Black Jacobinswas published. It is clear that afterits publication, James’s book has predominated. Christian mentions the presence of Les Jacobins noirsin Fanon’s library – and I’m particularly interested in this Francophone postcolonial engagement. Césaire clearly knew James’s work and cites it in passing in his Toussaint Louverture:La Révolution française et le problème colonial(just as James would cite the Cahier d’un retour au pays natalin the 1963 postface to The Black Jacobins). The two men met in Cuba at the Havana Cultural Congress of 1968 – Andrew Salkey memorably describes the encounter in his Havana Journaland James devotes a fragment to Césaire in his unpublished autobiography. Another dimension of this story is the reception of The Black Jacobinsin Haiti itself. We have tantalizing glimpses of James’s interactions with Haitian historians, notably Etienne Charlier, author of the classic Marxist history of the Revolution in Aperçu sur la formation historique de la nation haïtienne, and Jean Fouchard, for the English translation of whose Les Marrons de la Liberté (The Haitian Maroons: Liberty or Death) James wrote a preface in 1981, the year after Fouchard’s death. It is unclear whether James ever travelled to Haiti – it seems unlikely – but he definitely had plans for a visit in the 1950s when he also alluded to a possible Haitian translation of his work. I’m not one for counterfactual history, but it is striking to speculate on the impact that translation might have had had it appeared in Duvalier’s Haiti.

What is the theoretical, and perhaps methodological, importance of The Black Jacobinsto debates concerning the history of capitalism and slavery?

CH: Stuart Hall once wrote that James in The Black Jacobinswas the first to centre Atlantic slavery in world history – so in this sense the importance of James’s work to these debates is self-evident.  Certainly, James’s short discussion on the economic roots of British parliamentary abolitionism formed the essential outline of Eric Williams’s more famous and lengthy contribution in this field – as Williams himself acknowledged, though in my opinion James’s grasp of the modernity of colonial slavery and the slave ships and plantations thanks to his underlying theoretical grasp of the uneven and combined nature of capitalist development meant his analysis of the exact relationship between capitalism and slavery is more sophisticated than that of Williams in many respects.  Personally I have also been struck by James’s pioneering class analysis of the enslaved themselves – part proto-proletariat, part proto-peasantry while also recognizing that in many ways they were also part proto-consumers, long before slavery scholars coined these terms.  More broadly, James was the first to stress the importance of the Haitian Revolution to the wider transition from feudalism to capitalism in terms of Marxist historiography, and so the work formed the central part of his wider lifelong intellectual contribution which was, as he saw it, to explain the relationship of black people to “Western Civilisation.”

CF: Yes, the genesis of The Black Jacobinsand Capitalism and Slavery(or at least the thesis on which it was based) are so closely intertwined that James once claimed he and Williams co-authored parts of each text. James was, however, one of the first to see the plantation as an early expression of the logic of capitalism, a testing ground for the nineteenth-century developments of the industrial revolution. Thanks to the work of the Legacies of British Slave-ownershipproject, we know have a much clearer evidence base to track how slavery and capitalism would be subsequently linked. But at a more fundamental level, James shows how the dehumanization of enslavement transformed the enslaved into capital. The first chapter of The Black Jacobinsremains one of the most searing statements of this historical reality, but the text also shows an interest in the economic underpinnings of the Revolution – in Louverture’s pragmatism (his re-imposition of the plantation can be seen as a form of state capitalism) but also in the alternatives of agrarian self-sufficiency and devolved ownership proposed by Louverture’s nephew Moïse. James’s growing interest in Moïse (and in Louverture’s decision to execute him) predominates in his later engagements with Haitian revolutionary historiography, as Rachel Douglas demonstrates in her analyses of the 1967 dramatic rendering of The Black Jacobins – and reflects his growing commitment to a history from below that moves away from over-privileging of the heroes, from what Maryse Condé dismissed as “conventional reactionary bric à brac.” There, for James, economic history meets Shakespearean tragedy as it is clear that the failure to grasp the implications of ignoring Moïse’s alternative model reveals Louverture’s fatal flaw.

You suggest that James was aware of the methodological and archival limitations of The Black Jacobins, especially concerning the focus on Louverture. Can you say more about this – about James’ own critiques, and about how other writers have extended or revised James biographical-historical method?

CH: James as a good historian was of course always aware that new sources would emerge in archives which would necessitate the revision of this or that specific aspect of his argument, but he also felt – rightly in my opinion – that the foundations of his argument would be in a sense “imperishable.” I would therefore not want to draw the kind of strict demarcation between the 1938 version and the 1963 revised version of the text that for example David Scott has done in his fascinating work, Conscripts of Modernity.  My sense is that within The Black Jacobinsthere is of course the romantic focus on anticolonial revolt which gives it is epic quality as a work of historical literature – but Scott in Conscripts of Modernityis mistaken to place James’s focus on tragedy as only coming through in the later 1963 edition, with the additional paragraphs in the closing chapter.   When James wrote his play Toussaint Louverturein 1934, he portrayed Toussaint as a tragic hero of colonial enlightenment, and there is an important sense in which James discusses the Haitian Revolution as a bourgeois revolution, though this line of argument is muted somewhat – no doubt James wanted to inspire those fighting for colonial liberation, not depress them.  Some of James’s later critiques of The Black Jacobinsin some senses are about his own slight political move away from the classical Marxist framework which made it such an outstanding work of “total history,” towards the more popular “history from below” approaches which for example inspired James’s student Carolyn Fick in her own important work, The Making of Haiti: The Saint-Domingue Revolution from below.  Yet though James once suggested that he might rewrite The Black Jacobinsas The Black Sans culottesif he was going to start all over again, the fact he did not ever re-write or re-title later editions of the work suggests to me he always retained at least some of his old Leninist instincts about the importance of revolutionary leadership for successful revolutionary struggles into his old age.

CF: Your question is central to the progressive rewriting in which James engaged. I agree with Christian that that process was both organic and dialogic, and does not include any of the sudden volte-faces that some accounts of this engagement sometimes imply. The Black Jacobinsis rooted in the intensive archival work that James conducted in Paris, often between cricket seasons when his work as a journalist was in abeyance. But he continued to rethink these sources and to reassess his interpretation of them. Already in the 1950s, in his correspondence with Etienne Charlier, the possibility of a history of the Revolution “from below” was clear, and this became particularly apparent in the later 1960s when James revisited his dramatic version of The Black Jacobins. He articulated these shifts in the series of 1971 lectures at the Institute of the Black World in Atlanta, in particular in the one entitled “How I would rewrite The Black Jacobins,” in which he states that Louverture might ultimately be granted little more than a walk-on part in a new version of the book. James was inspired here by the new historiography of the French Revolution – in particular the work of Lefevre and Soboul, the second of whom presented the sans-culottes as a social class, a proto-proletariat who played a key role– and stated that he would seek to focus more on the “2,000 leaders to be taken away” about whom Leclerc warned Napoleon following the arrest of Louverture. The IBW lectures were published for the first time in Small Axein 2000, and in an excellent afterword, Anthony Bogues suggests that they allow us to “think withand then beyondJames” – I take this as meaning that the lectures allow us not only to understand the organic development of James’s thought, but also to locate The Black Jacobinsin relation to a range of other interpreters of the Haitian Revolution – Carolyn Fick, John Thornton, Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Laurent Dubois, Matthew Smith, Johnhenry Gonzalez– who are in dialogue with James, who complement and on occasion challenge his work.

Can you say something about the editorial process behind The Black Jacobins Reader? What are the origins of the project and what guided your decisions about how to frame it, what to include and not include?

CH: The Black Jacobins Readeremerged out of a one day London Socialist Historians Groupconference I co-organised back in 2008, to mark the 70thanniversary of the work – the fact the book only appeared in late 2017, just before the 80thanniversary, tells you something about the lengthy gestation period and editorial process involved in putting this together.  I think as editors we wanted a mix of classic original material relating to the book that had never been published in English before (the gem I think here being the transcript of James’s 1970 radio interview about the work with Studs Terkel, which we discovered relatively late on), a range of new scholarship relating to the book, some of which we had from the conference, some of which we solicitated afterwards, and then some more personal contributions by leading activists and scholars of the Haitian Revolution testifying to the works importance and impact.   Selma James played a very helpful role here, soliciting the contributions from the two imprisoned Black Panthers, Mumia Abu-Jamal and Russell Maroon Shoatz on our behalf.  We were constrained by length – it is some 400 pages – from including much more, though we remain thankful to the editors of Duke for giving us the space and length we needed to include everything we did.

CF: Christian knew of my work on the re-figurings of Toussaint Louverture and I was pleased when he invited me to collaborate on bringing together the Reader. The 2008 London conference was a lively, highly significant event, bringing together – as is customarily the case with workshops and conferences devoted to James – academics and activists. The reader captures some of its commitment to bridging the artificiality of that divide. We were keen to fill a gap in the existing literature by producing a volume entirely devoted to The Black Jacobins– previous volumes, such as C.L.R. James:  His Intellectual Legacies edited by Selwyn Cudjoe and William Cain,had dedicated sections to the book, but we felt that more sustained attention was required. Christian has described the balance we sought between first-hand accounts of the influence of James’s work and more conventional academic studies; to these we added our detailed introduction, on the genesis and afterlives of The Black Jacobins, and various appendices (a section we might have expanded had we had more flexibility). Our aim was to bring together contributions into a book that could be used equally by students, scholars and activists. We wanted to show that The Black Jacobinsis a living document, one whose meanings continue to evolve. And we were profoundly aware of the company we were keeping in the C.L.R. James Archives series published by Duke University Press, a collection dedicated to presenting to a contemporary audience, in its breadth and diversity, the work of one of the great intellectual figures of the twentieth-century.

You dedicate Toussaint Louverture to Robert A. Hill and Janet Alder and Hill provides an introduction to The Black Jacobins Reader.What role has Hill played in the development of both projects? And Alder?

CH: Robert A. Hill has been a very important mentor to me personally in terms of C.L.R. James scholarship, and this together with his editorial expertise and outstanding record of scholarship on the African diaspora and Pan-Africanism in particular were absolutely invaluable when it came to all the editorial work I have done with the Duke University Press C.L.R. James Archives series, from theToussaint Louvertureplay through to World Revolution. ForThe Black Jacobins Reader, for example, originally Charles and myself had envisaged including as many as possible original reviews the 1938 edition received in full – it was Robert A. Hill who understood this would make the book too big in size – I think the phrase he used was “over-egging the cake” or something – and so we then decided to cut this section out and just include extracts from some of the reviews in our introduction – a decision that we came to see made very good sense.    It was an honour for us to carry his foreword to The Black Jacobins Readergiven his profound understanding of the work – and the fact he gave us the honour of co-editing such a work as The Black Jacobins Readermade it only right that we acknowledged him when we came to write Toussaint Louverture: A Black Jacobin in the Age of Revolutions. 

Janet Alder’s brother Christopher – a black former paratrooper – was killed while in police custody in Hull in 1998 – the same year I started University as an undergraduate and so I have seen Janettirelessly and courageously campaign for justice for her brother for over twenty yearsin the face of enormous pressures.  Her indefatigability here as a campaigner for “Black Lives Matter” long before the hashtag was born for me stands as reminiscent of that shown by the Haitian revolutionaries, and so in that sense I felt the dedication to her was most appropriate.  The fact that much of her campaigning has taken place in the city to which William Wilberforce was once the MP only further highlights some of the continuities between the racism born of colonial slavery and the racism which continues to kill in the present day.

CF: I echo Christian’s gratitude to Robert A. Hill, who provided patient, wise counsel throughout our preparation of the Readerand was a great supporter of our collaborative work. As literary executor of the C.L.R. James estate and eyewitness of much of the context to The Black Jacobinsthat interested us, he never let his personal investment in the project impede our own ambitions for the volume, and it seemed only natural that we would subsequently dedicate the Louverture biography to him. The parallel dedication to Janet Alder was a mark of our respect for her indefatigable commitment to uncovering the truth about her brother’s unlawful killing, despite the harassment to which she has been subject herself. Colonial slavery, for whose abolition Louverture fought, has clear contemporary afterlives, and we were keen to link historical and contemporary struggles in this way.

You invoke the Kreyòl saying tou moun se moun (“everyone is a human being”) in your discussion of the politics of race and citizenship in Haiti after 1804. What does this expression mean in the context of 1804 and what are the lessons that that phrase – and Haiti, in the immediate aftermath of independence – offer us now? Importantly, you also appear to suggest a sort of historical redemption of Jean-Jacques Dessalines.

CF:Tout moun se moun – “every person is a human being” – was a refrain common in Haiti from the moment of independence. A radically egalitarian principle suggesting that all lives matter and that everyone has the right to dignity, it was more recently adopted as the title of Aristide’s 1992 autobiography, written just before he was ousted from power for the first time the previous year. The idea of universal emancipation fed into the aspirations underpinning Haitian sovereignty and were enshrined in Dessalines’s 1804 constitution. In Haiti, Louverture is known as the “Precursor,” Dessalines as the “Liberator” – and it is Dessalines who was tasked with consolidating the gains of the Revolution and defending them against multiple threats. Post-independence, Haiti has struggled to defend this principle, often in the face of external interventions such as the US occupation of 1915-34 or the damaging impact of the UN stabilization mission (known as MINUSTAH) following Aristide’s second ousting, with the introduction of cholera and accusations of other human rights abuses. At the same time, the totalitarian, despotic excesses of the Duvalier regime reveal how the principle has been equally challenged by internal forces. The often-repeated observation that Haiti is the “poorest country in the Western hemisphere” perpetuates a sense of dependency. What we regularly ignore is what Haiti can teach the rest of the world, not least how we are dependent on it for the vision of a universal emancipation that the American and French Revolutions could not even imagine, of a radical equality that threatened the logic of slavery and colonialism as much as it now threatens that of neo-liberal capitalism.

One reservation I’ve always had in working on Toussaint Louverture is that focus on his life, achievements and afterlives is often to the detriment of the attention that Dessalines himself merits. Louverture is somehow acceptable and translatable in ways that his former lieutenant (and, as Gabriel Debien and subsequently Jacques de Cauna and Philippe Girard have suggested, someone who had been enslaved by Louverture’s son-in-law) still is not. In that sense, we may create analogies between the two Haitian Revolutionaries and other pairs of radicals, notably MLK and Malcolm X. I have often stated in my writing and teaching that there are over 200 biopics of Napoleon and none of Toussaint Louverture. We need to remember, however, that there are dozens of biographies of Louverture but as far as I’m aware none of Dessalines in English (and very few in French, with most of these published in Haiti, by authors including Timoléon C. Brutus and Gérard M. Laurent, meaning they have limited distribution). This despite the fact that in Haiti it is Dessalines who is a lwain the vodou pantheon, that the national anthem is known as the Dessalinienne… Dubroca produced a scurrilous biography of Dessalines in 1804, which was translated into English, German and Spanish (his equally defamatory life of Louverture was also popular at the time). Subsequent representations – even by African American authors – have tended to perpetuate the stereotype of Dessalines as a fierce and brutal figure. Julia Gaffield, who edited an excellent collection of essays on Dessalines’ 1804 constitution (a copy of which she uncovered while doing doctoral research in the National Archives in Kew) is currently working on a manuscript entitled Jean-Jacques Dessalines: Freedom or Death, due to appear with Yale University Press, and has also made available online as the “Dessalines Reader,a valuable collection of archival materials relating to her subject. There is a pressing need also for a political biography of Dessalines, one that avoids the excesses of past hagiography or demonization, and can be seen as part of wider project of reparative history of race and resistance.

Header image: George Debaptiste, Toussaint L’Overture (c. 1870) Source: Library of Congress.

Three Afrikan Skeletons Found in Mexico Show Horrors of Early Slavery in the New World

A skull analyzed in the new study, along with tubes for genetic and isotope testing.
A skull analyzed in the new study, along with tubes for genetic and isotope testing.
Image: Rodrigo Barquera

Three skeletons belonging to African individuals have been uncovered at a mass grave in Mexico City. They represent some of the first African people to arrive into slavery in the New World. An interdisciplinary analysis of these remains is shedding new light on this grim period of history and the harsh conditions endured by the first wave of enslaved Africans in the Americas.

“To the best of our knowledge, they are the earliest genetically identified first-generation Africans in the Americas,” according to the authors of a new paper, published today in Current Biology.

Found in Mexico City, the three skeletons were buried in a mass grave near the former site of the Hospital Real de San José de los Naturales. This early hospital dates back to the early colonial period of New Spain and was primarily used to treat indigenous peoples. All three skeletons date back to this early colonial period in the 16th century, which means these individuals were among the first wave of Africans to be kidnapped and brought to the Americas via the transatlantic slave trade.

An interdisciplinary analysis of these remains paints a bleak picture of their lives, showing evidence of forged migration, physical abuse, and exposure to infectious diseases.

“By investigating the origin and disease experience of these individuals through molecular methods and evaluating the skeleton[s] for signs of life experience and cultural affinity, we illuminate, in some measure, the identity, culture, and life of these people whose history has largely been lost,” wrote the authors in the new study, co-authored by Johannes Krause from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.

The origin of this story goes back to 1518, when Charles I of Spain authorized the transfer of enslaved Africans to the Viceroyalty of New Spain, which at the time included most of what is now Mexico, the Caribbean, and parts of the U.S. and Canada. By 1779, an estimated 130,000 to 150,000 Africans had been forcibly relocated to the Viceroyalty, according to the researchers. Of these, some 70,000 arrived between 1600 and 1640. Writing in the new paper, the authors explained the sudden increase in relocation of enslaved individuals:

…in part due to a reduction in the indigenous labor force that resulted from both casualties in the many conflicts during the European conquest and from diseases (among them, small-pox, measles, and typhoid fever) that devastated nearly 90% of the native population. Creoles, Africans, mulattoes, and other African-descended groups were thought to have higher resistance to these diseases compared to Indigenous Americans and Europeans making them desirable assets. Further to this, Las Leyes Nuevas (The New Laws) of 1542 prohibited the use of Native American labor as slaves in New Spain.

To analyze the three skeletons, the authors combined genetic and isotopic evidence, along with physical evidence gleaned from the remains.

Proof that these people came from Africa came from multiple sources. First, their upper teeth showed evidence of decorative filing, a known cultural practice of some African tribes. Second, these three individuals shared a Y-chromosome lineage that is strongly correlated to people from sub-Saharan Africa and is now the most common genetic lineage among living African Americans. And thirdly, dental isotopes extracted from their teeth showed that the individuals were born outside of Mexico, having spent their entire youth in Africa, according to the research.

Skulls and dental decoration patterns observed on the skeletal remains.
Skulls and dental decoration patterns observed on the skeletal remains.
Image: Collection of San José de los Naturales, Osteology Laboratory, (ENAH), Mexico City, Mexico. Photo: R. Barquera & N. Bernal

Analysis of the skeletons suggests these people were subjected to physical abuse and intense manual labor, such as muscle-derived patterns on bones and signs of hernia on vertebrae. Other evidence pointed to “nutritionally inadequate diets, anemia, parasitic infectious diseases, and blood loss,” wrote the authors.

These enslaved Africans were also victims of extreme violence. One skeleton had five copper buckshots fired from a gun, while another showed signs of skull and leg fractures. None of these injuries resulted in their deaths, but all three died prematurely.

“And since they were found in this mass burial site, these individuals likely died in one of the first epidemic events in Mexico City,” explained Rodrigo Barquera, the first author of the study and a graduate student at MPI SHH, in a press release. “[We] can tell they survived the maltreatment that they received. Their story is one of difficulty but also strength, because although they suffered a lot, they persevered and were resistant to the changes forced upon them.”

The analysis also resulted in the detection of two known pathogens, namely the virus responsible for Hepatitis B virus (HBV) and the bacterium responsible for yaws (Treponema pallidum pertenue), which causes symptoms similar to syphilis. Importantly, this is the earliest evidence of HBV and yaws in the Americas.

Joint and bone damage found on the skeletal remains: (A) extensive bone wear, (B) signs of hernia on a vertebrae, (C and D) greenish coloration as evidence of a copper bullet.
Joint and bone damage found on the skeletal remains: (A) extensive bone wear, (B) signs of hernia on a vertebrae, (C and D) greenish coloration as evidence of a copper bullet.
Image: Collection of San José de los Naturales, Osteology Laboratory, (ENAH), Mexico City, Mexico. Photo: R. Barquera & N. Bernal

“Although we have no indication that the HBV lineage we found established itself in Mexico, this is the first direct evidence of HBV introduction as the result of the transatlantic slave trade,” said Denise Kühnert, a co-author of the study and an expert in infectious diseases at MPI SHH. “This provides novel insight into the… history of the pathogen.”

The same could hold true for yaws, which was common in the Americas during the colonial period. Prior to the new study, however, the oldest genetic evidence of yaws came from a 17th-century European colonist.

“It is plausible that yaws was not only brought into the Americas through the transatlantic slave trade but may subsequently have had a considerable impact on the disease dynamics in Latin America,” added Kühnert.

Needless to say, this is among the trickier aspects of the new study; linking the presence of HBV and yaws in these individuals to the spread of diseases from Africa to the Americas is a precarious proposition at best. Future research is needed.

The new paper presents a devastating snapshot of life during the early colonial period and the tremendous hardships endured by the tens of thousands of people abducted from Africa.


European Colonizers Killed So Many Indigenous People The Planet Cooled Down

Storming of the Teocalli by Cortez and His Troops by Emanuel Leutze


Between the intentional murders and deadly diseases brought by European colonizers, 90% off the indigenous populations in the Americas were killed. The death of over 55 million indigenous melanated people cooled the planet down.

I wonder why this was never mentioned in our history books.

Maybe because someone thought it was bad enough America is already known for instituting, managing, and expanding the longest and most brutal forms of human slavery the planet has ever seen.

When you add in how white people killed so many indigenous melanated people that the planet cooled down, there’s no way to see America as “great” ever again. That’s probably why they left this part out.

According to a report on

“European contact brought with it not only war and famine, but also diseases like smallpox that decimated local populations. In fact, a February 2019 study published in the journal Quarternary Science Reviews shows that those deaths occurred on such a large scale that they led to a “Little Ice Age”: an era of global cooling between the 16th and mid-19th century.

Researchers from University College London found that, after the rapid population decline, large swaths of vegetation and farmland were abandoned. The trees and flora that repopulated that unmanaged farmland started absorbing more carbon dioxide and keeping it locked in the soil, removing so much greenhouse gas from the atmosphere that the planet’s average temperature dropped by 0.15 degrees Celsius.”

An illustration of Christopher Columbus arriving in North America in 1492. Gergio Deluci/Courtesy of L. Prang & Co., Boston/Wikimedia Commons


(Source: – European colonizers killed so many indigenous Americans that the planet cooled down, a group of researchers concluded)

  • Following Christopher Columbus’ arrival in North America in 1492, violence and disease killed 90% of the indigenous population — nearly 55 million people — according to a study published this year.
  • Diseases like smallpox, measles, and influenza, which colonizers brought to the Americas, were responsible for many millions of deaths.
  • The new research also reveals that following this rapid population decline and the subsequent reduction in land use, there was a global cooling trend.


Marcus Garvey Speech Delivered at Liberty Hall in NY City during the Second International Convention of Negroes. August 1921

Four years ago, realizing the oppression and the hardships from which we suffered, we organized ourselves into an organization for the purpose of bettering our condition, and founding a government of our own. The four years of organization have brought good results, in that from an obscure, despised race we have grown into a mighty power, a mighty force whose influence is being felt throughout the length and breadth of the world. The Universal Negro Improvement Association existed but in name four years ago, today it is known as the greatest moving force among Negroes. We have accomplished this through unity of effort and unity of purpose, it is a fair demonstration of what we will be able to accomplish in the very near future, when the millions who are outside the pale of the Universal Negro Improvement Association will have linked themselves up with us.

By our success of the last four years we will be able to estimate the grander success of a free and redeemed Africa. In climbing the heights to where we are today, we have had to surmount difficulties, we have had to climb over obstacles, but the obstacles were stepping stones to the future greatness of this cause we represent. Day by day we are writing a new history, recording new deeds of valor performed by this race of ours. It is true that the world has not yet valued us
at our true worth but we are climbing up so fast and with such force that every day the world is changing its attitude towards us. Wheresoever you turn your eyes today you will find the moving influence of the Universal Negro Improvement Association among Negroes from all corners of the globe. We hear among Negroes the cry of “Africa for the Africans”. This cry has become a
positive, determined one. It is a cry that is raised simultaneously the world over because of the universal oppression that affects the Negro. You who are congregated here tonight as Delegates representing the hundreds of branches of the Universal Negro Improvement Association in different parts of the world will realize that we in New York are positive ill this great desire of a  free and redeemed Africa. We have established this Liberty Hall as the centre from which we send out the sparks of liberty to the four corners of the globe, and if you have caught the spark in your section, we want you to keep it a-burning for the great Cause we represent.

There is a mad rush among races everywhere towards national independence. Everywhere we hear the cry of liberty, of freedom, and a demand for democracy. In our corner of the world we are raising the cry for liberty, freedom and democracy. Men who have raised the cry for freedom and liberty in ages past have always made up their minds to die for the realization of the dream. We who are assembled in this Convention as Delegates representing the Negroes of the world give out the same spirit that the fathers of liberty in this country gave out over one hundred years ago.

We give out a spirit that knows no compromise, a spirit that refuses to turn back, a spirit that says “Liberty or Death”, and in prosecution of this great ideal—the ideal of a free and redeemed Africa, men may scorn, men may spurn us, and may say that we are on the wrong side of life, but let me tell you that way in which you are travelling is just the way all peoples who are free have traveled in the past. If you want Liberty you yourselves must strike the blow. If you must be free you must become so through your own effort, through your own initiative. Those who have discouraged you in the past are those who have enslaved you for centuries and it is not expected that they will admit that you have a right to strike out at this late hour for freedom, liberty and democracy.

At no time in the history of the world, for the last five hundred years, was there ever a serious attempt made to free Negroes. We have been camouflaged into believing that we were made free by Abraham Lincoln. That we were made free by Victoria of England, but up to now we are still slaves, we are industrial slaves, we are social slaves, we are political slaves, and the new Negro desires a freedom that has no boundary, no limit. We desire a freedom that will lift us to the
common standard of all it men, whether they be white men of Europe or yellow men of Asia, therefore, in our desire to lift ourselves to that standard we shall stop at nothing until there is a free and redeemed Africa.

I understand that just at this time while we are endeavoring to create public opinion and public sentiment in favor of a free Africa, that others of our race are being subsidized to turn the attention of the world toward a different desire on the part of Negroes, but let me tell you that we who make up this Organization know no turning back, we have pledged ourselves even unto the last drop of our sacred blood that Africa must be free. The enemy may argue with you to show
you the impossibility of a free and redeemed Africa, but I want you to take as your argument the thirteen colonies of America, that once owed their sovereignty to Great Britain, that sovereignty has been destroyed to make a United States of America. George Washington was not God Almighty. He was a man like any Negro in this building, and if he and his associates were able to make a free America, we too can make a free Africa. Hampden, Gladstone, Pitt and Disraeli
were not the representatives of God in the person of Jesus Christ. They were but men, but in their time they worked for the expansion of the British Empire, and today they boast of a British Empire upon which “the sun never sets.” As Pitt and Gladstone were able to work for the expansion of the British Empire, so you and I can work for the expansion of a great African Empire Voltaire and Mirabeau were not Jesus Christ, they were but men like ourselves. They worked and overturned the French Monarchy. They worked for the Democracy which France now enjoys, and if they were able to do that, we are able to work for a democracy in Africa. Lenin and Trotsky were not Jesus Christ, but they were able to overthrow the despotism of Russia, and today they have given to the world a Social Republic, the first of its kind. If Lenin and Trotsky were able to do that for Russia, you and I can do that for Africa.

Therefore, let no man, let no power on earth, turn you from this sacred cause of liberty. I prefer to die at this moment rather than not to work for the freedom of Africa. If liberty is good for certain sets of humanity it is good for all. Black men, Colored men, Negroes have as much right to be free as any other race that God Almighty ever created, and we desire freedom that is unfettered, freedom that is unlimited, freedom that will give us a chance and opportunity to rise to the fullest of our ambition and that we cannot get in countries where other men rule and

We have reached the time when every minute, every second must count for something done,something achieved in the cause of Africa. We need the freedom of Africa now; therefore, we desire the kind of leadership that will give it to us as quickly as possible. You will realize that not only individuals, but governments are using their influence against us. But what do we care
about the unrighteous influence of any government? Our cause is based upon righteousness. And anything that is not righteous we have no respect for, because God Almighty is Our leader and Jesus Christ our standard bearer. We rely on them for that kind of leadership that win make us free, for it is the same God who inspired the Psalmist to write “Princes shall come out of Egypt and Ethiopia shall stretch out her hands unto God”. At this moment me thinks I see Ethiopia stretching forth her hands unto God and methinks I see the Angel of God taking up the standard of the Red, the Black and the Green, and saying “Men of the Negro Race, Men of Ethiopia, follow me”. Tonight we are following. We are following 400,000,000 strong. We are following with a determination that we must be free before the wreck of matter, before the crash of worlds.

It falls to our lot to tear off the shackles that bind Mother Africa. Can you do it? You did it in the Revolutionary War. You did it in the Civil War; you did it at the Battles of the Marne and Verdun; You did it in Mesopotamia. You can do it marching up the battle heights of Africa. Let the world know that 400,000,000 Negroes are prepared to die or live as free men. Despise us as much as you care. Ignore us as much as you care. We are coming 400,000,000 strong. We are coming with our woes behind us, with the memory of suffering behind us—woes and suffering of three hundred years—they shall be our inspiration. My bulwark of strength in the conflict for freedom in Africa will be the three hundred years of persecution and hardship left behind in this Western Hemisphere. The more I remember the suffering of my fore-fathers, the more I remember the lynchings and burnings in the Southern States of America, the more I will fight on
even though the battle seems doubtful. Tell me that I must turn back, and I laugh you to scorn. Go on! Go on! Climb ye the heights of liberty and cease not in well doing until you have planted the banner of the Red, the Black and the Green on the hilltops of Africa.


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Black, White and In Between – Categories of Colour


The Kneeling Slave – ‘Am I not a Man & a Brother’ (oil on canvas) English School (18th century)

© Wilberforce House, Hull City Museums and Art Galleries, UK / The Bridgeman Art Library Nationality / copyright status: English / out of copyright


It is only a generation since the ending of apartheid, and not much longer since Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus that December day in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama. In my lifetime rental properties in the UK displayed signs saying “No Irish, Blacks or dogs”, and forty years ago I sat with a friend in a rental agency in London as the woman who had just shown us details of several properties turned away a black couple telling them she had nothing on her books. Such is the legacy of slavery and imperialism.

To understand older Jamaican records it can be helpful to know the categories into which people were put for legal and social purposes.

Not all black people, referred to as negroes in old documents, were slaves. Indeed not all white people were free, as a substantial number of indentured servants from Britain sold their labour for a fixed period of years hoping for a better life at the end of it, when if they survived they did become completely free.

There were already free negroes in Jamaica when the British arrived. For example, Peter Moore and Black Betty, free negroes, were married at St Catherine on the 8th November 1677; and Isabella Husee the daughter of Domingo and Maria, free negroes, was baptised at St Catherine on 13th July 1679.

The Spanish conquerors of the island had owned many African slaves whom they freed, or who escaped into the Jamaican interior when the British arrived, becoming the independent and much feared Maroons (probably from the Spanish word cimarrón, meaning wild or untamed). There were also still some of the original Arawak or Taino Indians, and occasionally you will come across a reference in the old parish registers to someone as an ‘Indian’. Charles Benoist and Uańah ‘an Indian Woman’ were married in the parish of St Andrew on the 30th May 1675.

Both the church registers and the slave registers categorised people by their colour, but different vicars varied in the extent to which they entered the racial mix of the person being baptised and whether they were illegitimate.  Of course many slaves were not baptised at all and their lives have gone unrecorded unless in slave registers on the plantations they were sold to.

The following explains the categories used throughout the colonial period.

Negro – a black person with two black parents of African origin, but who might have been born in Jamaica and hence might be referred to as a creole.

Creole – any person, whether black, white or mixed race born in a British colony, although over time this has tended to be thought of as referring to someone of mixed race.

Mulatto – a person with one negro and one white parent.

Sambo –  a person with one parent a negro and the other mulatto i.e one quarter white.

Quadroon – the child of a white person and a mulatto i.e. one quarter black, with one grandparent of African origin.

Mustee, Mestee or Octaroon – a person who is one-eighth black i.e. with one black great grandparent.

Mesteefeena – a rarely used term for the child of a white parent and a mestee. One-sixteenth black, they were legally regarded as white and free.

You will often come across references in Wills to legacies left for a white man’s ‘housekeeper’. In the Jamaican context this almost always means a woman living with a man effectively as his wife, but not married to him, and who was the mother of his ‘reputed children’.  In the case of better-off white men, often they lived with a free mulatto or quadroon woman who might have property of her own including slaves. Another time I will tell some of the stories of their children.

In the mid eighteenth century the Jamaican Plantocracy and Merchants became concerned at the amounts of money being left to the non-white offspring of wealthy whites. Consequently in October 1761 they passed an Act of the Assembly “to prevent the inconveniences arising from exorbitant grants and devises made by white persons to negroes, and the issue of negroes, and to restrain and limit such grants and devises”.  This limited the amount that could be inherited by a non-white to £2000. However many white planters wished to leave their wealth to their ‘reputed’ children and consequently took out private Acts in the Jamaican Assembly, which had to be ratified in the London parliament, to enable them to dispose of their property as they wished.

An earlier and more unusual and interesting case is that of Mary Johnston Rose who was ‘housekeeper’ to Dr Rose Fuller and mother of two sons – Thomas Wynter and William Fuller. William was the son of Rose Fuller born on the 28th January 1734/35 and his paternity was acknowledged at his baptism the following April. I suspect Thomas Wynter was the son of Dr William Wynter and born about 1730. I have not yet found a baptism for him but William Wynter left him £50 for mourning in his Will, which left the bulk of his estate to his legitimate son Edward Hampson Wynter.

Mary, who was a free mulatto, applied to have her sons given full legal rights equivalent to white men. In the 1754 census of Spanish Town she is recorded as being legally white and the owner of a house worth £30 a year.

“At the Court of St. James 17.12.1746.  Present the King’s Most Excellent Majesty in Council.  Whereas the Governor and Commander-in-Chief of His Majesty’s Island of Jamaica with the Council and Assembly of the said Island did in 1745 pass an Act which hath been transmitted in the words following viz An Act to Intitle Mary Johnston Rose of the Parish of St. Catherines in the said Island, a free mulatto woman and her sons Thomas Wynter and William Fuller begotten by white fathers to the same rights and privileges with English subjects born of white parents.  The Act was confirmed, finally enacted and ratified accordingly.”

There is no mention of William Fuller in his father’s Will and it is likely that he died before him, as Rose Fuller made generous provision for Mary Rose.

Thomas Wynter became a successful and wealthy man, but in spite of his earlier recognition still had to apply for the rights of his (presumably mixed race) illegitimate children William Rose Wynter and Mary Mede.

Thomas Wynter to settle his estate as he shall think fit notwithstanding the Act to “prevent exorbitant grants and devises to Negroes”.

The Act was eventually repealed, but the categorisation of the inhabitants of Jamaica according to their colour and racial mix continued beyond the ending of slavery, made even more complex by the arrival of thousands of Indian ‘coolies’ imported to provide cheap labour after emancipation.


The first black president of Mexico whose execution shocked the nation

Vincente Guerrero. Photo: Institute of the Black World

When black leader Vincente Guerrero campaigned for president in 1828, sources say he had to fight the “lighter-skinned Mexican elite that was bent on maintaining a system of white supremacy in Mexico.”Even before he could abolish slavery, he had to face a Spanish invasion. There was another hurdle. Despite helping Mexico fight against Spain for independence in the early 19th Century, Guerrero had to deal with some influential Mexicans who looked down on him for having Afro-Indio roots and for being a mule driver by trade.

A descendant of the about 250,000 enslaved Africans brought to Mexico during colonial times, Guerrero was born on August 9, 1783, in Tixtla, now the state of Guerrero in Mexico, to a humble family.

His father, Juan Pedro Guerrero, was African- Mexican while his mother, Guadalupe Saldaña, was a native Mexican.

It is recorded that in the 16th Century, New Spain had the largest number of African slaves of all the Americas. A 1595 census showed that Afro-Mexicans outnumbered Spanish and Mestizos (persons of indigenous and Spanish mixed-descent) in urban towns.

By 1646, the numbers had increased to 116,529 for Afro-Mexicans and 35,089 for Africans.

Growing up without a formal education, Guerrero took to farming and later became the mule driver transporting goods.

He eventually became one of the few great figures who fought for independence throughout the entire period of 1810 to 1821. It has been documented that with his knowledge of native languages, he was able to rise in rank.

As a commander-in-chief of the Mexican army during the last three years of Mexico’s war of independence from Spain, Guerrero took certain actions that would ultimately bring him victory.

He basically sent letters to Mexican officers who were fighting for Spain, asking them to switch sides. Gaining victory with his team, Guerrero later served as President of Mexico, coming to power in a coup.

Guerrero served in a three-person “Junta” that governed the then independent Mexico from 1823-24, until the election that brought into power the first president of Mexico Guadalupe Victoria, according to BlackPast.In 1828, Guerrero and Ignacio Esteva created the first “People’s Party” in Mexico and its followers put Guerrero in the presidency in April 1829.

As head of the party, BlackPast writes that Guerrero “called for public schools, land title reforms, and other programs of a liberal nature.”

In 1829, he became the second president of Mexico, and went on to “champion the cause not only of the racially oppressed but also of the economically oppressed.” In September that same year, he formally abolished slavery, many years before Abraham Lincoln of the U.S.

Wanting his administration to be a reflection of the broad coalition he built during the 1810 war, he allowed conservatives and political centrists to dominate his cabinet, writes The Berkely Daily Planet.

He also accepted as Vice President a man who had “spent most of the independence war in the uniform of Spain.”“The political coalition Guerrero built fractured six months into his office, not from abandonment by the left, but by the right. His abolition of slavery, his promotion of a wider suffrage and his imposition of a stiff progressive tax code cost him most of his few upper-class supporters—including two cabinet members. In 1830 the conservatives rebelled, and led by Vice President Bustamante, they drove Guerrero from the capital. Most of the president’s progressive legislation was rescinded, but not the abolition of slavery, which had wide public support,” The Berkely Daily Planet continued.

Eventually, Guerrero, who believed in civil rights for all, especially African Mexicans, was betrayed by a group of reactionaries who captured him and ultimately executed him on February 14, 1831, an act that shocked many others.

Described as the “greatest man of color” by most Mexicans, Guerrero is also remembered for his eloquence, which he displayed in his first speech to Congress:

“If we succeed in spreading the guarantees of the individual, if equality before the law destroys the efforts of power and gold, if the highest title between us is that of citizen, if the rewards we bestow are exclusively for talent and virtue, we have a republic, and she will be conserved by the universal suffrage of a people solid, free and happy.”


The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism: The Roots of Slavery, White Supremacy, and Capitalism in Seventeenth-Century North Amerika and the Caribbean

Virtually no part of the modern United States—the economy, education, constitutional law, religious institutions, sports, literature, economics…

Source: The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism: The Roots of Slavery, White Supremacy, and Capitalism in Seventeenth-Century North America and the Caribbean


July 25, 1973 is the date Mrs. Amy Euphemia Jacques-Garvey, the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey’s Greatest Disciple Transitioned.  Beginning in 1914 and for the next 28 years that the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey served as the founder and President General of the UNIA & ACL. Five years later Ms. Amy Euphemia Jacques would join him and soon prove to be his greatest Disciple. The facts that I will present will show that as soon as she began to serve our leader Marcus Garvey in the year 1919, as part of the New York, division of the UNIA & ACL, she simultaneously entered the role of his Secretary/Loyal Disciple.
Born on December 31, 1895 in Jamaica, West Indies, with a background in stenography, typing and law, and the French language, she made contributions to the UNIA & ACL’s leader Marcus Garvey that was unparalleled. Amy Jacques-Garveys life of service shows us what true discipleship means to a man whose whole life was dedicated to serve his race and the cause of the redemption of our Motherland Africa. As we look at the facts I present here, we will see that her loyalty to him was on the planes of physical, mental, moral, financial and spiritual. You will learn how she worked herself to exhaustion as a servant of her leader and teacher; you will see how she constantly put her life on the line for Marcus Garvey; her service to him meant she had to use the fullest capacity of her intellect as his private secretary, contributor to the Negro World and as a UNIA & ACL member; she became his second wife on July 22, 1922,  and eventually  the mother of his sons, Honorable Professor Marcus Garvey III, and Dr. Julius Winston Garvey; Amy Jacques was honest to our leader to a penny regarding any funds she was entrusted with; Amy Jacques was honest to him whether she agreed or disagreed with him;  every word Amy Jacques uttered or wrote to him was the truth; there was not one incident of immorality; Amy Jacques was often the first line of defense and often spoke in his behalf or if need be would have taken a bullet for Marcus Garvey as he would have for her; Amy Jacques was never disloyal to her President General, her husband or the father of her children; While Amy Jacques Garvey and Marcus Garvey traveled to France she would interpret French words spoke to her husband;
Amy Jacques-Garvey wrote about a problem with UNIA & ACL leadership from Marcus Garvey’s perspective. She wrote, “Lack of progress of the Negro in America,” ” Garvey stated, “is due greatly to the fact that the American Negro Leader is handicapped in the knowledge of world affairs.”… Amy Jacques-Garvey wrote further on the subject that, “The organization had many brilliant speakers, but most of them could not interpret international happenings as they affected our people. Some were too lazy even to study local conditions, as they traveled from state to state and from city to city, in order to be able to speak on conditions, not with just a passing reference but with deep understanding and pronouncement.”
Amy Jacques-Garvey, referring to Marcus Garvey wrote, “The fluency of his speeches lay in the fact that he had something to say, something which touched him so deeply that it constituted an outpouring from his heart and found response in his hearers. Whenever he went to speak he first got all the information on conditions; this he weighted in his mind while sitting on the platform waiting his turn to speak,…” he could speak for more than an hour without searching for words.” Because of her great intellect that was always be enhanced, Amy Jacques- Garvey while alone together at home she would occasionally win a debate with Marcus Garvey  and earn the affectionate title of “Mopsie” indicating her victory.
In other words, leaders like the Garvey’s should study local, regional, national and international topics of importance. This is achieved by reading through newspapers, magazines, newly published books and the internet. Once the material is gathered it should be clipped out, dated and identified underlined significant statements and commented on.
While in prison Marcus Garvey wrote what he called his “Poetic Meditations. He dedicated a poem to express his love and appreciation to Amy Jacques-Garvey that read in part,
“But you have been a light to me,
A fond and dear and true Amie;
So what care I for falsest friend
When on your love I can depend.”
He also instructed Amy Jacques-Garvey to put together and proof read enough of his speeches, writings and extracts from his trial, and edit them for a book of about 100 pages from the first volume and 400 pages in the second volume and then go find a publisher. Her weight went down to 98 pounds, she had high blood pressure and one of her eyes was badly strained. Nonetheless after she got some rest she sent copies to senators, congressmen and prominent leaders around the world seeking sympathy for Marcus Garvey.
It is because of Amy Jacques-Garvey that we have a record of his speeches and front page  messages which form two volumes, in one called the Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, volume I copyrighted in 1923 and volume II copyrighted in 1925, that for some of us are like our bible of Garveyism. Amy Jacques-Garvey wrote the book “Garvey and Garveyism” in 1963. Amy Jacques-Garvey also co-edited Vol III. More Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey with E.U. Essien-Udom. This book allowed Marcus Garvey’s Disciples, UNIA & ACL members, and his family to learn about his speeches and writing after he was deported from the United States in 1927 to Jamaica and when he later in life lived in London, England. After 54 years of activism, at age 77, on July 25, 1973 Amy Jacques-Garvey passes leaving us only one thing left to say is, Long live the spirit of Amy Jacques-Garvey

Written By: Brother Shaka Barak, UNIA-ACL Division 429, Chicago

Amy Jacques Garvey

As you know or may not know, Thursday, December 31, 2015 marks the 120th anniversary of the great Amy Euphemia Jacques’ birthday.
She was an amazing woman in every way!  Her family and personal history is just as amazing!
Her great, great grandfather John Jacques was the very first mayor of Kingston Jamaica.  Her father, George Samuel Jacques was the manager of the Paloma Cigar Factory.  He owned several properties in Jamaica.  Along with his wife Charlotte Henrietta Jacques, they represented a portion of the black middle class elite in Kingston Jamaica.
Amy Euphemia Jacques was born on December 31, 1895 in Kingston Jamaica.  She was  furnished, provided with all of the meretricious accommodations, trappings of middle class society: piano lessons, music appreciation, social grooming and manners.  She also attended the elite middle class Wolmer’s High School For Girls.
In addition to the above, her father insisted that she read newspapers and periodicals to keep abreast of world events.  He also encouraged her to have a percipient understanding of politics.  He also made her take a course in shorthand.
When she graduated from Wolmer’s, she graduated with the highest honors of that day!  She was a very brilliant young woman!  As well as bold and determined! She wanted to be the very first female barrister (laser) on the island.  Yet, her father wanted her to be a nurse.
After high school she was recruited by a law firm to work for them.  Her father objected.  But, when he  died suddenly in 1913, the law firm petitioned her mother to allow Amy to work as a legal secretary.  Her mother consented.
At this time, though only seventeen years old, Amy became the head of the household.  When she reached the age of maturity (21 years old) she received her inheritance.
It was around that time when she expressed an interest to travel to The United States.  But she needed a sponsor.  And, none of her cousin in America wanted to be sponsors because they were too busy passing as white!
Nevertheless, she did create a way for herself to get to Harlem.
In Harlem, she had heard about Marcus Garvey and The UNIA.  But she was not swayed by all the talk.  Yet, on one Sunday morning, she stopped by to hear Marcus Garvey give a speech.  And, like the great John Edward Bruce…and everyone else she was mesmerized by his oratory and the substance of his message to the people!
He invited her to UNIA headquarters.  She saw his office and candidly voiced what a mess it was!  Garvey asked her if she could assist him in organizing the office.  And, she did.  She was so efficient that he made her both his office manager and personal secretary.
During this very same stretch of time, Amy Ashwood would become Marcus Garvey’s wife (Married in December 1919).  Amy Jacques was her brides maid.  She was also  a long time friend.  They were teenaged friends in Jamaica.
After the wedding, Marcus Garvey, Amy Ashwood, Ashwood’ s brother Claudius and Amy Jacques shared the same living quarters.
On their honeymoon to Canada, the customs agents found liquor in Amy Ashwood’s luggage.  This, along with her penchant to  retain her male friends, became a problem in their marriage.  Although it was a custom in Jamaica for young girl to flirt, when they got married all of that was supposed to be put aside.  Now this does not diminish Ashwood what so ever.  She was a very brilliant woman in her on right.  And, she like Marcus Garvey, Amy Jacques and others, was also dedicated to the uplift of our people.  She was  just a very scintillating person…a free spirit who loved merriment.  As such, she sought to maintain ties with friends like Allen Cumberbatch.  Who was a family friend and a personal friend, who was twenty years her senior.
Moving on,  Marcus  Garvey divorced Amy Ashwood.  He married Amy Jacques on July 27, 1922 in Baltimore.  In her book “Garvey and Garveyism” she explains that their marriage was bigger than that of just man and wife.  Both of  them understood that the organization and the race was paramount to their union.
Shortly after their marriage she compiled the first installment of “The Philosophies and Opinions of Marcus Garvey.” Volume I. The purpose behind this was to give the public, especially our  people an unbiased account of Marcus Garvey and The UNIA.  As you know, newspapers and people were vilifying Marcus Garvey at every turn!
After his imprisonment she compiled ” Philosophies and Opinions of Marcus Garvey,” Volume II.  She also traveled the country to raise money for his defense fund.  She was an eloquent orator!  She was also a strong anchor for The UNIA amidst its many challenges!
When The Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey was reported  to Jamaica in 1927, she was still by his side.
They had two children together: Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr. and Julius Winston Garvey.
In 1963 she wrote “Garvey and Garveyism.” In 1968, ” Black Power In America: The Power of the Human Spirit.” She also assisted Dr. John Henrik Clarke in writing “Marcus Garvey and the Vision of Africa.”. And, lastly, ” Philosophies and Opinions of Marcus Garvey,” Volume III with E.U. Essien Udom.
She was a very special lady!  And, we should never forget her!!!  She died on July 25, 1973 in Kingston Jamaica.
In addition to Amy Euphemia Jacques, lets not forget: Dr. Yosef Alfred Antonio Ben-Jochannan (December 31, 1918), Dr. John Henrik Clarke (January 1, 1915)…and The Ancestors (January 1, 1863).

Written By: Maceo Leon Thomas, UNIA-ACL Division 429, Chicago

Political Biography on Amy Ashwood Garvey: Pan-Afrikanist, Feminist

Political Biography on Amy Ashwood Garvey: Pan-Africanist, Feminist

Garvey met Amy Ashwood in Jamaica in 1914, shortly before founding the UNIA. She subsequently moved to Panama but they were reunited in Harlem in 1918. They were married in 1919. Their marriage was effectively over in two months. There followed lawsuits and counter suits for annulment, divorce, alimony and bigamy.

Garvey divorced Ashwood in Missouri in 1922 and quickly married her namesake Amy Jacques, Ashwood’s former roommate and maid of honor. Garvey accused Ashwood of infidelity with several UNIA members, even becoming pregnant for other men, a fact which he was willing to overlook. He accused her of theft from the UNIA’s Black Star Line, of alcoholism and of laziness. Amy Ashwood never accepted the Missouri divorce and contended to the end of her days that she was still the real Mrs. Garvey.

She hounded Garvey by any means at her disposal. She wrote a biographical expose which never got published. She complained to President Calvin Coolidge about him. She toured the United States with musical comedies gloating over Garvey’s incarceration for alleged mail fraud.

She traveled the world opportunistically basking in the glory of the Garvey name. She sued him in the Jamaican courts when satisfaction was not forthcoming in the U.S. legal system. She obtained an injunction in London preventing the second Mrs. Garvey from repatriating Garvey’s remains to Jamaica in 1945.

She staged a coup within the Jamaica UNIA after Garvey’s death and assumed Garvey’s old title of president-general of the Parent Body. She held memorial meetings for Garvey in Jamaica during his last illnesses and after his death in 1940, in scant regard for Garvey’s widow, Amy Jacques, who was living in Jamaica at the time. News of her participation in these memorials after premature press reports of Garvey’s death may have helped induce the final round of strokes that killed him.

Yet Amy Ashwood managed to live a very full life and became an important Pan- Africanist in her own right. She founded the precursor organization to the important West African Students Union (WASU) in London in 1924 and befriended a veritable who’s who of important Pan-African figures. These included C.L.R. James, George Padmore, W.E.B. DuBois, Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr, President W.V.S. Tubman of Liberia, President Kwame Nkrumah and J. B. Danquah of Ghana and many others. Her surviving correspondence with some of these figures contains historically important, sometimes startling, information.

Amy organized women’s organizations in West Africa and the Caribbean and became an important figure in the anti-racist movement in England. She accumulated a wealth of unpublished academic materials on the position of women in West Africa.

In 1947 she traced her ancestry back to Ashanti in Ghana in a manner so reminiscent of Alex Haley’s Roots (published three decades later) that one has to wonder whether Haley might have somehow heard of Amy’s story.

Amy was a gifted orator and a charismatic person, but never stuck with her many projects long enough to see them to complete fruition. Her story often reads like fiction. In London she induced a powerful Member of Parliament to buy her a house. Twenty years earlier she had as a benefactor a real English countess.

In Ashanti she persuaded the Asantehene to provide her with a parcel of land for a school which never got built. President Tubman gave her rights to a diamond mine on concessionary terms.

Running through Amy’s story is the fascinating sub-plot of her decades long romance and collaboration with Sam Manning, a Trinidadian calypsonian and one of the world’s pioneering Black recording artistes.

This biography was in the making for twenty-seven years. It utilizes a wealth of research materials, including the private papers of Amy Ashwood Garvey, the papers of many persons who knew her, the extensive court records of her divorce-related cases, the papers of Amy Jacques Garvey, British and United States government archives, interviews with a large number of her acquaintances in many countries, detailed research in Jamaican, African American, Ghanaian and other newspapers and much more.

Written By: Tony Martin


Amy Ashwood Garvey was born in Port Antonio, Jamaica, but spent most of her childhood in Panama where her father supported the family as a businessman. She returned to Jamaica as a teen and attended Westwood High School in Trelawney, where she met her future husband, Marcus Garvey, in 1914.

Ashwood and Garvey both held strong beliefs in African American activism and were involved in political activities and soon they began to collaborate on ideas and strategies for the liberation of Jamaica, then a British colony.  In 1916 they became secretly engaged. Ashwood’s parents did not approve and arranged for her to return to Panama that year. Garvey headed for the United States in the spring of that year.

However, Garvey and Ashwood were reunited in September of 1918 in New York City, New York. This marked the beginning of Ashwood’s important role in the development of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) branches. She became Garvey’s chief aide and the general secretary of the UNIA in 1919.

On Christmas Day 1919, the long engagement between Garvey and Ashwood culminated in an enormous wedding celebration with several thousand friends and associates at Liberty Hall, the UNIA building in New York City.  After the marriage Ashwood took on more prominent roles in the UNIA. She became director of the Black Star Line Shipping Co. and established a ladies auxiliary of the UNIA. She also helped plan an industrial school and helped establish the UNIA’s newspaper The Negro World.

In October 1919 at the UNIA offices in Harlem, Ashwood risked her life to shield Garvey from the bullets of attempted killer George Tyler. Despite her heroism, the marriage began to deteriorate after that incident. They divorced in 1922.

After their divorce Ashwood left the UNIA but she continued to work with many prominent West Africans calling for African independence.  She was one of the founders of the Nigerian Progress Union and she helped establish the International African Service Bureau (IASB).   By 1935 Ashwood moved to London and established the Florence Mills Nightclub, a popular meeting place for the city’s black intellectuals.  Ten years later in 1945, Ashwood helped organize the 5th Pan-African Congress which met in Manchester, England.  Ashwood lived in West Africa for three years between 1946 and 1949.  However, she returned to her native Jamaica where she died in 1969.  Throughout her life Amy Ashwood Garvey campaigned for the liberation of the entire continent and in particular for the rights of African women.