From Douglass to Duvalier: US African Americans, Haiti, and Pan Americanism, 1870-1964

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From Douglass to Duvalier: US African Americans, Haiti, and Pan Americanism, 1870-1964, by Millery Polyné. Tallahassee: University Press of Florida, 2010. ISBN 978-0813034720. 292 pp. $69.95 cloth.

Surely, analyses of the heroic relations between African- Americans (or, as the author puts it correctly, "US African- Americans," refusing to assume that the North American republic encompasses the entire hemisphere) and Haitians has received rapt attention from scholars. Indeed, the intellectually lazy retort might involve a lamenting sigh that yet another book on this topic has emerged.

Such a response would also be misguided for this book is enlightening, stimulating, well-written, and, ultimately, hopeful.

Appropriately, the author cites early on the trailblazing work of Leon D. Pamphile and acknowledges freely the overlap between the two. Where the book at hand diverges decisively from the earlier historiography is in the emphasis on the concept of "Pan-Americanism." Traditionally, relations between "US African-Americans" and Haitians have been discussed - understandably - in the context of Pan-Africanism; to wit, the catalytic role of the Haitian Revolution in engendering a crisis for the system of slavery that eventually manifests in the US - then Cuba and Brazil. It is well-known that during the period before the US Civil W^ar, thousands of US Negroes migrated to Haiti, where their descendants continue to reside. The Haitian regime during the heyday of the illegal 19th century slave trade sought valiantly to interdict this dirty business and in the process won the plaudits of Africans worldwide. Thus, Haiti - in some ways - was viewed as the epicenter of a courageous "Pan-Africanism" or solidarity of oppressed Africans across national borders.

This book, on the other hand, introduces - or, more accurately revives - the notion of Pan- Americanism which, in many ways, is a close cousin of Pan-Africanism. Unfortunately, Pan-Americanism has taken on a bad odor of late, as it is inevitably associated with the misdeeds and missed opportunities of the Organization of American States, based in Washington, D. C, and seemingly a creature of the nation in which it is housed. By Pan-Americanism the author seems to suggest a solidarity of the dispossessed of the hemisphere and - as Marcus Garvey noted decades ago - this inexorably implicates those of African descent. …