African Americans and Haiti: Emigration and Black Nationalism in the Nineteenth Century

African Americans and Haiti: Emigration and Black Nationalism in the Nineteenth Century

African Americans and Haiti: Emigration and Black Nationalism in the Nineteenth Century

African Americans and Haiti: Emigration and Black Nationalism in the Nineteenth Century

Synopsis

While much has been written about the antebellum African American interest in emigration to Africa, the equally significant interest in Haitian emigration has been largely overlooked. Although free blacks spurned attempts by the American Colonization Society to "return" them to Africa, during the 1820s, and again during the 1850s and early 1860s, as conditions for African Americans became ever more precarious, thousands of blacks left the U.S. for Haiti searching for civic freedom and economic opportunity in the world's first independent black republic. Such prospects caught the attention of not only the African American leadership but of the black populace as well. In discussing the growing interest in Haitian emigration, Dixon provides ongoing discussions concerning black nationalism as an ideology.

Excerpt

For those of us accustomed to dramatic images of people desperately fleeing the Caribbean nation of Haiti, seeking sanctuary in the United States, the notion that several thousand African Americans would voluntarily migrate in the opposite direction seems puzzling, implausible even. Twice during the nineteenth century, however, in the face of continuing oppression in the free as well as slave states, black Americans contemplated emigrating to Haiti, a nation that they hoped could provide civic freedom, material well-being, and political equality. The interest in Haitian emigrationism was both a logical reaction to the racial injustices faced by blacks in the United States, and a reflection of the positive light in which many African Americans viewed Haiti. Having thrown off the brutal yoke of French colonialism at the end of the eighteenth century, the Haitians had established a black nationality that had survived as a potent symbol of black independence. For African Americans, because the Haitian Revolution was irrevocably antagonistic to the political and racial imperatives that underpinned American racism, the survival of the Haitian nationality was doubly significant. Because a clear majority of white Americans regarded Haiti as the archetype of racial disorder and violence, it was not surprising that the United States refused to acknowledge Haitian independence.

Antebellum black emigrationism produced several prominent African American leaders. Martin Delany's interest in Africa, and his contribution to nineteenth-century black nationalism, are widely acknowledged. Delany, however, was not the only proponent of black emigration; significant, too, was James Theodore Holly, who not only advocated emigration to Haiti for a decade preceding the Civil War, but who in 1861 relocated--permanently--to . . .

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