Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Caribbean Crossing: African Americans and the Haitian Emigration Movement

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Caribbean Crossing: African Americans and the Haitian Emigration Movement

Article excerpt

Caribbean Crossing: African Americans and the Haitian Emigration Movement. By Sara Fanning. Early American Places. (New York and London: New York University Press, 2014. Pp. [xiv], 167. $35.00, ISBN 978-08147-6493-0.)

Caribbean Crossing: Africans Americans and the Haitian Emigration Movement is microscopic in its focus. Sara Fanning closely examines the 1820s, when Haitian president Jean-Pierre Boyer sought recognition from both the United States and France "to improve the standing of his nation" (p. 119). One way Boyer tried to do so was by encouraging the migration of free African Americans to Haiti. Fanning exposes the dramatic confluence of events that led to Boyer's concerted effort to recruit migrants. She argues that Boyer played on the nature of racial politics in the United States and was more diplomatically astute, more of a "wild card in America's nineteenth-century race relations," than historians have previously thought (p. 119).

The author shows Haiti's persistent political struggles for recognition by other nations. She is also adept at peering closely into African American communities to reveal the multiple reasons some people did emigrate to Haiti. The first wave of migrants came at a critical time, when the American Colonization Society planned to repatriate thousands of freed blacks, and Haiti, a symbol of Atlantic slavery's defeat, was proposed as an alternative destination for communities of freed African Americans. Although some of the first wave of emigrants ultimately returned to the North American mainland, those who stayed set up successful communities and engaged in the sugar trade. Some lived communally, sustaining African American lifeways in Haiti.

Fanning's book is best in the final chapters, where she details the lived conditions of migrants in Haiti and the rationales some people had for staying there. Fanning convincingly posits that those who left Haiti did so for multiple reasons: increasing taxes, difficulty sustaining coffee production, the disease environment, and increasingly restrictive laws. …

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