Magazine article New African

France Finally Owns Up. (Cover Story/Slavery)

Magazine article New African

France Finally Owns Up. (Cover Story/Slavery)

Article excerpt

At long last, the French are admitting their role in slavery. A law to declare slavery a "crime against humanity" is making its way through the French parliament, but paying reparations for that despicable crime is proving too difficult for the French to accept. Paul Michaud reports from Paris.

One of the top priorities of the newly-elected mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoc, is to change the name of one of the capital's streets that has become, in recent years, a byword for controversy.

Rue Richepance is located on the border of two of the capital's more upmarket arrondissements, the First and the Eight. It measures only 113 metres long. But it is named after a man whom the new mayor and many Parisians would prefer to forget.

Antoine Richepance was born in Mere in 1770 and was a popular figure in the French Revolution, who came to the attention of another legendary French military figure, Napoleon Bonaparte.

In 1802, not yet at the peak of his career but rapidly rising, Napoleon promoted Richepance to the rank of general and named him head of an expeditionary force of 3,000 men sent to the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe which had fallen under the control of former slaves after a revolt against the French. Slavery, indeed, had been abolished in 1794, eight years earlier.

The revolt was quickly but bloodily put down. Slavery was immediately re-esrablislsed. The former colonial governor, General Lacrosse, was returned to power. and Guadeloupe's trade links with France and the rest of the world restored.

As for Richepance, the man who was credited with "pacifying" Guadeloupe, he died a few weeks later, in June 1803, from yellow fever, at the age of 37. As a reward for his loyalty and military deeds, Napoleon named the then newly-opened Parisian street after Richepance. But now, many French people do not think it was a very wise idea.

Delanoe, the new mayor, is one of those people. Speaking recently at the Paris City Hall during ceremonies marking the 153rd anniversary of the abolition of slavery -- which was finally stopped by France in 1848--he announced that he had initiated the procedure to eventually see Rue Richepanee renamed for somebody more appropriate. …

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