Free and French in the Caribbean: Toussaint Louverture, Aimé Césaire, and Narratives of Loyal Opposition

By John Patrick Walsh | Go to book overview

Introduction

SEPARATED BY NEARLY 150 years, the Haitian Revolution (1791–1803) and the departmentalization of Martinique, Guadeloupe, and French Guyana (1946) were defining events of the transatlantic connection between France and the Caribbean.1 Historically, they have generally been thought of in opposing terms: the revolution marked a violent break from France, whereas departmentalization became, broadly speaking, synonymous with assimilation. An international conflict, the revolution sent shock waves around the Caribbean, north and south to the Americas, and across the Atlantic. In contrast, departmentalization, which became law soon after World War II, was a quieter, juridical transformation of colony to overseas department.

My point of departure is to question such received wisdom, especially as it has put considerable philosophical distance between the Haitian Revolution and departmentalization. In many ways, it is misleading to portray the fate of Saint-Domingue (the French colony that became independent Haiti in 1804) as distinct from that of the other “old colonies” of the French Caribbean. Doing so obscures the trans-Caribbean relationship of Saint-Domingue, Martinique, Guadeloupe, and French Guyana; furthermore, such a move reduces an understanding of the Haitian Revolution to an uncomplicated story of an army of former slaves overcoming their colonial masters. This is not to say that the story of emancipation should not be told, or that it no longer matters; rather, I propose a closer look at how two legacies of emancipation developed through narratives of revolution and ensuing nationhood that have been passed on to successive generations. The 1946 law of departmentalization was built

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