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Researching Haiti, Black Liberation Movements, and US History

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In this Connecting the Dots post, we highlight Library materials about Haiti and its links to United States history, inspired by the work of Taylor Healey-Brooks, Librarian-in-Residence, and Alexis Bracey, Huntington Fellow, who created the Freedom in the Black Diaspora: A Resource Guide for Ayiti Reimagined.

The guide offers an insightful corpus of materials that take us on a voyage through the Library’s primary resources on Haiti, including the Frederick Douglass Papers, books in English, French, Spanish, and Haitian Creole, and an online event titled Ayiti Re-imagined: The First Black Sovereign Nation, among many other rich resources related to Caribbean and American studies.

Capture of Freedom in the Black Diaspora: A Resource Guide for Ayiti Reimagined

As the guide points out, “after a series of conflicts between 1791 and 1804 in which enslaved Haitians, French colonists, the British and French military, and other parties fought one another, the enslaved African descendants completed the most successful revolution in the western hemisphere. Haiti became the first independent Black nation in the Americas, reclaiming their name ‘Ayiti’ (Haiti in creole) in the process of liberating themselves from the French colonial rule.” Formerly known as Saint Domingue, today the Caribbean island shares the territory between Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Carte de l’ile St. Domingue. E. Beaucosté. 1805. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division

I asked Taylor and Alexis for search tips and guidance when using the Library of Congress website:

Taylor: When searching this topic, I would recommend an emphasis on Black diasporic connections. For example, the Haitian Revolution impacted many countries in the Americas. So searching for Haitian Revolution and influence in the Library of Congress catalog or elsewhere will show the impact that the self-liberation of Haitians had on Jamaica, Cuba, Brazil, Colombia, and the United States. Focusing on the connections between these histories is the best way to envision the entire picture. Ideally, this project will be presented further to showcase that these connections between Black diasporic communities have deep roots.

Alexis: Although the United States government did not officially recognize Haitian sovereignty until 1862, Haitian leaders issued correspondence to U.S. government officials. For example, you can read a letter that Haiti’s founding father Jean-Jacques Dessalines sent to Thomas Jefferson in 1803, in the Thomas Jefferson Papers. To find more information about what United States presidents thought of Haiti, I recommend going through the Presidential Papers, which holds the papers, all of which have been digitized and are now available online, of 23 U.S. presidents from George Washington to Calvin Coolidge. You can enter words such as “Haiti,” “Ayiti,” “Hayti” or “Saint-Domingue” as well as the names of Haitian leaders such as Toussaint Louverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Henry Christophe, Alexandre Pétion, Jean-Pierre Boyer and Faustin-Élie Soulouque to see what will appear.

Portrait of Zora Neale Hurston. Carl Van Vechten, photographer. 1938. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Another important component of the Freedom in the Black Diaspora resource guide are the materials of anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston’s fieldwork in Haiti. In 1936, Hurston traveled to Port-au-Prince just two years after the U.S. troops left the island, an occupation that began in 1915 with President Woodrow Wilson and ended in 1934 with President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Hurston’s research consisted of learning about religious practices on the island and her findings were published in the book “Tell my horse” (1938). In addition, some references to this scholarly visit are woven into her plays collection at the Library.

Dr. Jean Eddy Saint Paul, Founding Director of the Haitian Studies Institute at the City University of New York shared at the “Ayiti Re-imagined” event:

“…every person, no matter of your skin color, should know, for instance, about the Louisiana Purchase. Every American citizen should know that without the Louisiana Purchase, there wouldn’t be the U.S. Empire.”

And connecting Dr. Jean Eddy Saint Paul’s words with the Library’s digital resources we find materials about the Louisiana Purchase such as the Department of State papers and correspondence (1903), the book, “The Louisiana Purchase and preceding Spanish intrigues for dismemberment of the Union” (1901), and this collection dedicated to the historical materials about the acquisition. In addition, the Law Library of Congress prepared the research guide Louisiana Purchase: A Legislative Timeline where it examines the role of the U.S. Congress during the years 1802 to 1807. The images and congressional documents referenced in the timeline are available online.

To further your research about Haitian history, the Haiti: Hispanic Reading Room Country Guide provides you with curated digitized primary source materials, books and periodicals, online databases, and tips for searching. The guide includes digitized documents such as this French manuscript by Jean Decout related to the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804) and part of the Thomas Jefferson Papers. The guide also highlights audio recordings of Haitian poets and writers, which are part of the PALABRA Archive, such as the following by Marie-Thérèse Colimon Hall and Raphaël Berrou. Marie-Thérèse Colimon Hall’s work is also included in the StoryMap poesías e historias del Caribe.

If you have questions about your project, don’t forget that our librarians and program specialists are here to help you through Ask a Librarian. Until the next post! ??

• • 

Taylor Healey Brooks joined the Latin American, Caribbean and European Division (LAC&E) as a Librarian-in-Residence in June 2021. Taylor is a McKinstry Fellow and ALA Spectrum Scholar who completed her MLIS at the University of Washington (UW) in 2021. You can learn more about her project at the Library here.

Alexis Bracey is a student at North Carolina Central University, working towards her master’s degree in Library Science with a concentration in Archives and Records Management. You can learn more about her research journey at the Library here.


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Explore also

Of the People: Widening the Path program website For more information on the Of the People program.

Connecting Communities Digital Initiative page To learn more about the different grant opportunities. 

Library of Congress Digital Collections The largest online collection of Library materials with over 1 million items. You will find resources about American history, world cultures, folklife, art, architecture, science, performing arts, among many other topics.

Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog These materials are also in the Digital Collections, but here you can narrow your search on items specifically to photographs and posters.

Library of Congress Research Guides Library’s guides organized by research topic and collections – these include both online materials, and materials only available on site.

Library of Congress StoryMaps Multimedia storytelling publications on Library’s materials that can include rare books, photographs, audio recordings, music, maps, and more. Some of these StoryMaps include materials in other languages such as Spanish, Portuguese, and Nahuatl.

Classroom Materials at the Library These are organized primary source collections of online materials that are often paired with teaching and student guides.

Comments (5)

  1. It’s bad because I’m 50 yrs. old, and none of this was never taught in school!. I’m from Louisiana, New Orleans to be exact, and we were taught the purchase was about building the U. S.. Which turns out to be a corporation???.

  2. Very interesting. Thanks the Library of Congress Archives. This article is very exciting, uplifting to me and I will visit the library next spring.

  3. Very inspiring piece

  4. Hi
    please help me find some articles on the effects of the 1804 revolution on the orld

    • Dear Emmanuel J M Duvilaire, thank you for your comment. Please use the Ask a Librarian service and one of our librarians will assist you in finding resources for your research.

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