Crossing the Caribbean: Haitian Leaders Efforts to Attract African Americans

Friday, January 8, 2016: 2:50 PM
Crystal Ballroom C (Hilton Atlanta)
Sara Fanning, Texas Woman's University
Haitian leaders, beginning with the first post-revolution premier, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, worked for the incorporation of African Americans into their nation, believing these Americans would provide the cultural and material infusion the moribund society needed.  While the first three Haitian leaders succeeded in attracting only small numbers of African Americans to Haiti, President Jean-Pierre Boyer facilitated the largest migration, bringing thousands of black Americans to Haiti in the 1820s.  These leaders were conscious of Haiti’s independence and nationhood as symbols of racial uplift, but also pragmatically realized that diplomatic recognition and access to markets would determine the nation’s future.  All of these factors played into the repeated invitations from these leaders to African Americans throughout the first three decades of the nineteenth century.

     This paper examines how this migration took place, the leaders involved in both Haiti and in the United States, and how this migration looked for the participants.  We know Haitian leaders succeeded in firing the collective imagination of the African American because as many as 13,000 left American shores for Haiti in the 1820s.   What did these migrants find in Haiti?  The paper will describe some of the migrants’ experiences in Haiti and will end with an assessment of the migration, its goals, and its legacy for both African Americans and Haitians.