“Why Sit Ye Here and Die?” Black American and Haitian Migrations within the Atlantic World

AHA Session 114
Friday, January 8, 2016: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Crystal Ballroom C (Hilton Atlanta, First Floor)
Erica R. Armstrong Dunbar, University of Delaware
Chris Dixon, University of Queensland

Session Abstract

This panel explores the way black emigration within the Atlantic World was a feature of a broader struggle against slavery and white racial domination in the early nineteenth century. It's interested in examining the motivations of individuals for leaving the United States for Africa or the Caribbean, as well as how these transatlantic crossings facilitated a dialogue between Africans in the Diaspora over how best to end slavery, the slave trade, and the racial caste that developed in the wake of post-emancipation societies. Although scholars have examined African American emigration to individual nations, such as Haiti, this panel looks at these movements from the vantage point of those who left and returned, as well as Haitian immigrants who arrived in the urban North during the first two decades of the nineteenth century. How did those who once lived in Haiti shape discourse over freedom and liberty in black urban communities in the North? Did people eager to leave Philadelphia, New York and Boston for Haiti consult Haitian immigrants before their departure? How does the history of Haitian emigration change when viewed through the vantage point of Haitians who abandoned Haiti for a nation where slavery and racial caste remained firm in the Age of Revolutions? Although black Americans understood their own emigrationism as a feature of both a struggle for self-definition as well as one against slavery and racial discrimination in the urban North, those anti-emigrationists challenged this position and argued instead that the fight against injustice and to end slavery would best be fought in the United States. For this reason, their struggle against Haitian emigration often was a matter of strategy on how best to end slavery, assert black equality, and attain citizenship rights.

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