Dangerous Precedents: International Eminent Domain in the Panama Canal Zone

Thursday, January 5, 2017: 2:30 PM
Room 201 (Colorado Convention Center)
Allison Powers Useche, Columbia University
On May 28, 1890, the faithful Protestants of Santo Domingo City were gathered in the old military barracks, the Cuartel de las Milicias, for their evening service when the doors of the church burst open and the former United States Consul barred the doorway. Recently fired from the State Department, ex-consul Henry Charles Clifford Astwood proceeded to call the parishioners and minister, Rev. Charles E. Goodin, dissenters and rebels against the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church of the United States. The attendees sat in shock as a few passersby peered into the open entrance to see the zealous Mr. Astwood publicly excommunicate the so-called rebels and demand the keys to the building. It was a true scandal without precedent in Santo Domingo!

Unexamined by historians, Astwood’s outburst in the Cuartel de las Milicias marked the beginning of a legal dispute that passed before all three branches of Dominican government before being resolved by the Dominican Supreme Court in July 1892. This paper examines that dispute, Goodin vs. Astwood, and how descendants of African-American immigrants in Santo Domingo used historical narrative and property law to make claims to Dominican nationality and to fend off U.S. appropriation of church property. Arguing against affiliation with the A.M.E. Church and Henry Astwood, the church’s representative on the island, the descendants of African-American immigrants underemphasized their racial and ethnic ties to African-Americans in the United States. Instead they claimed to be “Dominican Protestants,” and members of a non-Catholic religion, “whose history was tied in great part to the history of the country.” Surprisingly, the Dominican judiciary and legislature tacitly supported them.

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