Black History Spotlight: Toussaint Louverture
By:Leon Kwasi Kuntuo-Asare
Toussaint Louverture is believed to of been born on the Breda Plantation at Haut de Cap in Saint-Domingue (modern-day Haiti). The date of his birth is unknown, some say he could of been born on May 20, 1743 other accounts say he was most likeley born on November 1 (All Saints Day). Not much is known about his parents, but biographer John Beard’s historical narrative on Louverture, claims that his grandfather was a man named Gaou Guinou, who was a son of the King of the kingdom of Allada (also known as the kingdom of Ardra). It was a West African kingdom on the Coast of southern Benin. Louverture according
to some accounts was well-educated by his godfather, who was a man named Pierre Baptiste, who was a free-person-of-color (a mixed race person with African ancestry). Some historians believe that his letters reveal that he was well-versed in the languages of French and Creole, and was knowledgeable on the writings of political strategist Machiavelli and stoic philosopher Epictetus. There is also reason to believe he may of received additional education in Catholic schools, thought by Jesuit missionaries. The medical knowledge he acquired is believed to of been a combination of traditional African medicine, combined with techniques that were commonly used by Jesuit hospitals.
Later in Life
In 1782, Louverture is believed to of married a woman named Suzanne Simone Baptiste, who is believed to of been the daughter of his godfather. Reportedly, Louverture claimed he fathered 16 children, but at the time of his death only three children had outlived him.
“I was born a slave, but nature gave me the soul of a free man”
Some records indicate that Louverture probably received his freedom around 1776 and was probably around 33-years-old. Up until the start of the revolution, Louverture is believed to of been a salaried employee of the Breda Plantation and mostly performed duties such as coachman, overseer, slavedriver and looked after the plantation’s livestock. As a free man Louverture started to amass a small fortune of money and property, some accounts say he rented a small coffee plantation, and owned several of his own slaves.
A Revolutionary Life
In 1789, the Free People of Saint-Domingue, inspired by the French Revolution, desired to increase their rights in the French colony, while at the same time desiring to keep the blacks on the slave colony stripped of any such rights. On August of 1797, a vodoo ceremony at Bois Caiman officially started the slave rebellion in the north of the colony, which held the most black people in forced bondage. According to some scholars, Louverture would not join the revolution until a few weeks into it.He would first send his family to the Spanish colony of Santo Domingo (now the Dominican Republic). He would then join the forces of Georges Biassou as a physician to Biassou’s troops. Some records reveal that Louverture was part of the group’s leadership, and was involved in strategy and negotiated with the Spanish for supplies. He would train his men in guerrilla warfare and the European style of war at the time.
On August 29 1793, he gave his famous declaration of Camp Turrel to the Blacks of St.Domingue:
Brothers and friends, I am Toussaint Louverture; perhaps my name has made itself known to you. I have undertaken vengeance. I want liberty and equality to reign in St.Domingue, I am working to make that happen. Unite yourselves to us, brothers and fight with us for the same cause.
Your very humble and obedient servant, Toussaint Louverture,
General of the armies of the king, for the public good.”
On February 4 1794, the revolutionary government of France proclaimed the abolition of slavery. This came after months of Louverture having diplomatic talks with French general Etienne Maynaud de Bizefranc de Laveaux. This decision would be one of the main reasons that convinced Louverture (who was having issues with the Spanish), to switch his allegiance from the Spanish to the French. He would rally his troops to battle with Laveaux against the Spanish. This decision would cause some of his former allies to turn against him, also now being a French commander, he was now in armed-conflict with the British empire, whose troops landed on the coast of Saint-Domingue in September of that year. In 1798, Louverture was in total command in Saint-Domingue, with the exception of a semi-independent state in the south, which was controlled by general Andre Riguad, a free man of color, who rejected the authority of Louverture. Louverture still continued to fight the British, but on April 30 1798, he signed a treaty with British general, Thomas Maitland. Exchanging withdrawal of British troops for the release and amnesty of French counter-revolutionaries in the area. On August 31, Louverture and Maitland signed another treaty which ended the British blockade on Saint-Domingue, in exchange for a promise that Louverture would not export his black revolution to the British slave colony of Jamaica (which was a major suger producer at the time). The tension between the black Louverture and his Mulatto rival, Riguad began to intensify, eventually leading to a civil war famously-known as the “War of Knives” it lasted about a year. The defeated Riguad would flee to the French overseas region of Guadeloupe.
During the Saint-Domingue civil war, Napoleon Bonaparte took power in France and passed new laws for its French colonies (which still included Saint-Domingue). Louverture thought this could mean a return of slavery, but Bonaparte let Louverture believe that wasn’t the case, but he did not want Louverture and Saint-Domingue to attack Spanish Santo Domingo, a decision that Louverture knew could place in a major defensive position from possible attackers (which could include the French). In January 1801, Louverture against the wishes of Napoleon, invaded Santo Domingo, capturing the governor, Don Garcia, bringing Santo Domingo under French law, which abolished slavey in the region. As the leader of the entire island of Hispaniola, he began to modernize Santo Domingo, which was less developed than its French speaking counter-part. On July 7 1801, he established his authority over the island by having a new constitution created, which named him Governor-General for life, with almost absolute power. Louverture still shied away from officially declaring independence form France, partly because he saw himself as a black Frenchman and partly because he didn’t want to battle France again and possibly lose and have them return slavery to the island. Nonetheless, Bonaparte would eventually send 20,000 French troops to restore French authority and if possible restore slavery. Bonaparte’s troops were under the control of his brother-in-law Charles Emmanuel Leclerc, who had orders to deport all the black officers and to recapture the entire island colony, under diplomatic means if possible. When peaceful negotiations brokedown, both sides started to shoot it out, fighting would last for a few months. Eventually, Louverture would be arrested, deported and imprisoned in France. On April 7, 1803, Louverture would die, some suggest he could of died of malnutrition and or pneumonia.
In his absence Jean-Jacques Dessalines would lead the H revolution, until it was victorious over the French in 1804 and the nation of Haiti was born.
Black History Spotlight:Denmark Vesey
By: Leon Kwasi Kuntuo-Asare
Denmark Vesey is believed to of been born in 1767 in St.Thomas,West Indies. He was the slave of captain Vesey,who was a slave trader and planter from Charleston, South Carolina. He spent at least two decades sailing with his slave master.
In 1800 Vesey was able to purchase his freedom from his master, after he allegedly won a local lottery. Vesey would go into the trade of carpentry, and would become relatively successful.
In 1818 Vesey would become a powerful speaker and preacher, he would travel to slave plantations in his local area. Vesey would preach to his fellow black people, (who were suffering horribly in forced bondage), that they would fight for and gain their liberation like the ancient Israelites of the Holy Bible. Vesey, Allegedly held meetings at his home, where he would also collect firearms and other weapons that he intended to use to arm 9000 black people in South Carolina. Unfortunately, Vesey would be betrayed like Jesus Christ, by some of his own people that he intended to free, when some black slaves fearful of white retribution, informed the white authorities. Vesey, would defend himself well in court, but would ultimately be sentenced by a white supremacist jury to be hanged to death. 35 other blacks would be sentenced to hang too, and 35 others would be sold to brutal (even by American standards) West Indian plantations. If not for the betrayal of a few black Judas’s, his rebellion would of been the largest slave revolt in U.S. history. The white fear that was caused because of the failed revolt caused harsher and more punitive laws to be passed to control and dominate black people. In Hampton Park in Charleston, South Carolina, there is a statue dedicated to the memory and legacy of the black freedom fighter.
Black History Spotlight:Biddy Mason
Biddy Mason was born into the brutal system of slavery on August 15, 1818.Her exact birthplace is unknown, some scholars believe was born in Hancock County, Georgia, and others believe her birthplace was Hancock County, Mississippi. As a youth she spent most of her time on the plantation of Robert Smithson. In her teenage-years she learned how to perform domestic work and agricultural work,she also learned midwife and herbal medicine making skills from elder slaves, who shared their knowledge that was passed-down to them from their African ancestors. In the 1940s, Mason is believed to of have been given to Rebecca Dorn and Robert Mayes Smith as a wedding gift. While on the Smith’s plantation, Mason had three children, all girls: Ellen in 1838, Ann in 1844 and Harrier in 1847. The father or fathers is unknown, but some historical researchers believe that Robert Smith was the father of a least one of her children.
Biddy’s Road to Freedom
In the late 1940s Mormon missionaries from the Church of Latter-Day Saints passed through Mississippi and proselytized the locals. Some of the locals included Biddy Mason’s slave owner Robert Smith, his wife and their children. There is currently no information on whether Mason or her fellow slaves were baptized in the Mormon faith. In 1947, the Smith household joined with a group of Mormon churchgoers from Mississippi to unite with the Mormon exodus from Nauvoo,Illinois. The group of religious travelers ventured to Pueblo, Colorado, there they would join with a group of very-ill disciples from a Mormon battalion. On the trip further westward, Mason use her healing-skills as a midwife and herbalist to help heal the sick, feed the hungry and to care for the children of the religious pilgrims, she also helped herd the cattle. In 1851, Brigham Young the leader of the Mormon church sent a group of his followers to Southern California, which was a free state at the time. Smith ignored that fact and refused to free hia slaves, once they arrived in the San Bernadino settlement. In 1856, Smith planned to move to the slave state of Texas, where he intended to sell his slaves. Smith would lie to his slaves (he told them he intended to give them their freedom in Texas)to motivate them to make the long and harsh journey to the slave state. Mason of course knew he was lying, and not wanting to be separated from her children, she with the help of some kind-hearted locals, petitioned a Los Angeles court for her freedom and the freedom of her children. On January 21, 1856 Biddy Mason and her children were given their freedom by Judge Benjamin Ignatius Hayes, after Smith failed to show-up to challenge the petition.
The Free Woman, Healer and Entrepreneur
After she gained her freedom, Mason and her daughters moved in with a man named Robert Owens,who was the father of the locally famous Los Angeles businessman Charles Owens. Mason’s daughter Ellen would eventually marry Charles Owens. While in Los Angeles, California, Mason worked as a nurse and midwife and delivered hundreds of babies, she also risked her life to use her traditional-African herbalist healing skills to care for these people with smallpox, during a smallpox epidemic that was ravaging L.A. at the time. Mason saved much of the money she earned as midwife and nurse to become a financially successful real estate Investor, in fact she became one of the first African-American women to own land in Los Angeles. Mason also used the money she earned to become a philanthropist: she gave money to the poor, fed the hungry and was part of a group that founded day care center and school for black children. In 1872, Mason and her son-in-law Charles Owens became founding members of the first African Methodist Episcopal church of Los Angeles, which was also the city’s first black church. The church would be built on land that was donated by Mason herself. Mason died on January 15,1891, a park and plaque is dedicated to her in Los Angeles, California.
By: Leon kwasi Kuntuo-Asare
Garret Augustus Morgan, was born o March 4, 1877 in Claysville, Kentucky. His father a man named Sydney Morgan was a freed-slave, and the son of confederate colonel John H. Morgan, his mother was a slave woman named Elizabeth Reed. At the age of 14, having only a 6th grade education, he would move to Cincinnati,Ohio to look for work. Morgan would eventually gain employment as a handyman for a Cincinnati landowner. In his free-time, he would further his knowledge by studying with a tutor he hired. In 1895, Morgan would move to Cleveland, Ohio, where heee found work as a sewing machine repairman for a clothing maker. The skills he required as a repairman would ultimately send him on the journey of becoming an inventor. He would invent a belt fastener for sewiing machines, and in 1912 he would get his first patent.
when he was not working or inventing, Morgan became interested in his own Black American heritage and the plight of his fellow Black American people, in 1908, he would co-found the Cleveland Association of Colored Men, which was a group dedicated to improving the social and economic situation for Black people. The group would later merge with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Morgan would move his activities beyond entrepreneurship, inventing and activism and would become a philanthropist, giving his own money to support Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to help educate his people.
As a businessman, Morgan would eventually open his own sewing business. In 1909, Morgan and his wife Mary Anne expanded their small and growing business empire by opening a clothing store called Morgan’s Cut Rate Ladies Clothing Store. Where he would employee his own people and at one time his store employed 32 people.
As an inventor he would go on to invent Black hair products, the stoplight and the smokehood (a precursor to the gas mask).
He would die on July 27, 1963, in Cleveland, Ohio after living to the ripe age of 86.
BY: Leon Kwasi Kuntuo-Asare
Elizabeth Freeman (also known as Bett or Mumbett), was born a slave in 1744 in colonial America ( Claverack, Province of New York).
As a young child-slave at her master John Ashley’s house in Massachusetts , Freeman would sometimes overhear discussions about possible American freedom from the British. Those discussions combined with her own desire to be free, gave Freeman even more inspiration to run away from her brutal masters.
When the American Revolutionary War was finally won by America, Freeman believed that she should also be free. Freeman and her abolitionist lawyer Theodore Sedgwick, would sue the Ashley family for her freedom.
In 1781, the case would go to trial and eventually, the Massachusetts supreme court would side with Freeman, claiming slavery was against the Massachusetts Constitution. That decision would Utimately, end slavery in the state of Massachusetts altogether. Freeman would be awarded 30 shillings as compensation for her labor.
All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.
– Massachusetts Constitution, Article 1.
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By: Leon Kwasi Kuntuo-Asare
With all the talk about reparations for the descendants of American slaves currently going on around the country, anti-reparation people would have you believe that slavery was so long ago, it wasn’t.
The last surviving person born a slave in the antebellum south was a man named, John Magee. Magee was born in North Carolina in 1841.
Magee’s parents Jeanette and Ephraim were slaves on the J.J. Shanks plantation.
Magee told people that before the Civil War he was sold to a plantation owner by the name of Hugh Magee, at a slave market in Enterprise, Mississippi.
Some say that Magee was later sold to Victory Steen, who ran a slave plantation near Florence, Mississippi. Magee would claim that in 1863 he escaped the bondage of the Steen plantation and enlisted in the Union Army, reportedly he was part of an assault on Vicksburg in Mississippi.
Magee would later get wounded at both Vicksburg and Champion Hill. After the end of the war, Magee returned to his life, but this time as a “free man”, he would begin farming near Columbia, Mississippi with a White mam named, Tom Mix.
In the early 1990’s, Magee would move to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, before later returning to Columbia, Mississippi, to work for a sawmill operator named, Richard Davis. Magee, was trusted and respected enough to supervise the mill when, Davis was away.
Magee would die on October 15, 1971.
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NOT YOUR SISTERS IN THE STRUGGLE: WHITE WOMEN WERE HUGE FIGURES IN THE ENSLAVEMENT OF BLACK MEN AND WOMEN
By: Leon Kwasi Kuntuo-Asare
A study by a professor at the University of California-Berkeley revealed that White women were not the docile bystanders as my people may of thought, when it came to the business of enslaving Black people.
An associate professor of history at the University named Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers, discovered through her census data research that from the years 1850-1860, White women in the south were about 40% of the slave owners.
According to the BlackStar:
In her book, ” They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave owners in the American South” which is based on her findings as a professor, Jones-Rogers explained that White women’s involvement in slavery comes from family, as their slave-owning parents ” typically have their daughters more enslaved people than land”.
” what this means is that their very identities as southern women are tied to the actual or possible ownership of other people “, she said according to history.com
She would later go on to explain that the ownership of enslaved people of African descent served as White women’s primary source of wealth, and reportedly the larger amount of slaves a White woman owned made her more desirable for marriage by eligible White Male bachelors.
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