Thursday, February 11, 2010

Toussaint L'Ouverture

Toussaint, You Helped Show the World That Haitian People are Human Beings, Not Slaves

You were born a slave

on a plantation in San Domingue.

It was easy for you to learn,

so they taught you how to read.

You were one of the favored slaves

who received a plot of land

where you could raise a family.

But you continued to be a slave who yearned to be free.

You knew of slaves like

Louis, 35 years old,

who had scars all over his face

and whose body was covered with welts from whippings.

You also knew of slaves like

Mathieu, 14 or 16 years of age,

whose left hand was missing

and whose right hand was crippled as a result of burns.

You wanted to be like Spartacus

who escaped slavery to organize an army of slaves

and threatened to overthrow the Roman Empire.

Even though he was defeated, Spartacus briefly experienced freedom.

And then came the Night of Fire.

The slaves burned the most valuable

harvest in the entire world.

You escaped the plantation and joined the revolution.

The medical practices you learned in slavery,

enabled you treat the wounded soldiers.

When you became a leader and attacked the enemy,

the injured became your responsibility.

You were unlike other leaders

in the army fighting against slavery.

You drilled the soldiers

until you thought they were ready.

Years later a French General said

that yours was the best trained army in the world.

Your enemy called you Louverture or the opening

because you always found an opening, when they thought you were trapped.

You joined the Spanish

to fight against those who enslaved you.

The Spanish thought you were a stupid slave

who would do as he was told.

Then came the French Revolution

and the abolition of slavery.

Your forces crushed the Spanish

and you became a Black Jacobin.

The English thought that San Domingue

was a ripe plum ready to be picked.

They lost 25,000 soldiers

attempting to return your people to slavery.

The French sent representatives

who tried to take control of your army.

Each failed because the former slaves

of San Domingue had their own representatives.

In war you were the first

to charge the enemy on your horse.

In peace you rode your horse all over the island

taking orphans home to your family.

No one taught you how to run a government.

How do you run a government where

most of the people could not read,

and those who could read had been slave owners?

No one told you how to run a government

in a world that wanted to destroy you.

Who could you turn to?

Who would you make an alliance with?

You chose to support Napoleon.

You didn’t see that he betrayed the French Revolution.

He betrayed you.

This was a big mistake.

San Domingue was still a French colony.

But Napoleon wanted more.

He wanted an island of slaves

under his control.

They sent an army to crush you.

You fought some of your best battles,

and the French failed to subdue your forces.

You agreed to discuss a treaty.

You were arrested,

And as you left your homeland

for the last time

you said these words.

“Now they have felled the trunk

of the Negroes’ tree of liberty.

However, new shoots will sprout

because the roots are deep and many.”

You had trained the soldiers well.

They had tasted freedom

and were prepared to die

fighting for their liberty.

The French did not believe

the reckless courage of their enemy.

As an army of former slaves

marched to their death, they sang,

“To the attack, grenadier,

Who gets killed, that’s his affair.

Forget your ma,

Forget your pa,

To the attack, grenadier,

Who gets killed, that’s his affair.”

Of course, the French could not defeat this army.

500 Polish soldiers supporting the French

joined the revolution.

In all Napoleon lost 60,000 soldiers.

Many tried to forget you, Toussaint.

But for all those struggling for their place in the sun,

You will be remembered as the one

who taught slaves how to fight for freedom.

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