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.