Columbus haters led effort to rename street for murderous Haitian emperor
Countdown begins to discover where Columbus came from
Italian Americans file court petition to save Syracuse’s Columbus statue
Italian-Americans rip de Blasio over cancel of Columbus Day in schools
Letters to the Editor — May 7, 2021
Some of the city’s biggest elected Christopher Columbus haters spearheaded an effort in the City Council to rename a Brooklyn street after Haitian emperor Jean-Jacques Dessalines — who is infamous for a brutal massacre of thousands of white settlers in 1804.
In 2018, then-City Councilman Jumaane Williams and Councilwoman Inez Barron celebrated the addition of Dessalines’ name to the corner of Rogers and Newkirk avenues in Flatbush.
“Jean-Jacques Dessalines was a revolutionary who fought for his people and overthrew an oppressive regime who brutally enslaved and persecuted the Haitian people,” Williams, now the city’s Public Advocate, said triumphantly at the time.
“This was not something that was done in the usual manner and passed with ease. This was a fight and a struggle,” said Barron amid the jubilation of Brooklyn’s local Haitian community.
Williams and Barron were two of the sponsors of the City Council bill to create Jean-Jacques Dessalines Boulevard, but the duo has been considerably less charitable to Columbus and have frequently called for the Italian American hero to be banished from the city streetscape.
Williams branded him “the biggest genocidal murderer the globe has ever seen,” and has regularly called for nixing Columbus Day in favor of “Indigenous People’s Day” — recently foisted on city public schools.
At a 2017 protest with her husband, Assemblyman Charles Barron, Councilwoman Barron called for the removal of the explorer’s iconic statue from Columbus Circle.
“We should not hero-worship murderers. Columbus was a murderer. He was a racist. He was a colonizer and he enslaved African people,” Charles Barron said as his wife nodded along.
Dessalines, a Haitian revolutionary hero who ended slavery and French colonization after defeating Napoleon’s troops on the island, holds a comparable place in Haitian history to President George Washington, historian Philippe R. Girard told The Post.
But the white slaughter has complicated Dessalines’ legacy, said Girard, a professor of Caribbean history at McNeese State University who has written three books on Haitian history.
“It was a widespread massacre … Not just soliders, but civilians and women as well,” Girard said. “The troops Napoleon sent to Haiti to maintain slavery had started massacres against the black population. There was a lot of resentment and Jean-Jacques Dessalines saw it as a tit for tat.”
The campaign began in February 1804 as Dessalines and his generals worried about attempts by the colonial population to re-enslave the newly emancipated Haitians. On Dessalines’ orders, troops fanned out across the country and rounded up white French residents. Many were decapitated or run through with bayonets. Occasional promises of amnesty or mercy were offered only to lure the targeted out of hiding, Girard wrote in his 2011 book, “The Slaves Who Defeated Napoleon.”
Between 5,000 and 10,000 were slain, Girard estimated. Some non-French white residents were spared, as well as those who had special skills.
“Contemporaries generally described the white population as virtually annihilated, and indeed to this day Haiti is the most ethnically African nation in the Caribbean,” Girard wrote.
Dessalines made no bones about it in the Haitian Declaration of Independence of 1804, which foretold the retribution that lay ahead. “Let them tremble … from the terrible resolution that we will have made to put to death anyone born French whose profane foot soils the land of liberty,” it read.
After winning the war, Dessalines later took on the title of Emperor Jacques I. It was a short reign however, and his increasingly autocratic ways led to Dessalines’ assassination at the hands of his own lieutenants in 1806.
“The fact that some would compare Jean-Jacques Dessalines — a revolutionary who fought for his people to overthrow an oppressive regime which brutally enslaved and persecuted Haitian people — to Christopher Columbus, who helped usher in oppression and genocide, is remarkable but not a surprise,“ Williams told The Post. Councilwoman Barron’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
As the City Council’s parks and recreation committee held hearings on the renaming, supporters of Dessalines acknowledged the murders but insisted his crimes should be viewed in their historical context.
“When we honor many of our historical figures, think about Dessalines of back then and not use the lens of today to criticize what was war,” Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte — who claims to be a great, great, great granddaughter of the emperor — said during the hearing. “We talk about Columbus, Christopher Columbus who had his share of capturing and murdering and raping and taking land, but we honor him still.”
Staten Island Councilman Joe Borelli, a Columbus defender, said he still agreed with that logic and did not regret his vote in favor of Dessalines.
“I am not here to argue history with Haitian people who live on Flatbush Avenue. And I only hope for the same courtesy when it comes to Columbus and others,” Borelli told The Post.
Share this article:
Source: Read Full Article