Brandon R. Byrd explores the historical and intellectual importance of Haiti in The Black Republic
in conversation with William Sturkey!
Thursday, June 4th, 7pm
The Black Republic explores the critical but overlooked place of Haiti in black thought in the post-Civil War era. Following emancipation, African American leaders considered Haiti a singular example of black self-governance whose fate was inextricably linked to that of African Americans demanding their own right to self-determination.
In The Black Republic, Brandon R. Byrd explores the ambivalent attitudes that African American leaders in the post-Civil War era held toward Haiti, the first and only black republic in the Western Hemisphere. Following emancipation, African American leaders of all kinds—politicians, journalists, ministers, writers, educators, artists, and diplomats—identified new and urgent connections with Haiti, a nation long understood as an example of black self-determination. They celebrated not only its diplomatic recognition by the United States but also the renewed relevance of the Haitian Revolution.
While a number of African American leaders defended the sovereignty of a black republic whose fate they saw as intertwined with their own, others expressed concern over Haiti's fitness as a model black republic, scrutinizing whether the nation truly reflected the "civilized" progress of the black race. Influenced by the imperialist rhetoric of their day, many African Americans across the political spectrum espoused a politics of racial uplift, taking responsibility for the "improvement" of Haitian education, politics, culture, and society. They considered Haiti an uncertain experiment in black self-governance: it might succeed and vindicate the capabilities of African Americans demanding their own right to self-determination or it might fail and condemn the black diasporic population to second-class status for the foreseeable future.
When the United States military occupied Haiti in 1915, it created a crisis for W. E. B. Du Bois and other black activists and intellectuals who had long grappled with the meaning of Haitian independence. The resulting demand for and idea of a liberated Haiti became a cornerstone of the anticapitalist, anticolonial, and antiracist radical black internationalism that flourished between World War I and World War II. Spanning the Reconstruction, post-Reconstruction, and Jim Crow eras, The Black Republic recovers a crucial and overlooked chapter of African American internationalism and political thought.
Brandon R. Byrd is a historian of nineteenth and twentieth-century Black intellectual and social history, with a special interest in Black internationalism. He teaches at Vanderbilt University.
William Sturkey is a historian of Modern America who specializes in the history of race in the American South, with a particular interest in the histories of working-class racial minorities. He teaches courses on Modern American History, Southern History, the Civil Rights Movement, and the History of America in the 1960s. His first book, To Write in the Light of Freedom, is a co-edited collection of newspapers, essays, and poems produced by African American Freedom School students during the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964. His second book, Hattiesburg: An American City in Black and White, is a biracial history of Southern Jim Crow that was published by Harvard University Press in March of 2019. Dr. Sturkey is currently working on a new project, tentatively titled To Be An American, which is a biography of the legendary Vietnam War hero Master Sergeant Roy Benavidez.