What the Modern World Owes Slavery (It’s More Than Back Wages)
The Huffington Post
February 24, 2014
By Greg Grandin, Professor of History, NYU
Many in the United States were outraged by the remarks of conservative evangelical preacher Pat Robertson, who blamed Haiti’s catastrophic 2010 earthquake on Haitians for selling their souls to Satan. Bodies were still being pulled from the rubble — as many as 300,000 died — when Robertson went on TV and gave his viewing audience a little history lesson: the Haitians had been “under the heel of the French” but they “got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, ‘We will serve you if you will get us free from the French.’ True story. And so, the devil said, ‘OK, it’s a deal.'”
A supremely callous example of right-wing idiocy? Absolutely. Yet in his own kooky way, Robertson was also onto something. Haitians did, in fact, swear a pact with the devil for their freedom. Only Beelzebub arrived smelling not of sulfur, but of Parisian cologne.
Haitian slaves began to throw off the “heel of the French” in 1791, when they rose up and, after bitter years of fighting, eventually declared themselves free. Their French masters, however, refused to accept Haitian independence. The island, after all, had been an extremely profitable sugar producer, and so Paris offered Haiti a choice: compensate slave owners for lost property — their slaves (that is, themselves) — or face its imperial wrath. The fledgling nation was forced to finance this payout with usurious loans from French banks. As late as 1940, 80% of the government budget was still going to service this debt.
In This State: Historian finds imprecise end to slavery in Vermont
February 23, 2014
Vermonters have long prided themselves on their state’s enlightened stance on race relations. The fact that the first state constitution in 1777 prohibited slavery is often cited as evidence that Vermont led the nation in establishing universal human rights.
But a new book by a University of Vermont history professor makes it clear that Vermont should stop patting itself on the back.
“The Problem of Slavery in Early Vermont, 1777-1810” by professor Harvey Amani Whitfield challenges one of Vermont’s most firmly held myths: that slavery was ended here in 1777. The book, published by the Vermont Historical Society this month, documents the inescapable truth that racism and even slavery were much a part of this state’s formative years, and lasted well after 1777.