Researching Haiti, Black Liberation Movements, and US History

[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.] Giselle M. Avilés (Library of Congress, Connecting the Dots) speaks to scholars Taylor Healey Brooks and Alexis Bracey who created the wonderful resource guide: Freedom in the Black Diaspora: A Resource Guide for Ayiti Reimagined. This article includes important materials, links, and audio files (Haitian poets Marie-Thérèse Colimon Hall and Raphaël Berrou reading from their work).

In this Connecting the Dots post, we highlight Library materials about Haiti and its links to United States history, inspired by the work of Taylor Healey-Brooks, Librarian-in-Residence, and Alexis Bracey, Huntington Fellow, who created the Freedom in the Black Diaspora: A Resource Guide for Ayiti Reimagined.

The guide offers an insightful corpus of materials that take us on a voyage through the Library’s primary resources on Haiti, including the Frederick Douglass Papers, books in English, French, Spanish, and Haitian Creole, and an online event titled Ayiti Re-imagined: The First Black Sovereign Nation, among many other rich resources related to Caribbean and American studies.

As the guide points out, “after a series of conflicts between 1791 and 1804 in which enslaved Haitians, French colonists, the British and French military, and other parties fought one another, the enslaved African descendants completed the most successful revolution in the western hemisphere. Haiti became the first independent Black nation in the Americas, reclaiming their name ‘Ayiti’ (Haiti in creole) in the process of liberating themselves from the French colonial rule.” Formerly known as Saint Domingue, today the Caribbean island shares the territory between Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

I asked Taylor and Alexis for search tips and guidance when using the Library of Congress website:

Taylor: When searching this topic, I would recommend an emphasis on Black diasporic connections. For example, the Haitian Revolution impacted many countries in the Americas. So searching for Haitian Revolution and influence in the Library of Congress catalog or elsewhere will show the impact that the self-liberation of Haitians had on Jamaica, Cuba, Brazil, Colombia, and the United States. Focusing on the connections between these histories is the best way to envision the entire picture. Ideally, this project will be presented further to showcase that these connections between Black diasporic communities have deep roots.

Alexis: Although the United States government did not officially recognize Haitian sovereignty until 1862, Haitian leaders issued correspondence to U.S. government officials. For example, you can read a letter that Haiti’s founding father Jean-Jacques Dessalines sent to Thomas Jefferson in 1803, in the Thomas Jefferson Papers. To find more information about what United States presidents thought of Haiti, I recommend going through the Presidential Papers, which holds the papers, all of which have been digitized and are now available online, of 23 U.S. presidents from George Washington to Calvin Coolidge. You can enter words such as “Haiti,” “Ayiti,” “Hayti” or “Saint-Domingue” as well as the names of Haitian leaders such as Toussaint Louverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Henry Christophe, Alexandre Pétion, Jean-Pierre Boyer and Faustin-Élie Soulouque to see what will appear.

Another important component of the Freedom in the Black Diaspora resource guide are the materials of anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston’s fieldwork in Haiti. In 1936, Hurston traveled to Port-au-Prince just two years after the U.S. troops left the island, an occupation that began in 1915 with President Woodrow Wilson and ended in 1934 with President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Hurston’s research consisted of learning about religious practices on the island and her findings were published in the book “Tell my horse” (1938). In addition, some references to this scholarly visit are woven into her plays collection at the Library.

Dr. Jean Eddy Saint Paul, Founding Director of the Haitian Studies Institute at the City University of New York shared at the “Ayiti Re-imagined” event: “…every person, no matter of your skin color, should know, for instance, about the Louisiana Purchase. Every American citizen should know that without the Louisiana Purchase, there wouldn’t be the U.S. Empire.”

And connecting Dr. Jean Eddy Saint Paul’s words with the Library’s digital resources we find materials about the Louisiana Purchase such as the Department of State papers and correspondence (1903), the book, “The Louisiana Purchase and preceding Spanish intrigues for dismemberment of the Union” (1901), and this collection dedicated to the historical materials about the acquisition. In addition, the Law Library of Congress prepared the research guide Louisiana Purchase: A Legislative Timeline where it examines the role of the U.S. Congress during the years 1802 to 1807. The images and congressional documents referenced in the timeline are available online.

To further your research about Haitian history, the Haiti: Hispanic Reading Room Country Guide provides you with curated digitized primary source materials, books and periodicals, online databases, and tips for searching. The guide includes digitized documents such as this French manuscript by Jean Decout related to the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804) and part of the Thomas Jefferson Papers. The guide also highlights audio recordings of Haitian poets and writers, which are part of the PALABRA Archive, such as the following by Marie-Thérèse Colimon Hall and Raphaël Berrou. Marie-Thérèse Colimon Hall’s work is also included in the StoryMap poesías e historias del Caribe.

If you have questions about your project, don’t forget that our librarians and program specialists are here to help you through Ask a Librarian. [. . .]

For full article, links, and audios, see

One thought on “Researching Haiti, Black Liberation Movements, and US History

  1. Thanks for all the great information you share about the Caribbean.

    Here are two podcasts you might find interesting. One with career diplomat Francisco Palmieri about his work in the Dominican Republic and about diplomacy. The other is a Spanish interview with Dominican national poetry prize winner Mateo Morrison.

    With gratitude,

    Marianela Medrano, PhD


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