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Trump’s Haiti comments don’t resonate with Georgia’s history, modern aid programs

hatian monument, close up

Savannah provided space in Franklin Square for a monument to recognize the 500 Haitian soldiers who participated during the Siege of Savannah during the Revolutionary War. Credit: pinterest.com

David Pendered

By David Pendered

Whatever President Trump actually said about Haiti, the spirit of the comments doesn’t square in Georgia. Haitian soldiers sailed to defend Savannah during the Revolutionary War. On Monday, an Atlanta human rights leader who’s active in Haiti observed that Haiti’s modern woes stem from lingering resentment, and resulting poverty, over the outcome of Haiti’s revolution that overthrew the French in 1804.

hatian monument, close up

Savannah provided space in Franklin Square for a monument to recognize the 500 Haitian soldiers who volunteered to serve during the Siege of Savannah during the Revolutionary War. Credit: pinterest.com

To be sure, the soldiers came not from Haiti, but from a French-held Caribbean island that later became home to Haiti. At the time, Saint-Domingue was French colony. The island, Hispanola, is home today to Haiti and Dominican Republic.

To quickly address just one sign of Haiti’s ongoing isolation, consider the cost of a telephone call from the United States to Haiti.

Vonage, just to pick a carrier, offers a call package to anywhere in Haiti at a cost of 17 cents a minute to landlines and 20 cents a minute to mobiles – plus the cost of a phone package priced at $9.99 a month for a 12-month promotional rate.

In contrast, Vonage offers a package that provides free calls to Mexico, both landlines and mobiles, in the $9.99 a month 12-month promotional rate.

The role of Haitian soldiers in the effort to defeat the British occupation of Savannah during the Revolutionary War had historically been overlooked. That changed in 2007, when a monument honoring their efforts was raised in Savannah’s Franklin Square. The square was designed in 1790 and named for a founding father of the United States, Benjamin Franklin.

The statue is known as the Haitian Monument, according to a report on the travel site gosouthsavannah.com.

haitian monument, drummer

Some historic reports say the Haitian troops’ drummer boy was Henri Christophe, who later would become a leader in the Haitian revolution and, subsequently, king for 14 years. He built the Citadelle, now a UNESCO site. Credit: pinterest.com

The monument recognizes the Chasseurs Volontaires de Saint-Domingue, a group of more than 500 free men of color who joined in a French-led expedition to help the Colonial army reclaim Savannah from the British. They served as a rear guard, covering Colonial troops and 4,500 French soldiers who retreated in the face of an overwhelming number of Redcoat troops. Of note, published accounts of the siege differ in details but not substance.

The Colonials had mounted an effort to reclaim Savannah from the British. The Redcoats had taken the city in 1778 as a step in a strategy to retake the Mid Atlantic states and leverage these gains against Colonial strongholds farther north.

The Siege of Savannah is well known to those who pause during a visit to the area to recognize the namesake of Fort Pulaski National Monument, located between Savannah and Tybee Island. Polish Count Kazimierz Pulaski, a soldier and military commander, died in the siege, which has been described as one of the war’s bloodiest and costliest battles, according to a report on todayingeorgiahistory.org.

The fate of the Haitian troops was not pleasant. Some 25 were recorded as wounded or killed during the seige; over 60 were captured in a fall of Charleston in 1780; three shiploads were captured by the British Navy and sold into slavery, according to a report by the44diaries.files.wordpress.com.

Atlanta human rights leader Joe Beasley said Monday that Haiti’s current problems are rooted in the payments Haiti was compelled to provide to France and the United States. France sent warships to Haiti in 1825 and demanded restitution for the slaves and other property lost as a result of the slave uprising that prevailed 1804.

The fledgling black democracy had no choice to to accept terms and took until the mid 1900s to repay the debt, according to a report by The Washington Post.

“Haiti is one of the only places where you win the war, but you still lose,” Beasley said. “France remain powerful, and remained close to Thomas Jefferson [U.S. president from 1801 to 1809].”

Haiti, tent cities

Joe Beasley visited tent cities in Haiti in 2015 as part of his review of Red Cross aid efforts. File/Credit: Garry Calixte/American Red Cross

A U.S. embargo of Haiti extended from 1806, during Jefferson’s administration, until 2003, according to a primary source cited in the same story in The Washington Post.

Beasley does not serve as an apologist for Haiti’s economic conditions or humanitarian efforts conducted there.

In 2015, he responded to a report by ProPublica that criticized the Red Cross’ efforts to help the country rebuild after the 2010 earthquake. Beasley traveled to the country he has visited frequently over the decades and, after the site visit, reported that the Red Cross was making the right decisions.

In addition, Beasley helped his church, Antioch Baptist, launch a program subsequently joined by the General Missionary Baptist Convention of Georgia, Inc. to operate a school in Tapio, located about an hour’s drive north of the capitol of Port Au Prince. The school also serves as a health clinic and orphanage, he said.

American statesman Frederick Douglass commented on the strained relation between the U.S. and Haiti in his remarks at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Douglass had already served as the U.S. minister to Haiti and observed in his speech:

  • “But a deeper reason for coolness between the countries is this: Haiti is black, and we have not yet forgiven Haiti for being black or forgiven the Almighty for making her black.”


haitian monument

About 60 Hatian soldiers died while covering the retreat of U.S. and French soldiers against overwhelming British forces during the Siege of Savannah. Credit: the44diaries.files.wordpress.com


The Haitian monument was opened in two stages. The first stage opened with a few soldiers and more were added as fundraising efforts reached their goal. credit: pinterest.com


Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass

David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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1 Comment

  1. Larry Keating January 16, 2018 11:47 am

    Excellent piece, David. Thank you.Report


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