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Freedom in the Black Diaspora: A Resource Guide for Ayiti Reimagined

This research guide answers a recent call to action in Haitian studies to engage historical sources in centering Haitian cultural and historical contributions to Black liberation movements in the United States and Latin America.

Haitian History: Primary Resources

The connection between Haitians and African Americans is long-standing and well-documented. From the beginning of the Haitian Revolution to the U.S. Occupation to current political events, there has been a constant exchange of ideas in the discussions of Black sovereignty in the Americas. The Library of Congress maintains selected materials to demonstrate the diasporic conversations between African Americans and Haitians, particularly in the 19th and 20th centuries. The following is a selection of notable primary sources related to Haiti available at the Library of Congress including letters, newspapers articles, rare prints and photographs and books.

Collection Highlights: Events in Haitian History

Frederick Douglass, Ambassador to Haiti, 1889

Pavillon de la République d'Haïti à Exposition Universelle de Chicago, 1893 Visual materials from the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association records. 1893. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

The Frederick Douglass Papers at the Library of Congress presents the papers of the nineteenth-century African American abolitionist who escaped from slavery and then risked his freedom by becoming an outspoken antislavery lecturer, writer, and publisher. Frederick Douglass was named ambassador to the country of Haiti in 1889. During that time, he conducted many diplomatic visits and produced numerous speeches on the state of the country. Douglass viewed Haiti as a beckon of hope and freedom for African Americans. He addressed a crowd at the Haitian Pavilion (pictured on the right) at the world fair on January 2, 1893 and stated:

We should not forget that the freedom you and I enjoy to-day is largely due to the brave stand taken by the black sons, of Haiti ninety years ago; striking for their freedom, they struck for the freedom of every black man in the world.

This digitized collection, linked below, includes many of Douglass's speeches, papers, and newspaper reports on Douglass's connection to Haiti.

U.S. Occupation in Haiti, 1915

James Weldon Johnson. NAACP Collection. Created between1900 and 1920. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

President Woodrow Wilson ordered U.S. Marines to occupy Haiti in 1915 following a coup d’état. Stirred by reports of widespread atrocities related to the American occupation, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) sent James Weldon Johnson to Haiti to investigate for six weeks. Johnson exposed the abuses he found in a series of articles for The Nation, which roused international attention and led to the abatement of the worst excesses. He also briefed Warren G. Harding, the Republican presidential candidate, who used the issue to defeat Democratic candidate James Cox. When Harding became president, he ordered a special Senate investigation. The NAACP pressed for the restoration of full Haitian sovereignty. The U.S. finally withdrew from Haiti in 1934.

In the Library of Congress's Manuscript Division, there are newspaper clippings detailing how the United States news media covered the occupation, including some pieces written by James Weldon Johnson, secretary of the NAACP and known critic of U.S intervention in Haiti.

View a finding aid for the NAACP Collection from the Library of Congress Manuscript Division.

Zora Neale Hurston Fieldwork in Haiti, 1936

Zora Neale Hurston traveled to Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 1936 after graduating from Barnard College and publishing two books. Her arrival came just two years after U.S troops left the island. Her goal was to learn more about Vodou and understand references to scenes and beliefs woven into several of the ten plays in this collection, deposited as unpublished typescripts in the United States Copyright Office between 1925 and 1944. Most of the plays remained unpublished and unproduced until a manuscript curator found them in the Copyright Deposit Drama Collection in 1997.

Find the majority of these scripts in the Manuscript Division with related single pieces in the Music Division and in the Rare Books and Special Collections Division.

Additional Primary Sources

Rare Books, Special Collections

The Library of Congress maintains a curated collection of rare books and pamphlets related to Haiti and Black internationalism. Researchers can visit the Rare Book and Special Collections Reading Room to learn more about rare materials available online and special collections that contain significant resources on the Haitian proclamations of sovereignty in the western hemisphere and their enduring connection to African Americans.

This collection includes rare books, maps, manuscripts, historic documents, artifacts and works of art related to early American history and the cultures of Florida, the Caribbean, and Mesoamerica.

The following titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content are included when available.

Manuscripts, Archival Materials

The Manuscript Division holds approximately sixty million items in eleven thousand separate collections, including some of the greatest manuscript treasures of American history and culture, and supports scholarly research in many aspects of political, cultural, and scientific history. The Library's Manuscript Reading Room provides access to archival materials on and about Haiti, including primary sources from cultural figures, authors, and politicians.

The Celestine Bencomo, Haitian Collection, 1775-1915

The Celestine Bencomo collection relating to Haiti includes an array of manuscripts and broadsides pertaining to Toussaint Loverture, Jean- Jacques Dessalines, Faustin Souloque, Henry Christophe I, Louis Borno, Alexandre Pétion, Jean Pierre Boyer, and many others. The collection also contains three poems by Oswald Durant and writings as well as a cipher produced by Edmond Paul. Celestine Bencomo, a Cuban diplomat to Haiti, was also able to obtain letters, proclamations, decrees, photographs, portraits, and prints from Haiti's most prominent politicians before the United States occupation in 1915.

The Toussaint Louverture Papers, 1797-1800

This collection is located in the Library of Congress’ Manuscript Division. It contains correspondence, proclamations, decrees, and a passport related to Pierre Dominque Toussaint Louverture's efforts to establish Haiti as a black governed French protectorate. The collection material is written in primarily French with some English text.

Highsmith, Carol. photographer. Part of a large welcome mural in Miami, Florida's Little Haiti, long a neighborhood populated by many Haitian exiles, which in the early 21st Century became home to other Caribbean immigrants and Hispanics from elsewhere in Central and South America. 2020. Original art by Serge Toussaint. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

Prints, Photographs, Visual Materials

The Library's Prints and Photographs Division is the repository for a rich collection of prints, photographs, and other visual materials on and about Haiti from significant artists and photographers. Many of these items have been digitized and are available to researchers online. Many other visual materials are available to researchers in the Library's Prints and Photographs Reading Room.

Searchable online databases provide full-text access to both current and historical content. Some databases are freely available and others require a subscription. The database resources marked with a padlock are available to researchers on-site at the Library of Congress. If you are unable to visit the Library, you may be able to access these resources through your local public or academic library.

Newspapers and Current Periodicals

The Newspapers and Current Periodical Reading Room provides access to  one of the most extensive newspaper collections in the world. It is exceptionally strong in US newspapers, with 9,000 titles covering the past three centuries. With over 25,000 non-US titles, it is the largest collection of overseas newspapers in the world. Beyond its newspaper holdings, the Division also has extensive collections of current periodicals (70,000 titles) comic books (over 7,000 titles) and government publications (1 million items).

Browsing by Subject Headings

The Library of Congress Online Catalog represents a collection of over 18 million catalog records for books, serials, manuscripts, maps, music, recordings, images, and electronic resources in the Library of Congress collections. To find additional materials about Haiti in the context of the Black diaspora it is useful to browse by authorized subject heading. Additionally, try searching terms like Haiti and "Self-determination,"  "Autonomy or "Independence Movements" to receive more results on Haitian sovereignty. The organizational structure that you see in some of these lists is indicative of the prejudice we are trying to address with this guide. The following Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) will reveal the most relevant materials in the Library's collections. These subject headings will provide a starting point for researchers interested in this topic, however if you have additional questions, please feel free to contact us.