[Reading] “Christopher Columbus landed first in the New World at
the island of San Salvador, and after praising God he inquired urgently for
gold. The natives, Red Indians, were peaceable and friendly and directed him
to Haiti, a large island (nearly as large as Ireland), rich, they said, in the yel-
low metal. He sailed to Haiti. One of his ships being wrecked, the Haitian In-
dians helped him so willingly that very little was lost and of the articles which
they brought on shore not one was stolen. The Spaniards, the most advanced
Eu ro pe ans of their day, annexed the island, called it Hispaniola, and took
the backward natives under their protection. They introduced Chris tian-
ity, forced labor in mines, murder, rape, bloodhounds, strange diseases and
artificial famine (by the destruction of cultivation to starve the rebellious).
These and other requirements of the higher civilization reduced the native
population from an estimated half-a-million, perhaps a million, to 60,000 in
15 years.”
And thus it is that Dr. C. L. R. James, a distinguished scholar, reads
the first two paragraphs of his prologue. A remarkable book, a classic, The Black
Jacobins, which deals with the Toussaint Louverture– led Black slave rebellion in
San Domingo two years after the French Revolution. In these two paragraphs
Dr. James, your style of writing of course is a very salubrious one indeed, but
the bite, the irony, and the truth, you might say of white man and all these years
of Western civilization so-called, in these two paragraphs you’ve almost essen-
tialized it.
Yes I think so, and I wrote it quite naturally. I didn’t have to search,
but I am a West Indian, and we in the West Indies are very much aware of
the contrast between what the white man says and what he does because we
are Western-civilized in our orientation so we are aware of all the things he’s
C. L. R. James and Studs Terkel Discuss
The Black Jacobins on WFMT Radio
(Chicago), 1970
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