LauRenT Dubois
“I would have far preferred to write on Toussaint L’Ouverture,” C. L. R. James
wrote wearily in 1931. He had, instead, been forced to respond at length to a
racist article published by the eminent Dr. Sidney Harland, an English sci-
entist teaching at the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture in Trinidad.
The “scientist” had, among other things, ranked Toussaint Louverture in his
classificatory scheme as a member of “Class F,” the “lowest of the superior
classes.” In other words, James seethed, Harland thought the world was quite
full of men like Louverture: “He will pick a Toussaint from every tree.” But,
as James insisted in his response—and as he would show in the coming de-
cade within brilliant works of theatre and history—there was really only one
Louverture. And there was no way to twist reality around so thoroughly as
to make him proof of racial inferiority. Louverture’s story, and those of the
events and people who made it, must serve as inspiration—and as a weapon.
It was in this 1931 article (“The Intelligence of the Negro,” reprinted in
the appendix), that James first took on a task that in a way became one of
his great life missions: wresting the story of Louverture, and of Haiti, away
from those in Europe and North America who for too long had distorted
it— turning it into a cautionary or ironic tale, using it to create an intriguing
whiff of exoticism, or (all too often, as in Harland’s case) employing it as a
justification for racism. The achievements of the Haitian Revolution, James
insisted instead, were among the most remarkable and important in the his-
tory of mankind. He did research in Paris, reading both books and archives
from the revolutionary period itself. James largely depended on accounts—
often hostile ones—written by white contemporaries and white historians
in crafting his own vision of the Haitian Revolution. “All my quotations are
from white historians,” James noted in his riposte to Harland. Though he
found some accounts that in fact shared his admiration for the successes of
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