The Importance of Context


Until finding that first book by Langston Hughes with his photo on the jacket, I hadn’t realized that all the books I’d been reading and devouring were written by and about white people exclusively.  I was 13 years old when I had this discovery.

This started me on a self-guided journey scouring local libraries in St. Louis for anything written by and about Black people.  I hadn’t realized how hungry I was for these stories  until I read two books by Langston Hughes The Sweet Flypaper of Life (with photos by Roy DeCarava) and Not Without Laughter. One of these books had a list of books by other Black authors either in the foreword or in a bibliography in back.  Thus, my reading of literature and history by and about African-Americans, Africans and other peoples of the African Diaspora was launched. 

The Haitian Revolution was the only successful, lasting slave revolution in history resulting in the end of colonial rule and the establishment of an independent Black nation.  It provided inspiration for other revolts (including those led by John Brown and Charles Deslondes, who led the largest slave rebellion in the US).

While I knew the history of the Haitian Revolution from my high school and college reading, I had never heard about it in this context.   

In the history I was taught in high school and beyond, slave revolts were always taught as failed, thwarted, or ambushed by internal informants.  This was especially true when anything was mentioned about John Brown and Nat Turner.  In school the only revolts that were “taught” were that of John Brown and Nat Turner.  They were not shown as leaders or strategists, or  called generals, rather they were discussed as disorganized lunatics.

All of this is on my mind because of a moving presentation I attended on Saturday, the Roots of Liberty: The Haitian Revolution and the American Civil War part of the Freedom Rising: The Emancipation Proclamation and African American Service in the Civil War. Roots of Liberty was a free event at the Tremont Temple downtown, which was packed with people.  The Tremont Temple was the site of many abolitionist talks including one by Frederick Douglass.  These spirits felt present at Tremont Temple on Saturday evening.

The performance was a collaborative effort of many put together by Debra Wise, Artistic Director of Underground Railway Theatre.

After the performance, there was a talk moderated by Professor Henry Louis Gates with Haitian author Edwidge Danticat and actor-activist Danny Glover (who peformed as Toussaint Louverture earlier and who is co-founder of the film company, Louverture Films).  My only complaint about the evening is that the rich discussion was too short.



Roy DeCarava, Harlem Insider Who Photographed Ordinary Life, Dies at 89 by Randy Kennedy. 

The Black Jacobins  by Cl.L.R. James

Haiti & the Dominican Republic: An Island Divided – Part of Black in Latin America series that aired on PBS in 2011, conceived and hosted by Professor Henry Louis Gates of Harvard Uniersity.

In the Dominican Republic, Professor Gates explores how race has been socially constructed in a society whose people reflect centuries of inter-marriage, and how the country’s troubled history with Haiti informs notions about racial classification. In Haiti, Professor Gates tells the story of the birth of the first-ever black republic, and finds out how the slaves’s hard fight for liberation over Napoleon Bonaparte’s French Empire became a double-edged sword.

About Candelaria Silva

Candelaria Silva-Collins is a marketing, community outreach and programming consultant; writer; and trainer/facilitator who lives in Boston, Massachusetts. She has designed and facilitated workshops on a wide variety of topics including communication, facilitation, job search skills, team building, and parenting issues. She currently coordinates the Community Membership Program of the Huntington Theatre Company. Her work as Director of ACT Roxbury was profiled in several publications, including The Creative Communities Builders Handbook. Candelaria’s children’s stories, short stories, essays and reviews have been published in local and national publications and she is an active blogger. Her publications include the booklets, Handling Rejection; Pushing through Shyness: Networking Tips when You’re Shy, Slow to Warm Up or Just don’t Feel you Belong; and Real Questions about Sex & Relationships for Teens: A Discussion Guide for Parents. She has served on the boards of Goddard College, Wheelock Family Theatre, Boston Foundation for Architecture, and Discover Roxbury. She is currently Chair, Designators of the Henderson Foundation.

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