Under dark and menacing skies in the French colony of Saint-Domingue on the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean, a small group of slaves slipped away from their sugar plantations into the woods of Bois Caïman for a secret hush-harbor church service in violation of the laws forbidding them to assemble. High Priest Dutty Boukman led the service as the congregants began anguishing over their plight as slaves and giving voice to their longing desires for liberty and freedom. As their unified cries built to a fever pitch, Priestess Cécile Fatiman began a frenzied dance, dramatically accentuated by the perfectly-timed opening of the dark clouds and a drenching downpour, illuminated by all-surrounding God-confirming lightning-strikes. To this backdrop, Priest Boukman offered up this prayer:
“Good Lord who hath made the sun that shines upon us, that riseth from the sea, who maketh the storm to roar and governeth the thunders; the Lord is hidden in the heavens, and there He watcheth over us. The Lord seeth what the whites have done. Their god commandeth crimes; ours giveth blessings upon us. The Good Lord hath ordained vengeance. He will give strength to our arms and courage to our hearts. He shall sustain us. Cast down the image of the god of the whites, because he maketh the tears to flow from our eyes. Hearken unto liberty that speaketh now in all your hearts.”
At that meeting 225 years ago on August 14, 1791, the slaves purposed in their hearts to end slavery. They made a covenant with God that if He would protect them and give them the strength and courage to fight, they would do all that was humanly possible to rise up in rebellion against the white plantation owners. To seal their covenant with God, Priestess Fatiman offered a sacrifice to God, slitting the throat of a black creole pig, sharing a taste of its blood with all the congregants.
Dutty Boukman and Cécile Fatiman were of a religion that became derogatorily known as “Voodoo.” In their ongoing effort to dehumanize and demonize people of color for the purpose of denying them the self-evident truth that they were created equal and endowed by the Creator with the same unalienable rights as white people, whitefolk spun Voodoo as dark cultish “Devil worship.”
The truth is, Voodoo is a religion that developed among African slaves over many years as they assimilated parts of different religions which had been taught to them by white missionaries. It is strongly influenced by Roman Catholic symbolism and Baptist theology and Pentecostal worship. Adherents to the Voodoo religion worship the same God we evangelicals worship; the same Jehovah God of Judaism — they call him “Bondye,” derived from the French words “bon” (“good”) and “Dieu” (“God”).
If you think the Voodoo service at Bois Caïman was an occult ceremony involving Devil worship because of the frenzied dancing and barbaric animal sacrifice, you’re sorely lacking in knowledge of Christianity and Judaism.
The Old Testament portion of the Holy Bible, followed by both Christians and Jews, is full of incidents of animal sacrifice, even human sacrifice. In the Book of Leviticus — which we know is still relevant today because evangelicals quote it as present authority for the proposition that gay marriage is “against the laws of God” — God commanded the priests to slit the throats of animals, decapitate them, dismember them, wash the body parts, arrange them on the altar…all before setting the parts on fire so the “sweet aroma” would be “pleasing to the Lord.”
The Book of 2nd Kings praises King Josiah as the greatest king the Hebrew people ever had — “never one like him before and there will never be one like him again” — because he followed God’s commandment and took the priests of all other religions and tied them down to their own altars and lit them up like the 4th of July to send up to the Lord the pleasing sweet aroma of their burning flesh.
And if you’re Pentecostal, as I am, don’t even think about equating frenzied dancing with “Devil worship.”
1791 BOUKMAM’S REVOLUTION BEGINS
During the first few days of the revolution to secure their unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the slaves enjoyed tremendous success under the leadership of Boukman. In the space of one week, more than 1,800 plantations were destroyed and 1,000 slave owners were killed. And if you’re not comfortable with such death and destruction being described as “tremendous success,” Google the conduct of the French plantation owners — they were more uncivilized and savage than ISIS. When slaves were caught trying to escape, they beheaded them in front of the others slaves or sliced off their man-parts or put them on a wheel which literally pulled them apart into pieces or burned them alive or all of the above…they deserved death and destruction.
This initial success of what became known as the Haitian Revolution contributed to the concocted cover-story that the slaves had netherworld help from “the Devil.” To explain why a ragtag band of slaves was able to defeat the mighty forces of the French Empire, whitefolk came up with the totally-made-up face-saving story that High Priest Boukman and Priestess Fatiman had made a deal with Satan to beat back their white oppressors in exchange for them becoming emissaries of Satan, casting demonic spells on whitefolk.
This bizarre cover story was recently resurrected by evangelicals who explained both Hurricane Katrina and the 2010 Haiti Earthquake as punishments from God against the Haitians who had “swore a pact with the Devil” 200 years earlier at Bois Caïman. Voodoo shops in the Fourth Ward and Lower Ninth Ward. And whatnot.
Had the men been white, that success would have been attributed to assistance from Jehovah God, as was the miraculous success of tiny little Israel over the combined forces of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan in the Six Day War.
But mostly it could be explained with math.
There were around 30,000 white people on the island.
And 450,000 slaves.
Three months into the revolution, the French captured Boukman, relieved his body of the weight of his head, and publicly displayed his head in an effort to terrorize the others into ending the revolution.
But the cause was taken up by General Toussaint L’Ouverture, a former slave. His success can easily be explained in terms of his genius mind. He invited the Spanish forces from neighboring Santiago Domingo to help him against the French. Helpfully, France picked that time to declared war on Great Britain, allowing L’Ouverture to cut a deal with Britain for their assistance. When France later abolished slavery out of desperation, L’Ouverture realigned with France and fought against Spain and Britain. He then cut a deal with America against the French, as we were moving close to war with France. He was an accomplished artist in the art of the deal.
INFLUENCE OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE
The outdoor church service at Bois Caïman in 1791 didn’t just occur “out of the blue.” High Priest Dutty Boukman (book man) spent a lot of time reading and had read a document written 15 years earlier by a man named Thomas Jefferson which asserted that it was a self-evident truth that all men are created equal and all have been endowed by God with personal rights which can never be taken away from them by the government. He had also read the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen published in 1789, just two years before he started the revolution. That declaration had been adopted by the French people who had started agitating for individual rights and liberties, having grown weary of living as subjects under the French monarchy. The French document asserted that all men are born free and it was their “natural right” to remain free and equal for life.
Boukman knew that on the authority of these two documents, the American people had risen up and killed many of their British overlords in 1776 and the French people had stormed the Bastille in 1789 and ignited one of the bloodiest revolutions of all time, complete with the crowd-drawing, entertaining, deheading-machine in downtown Paris.
So it’s easy to see how these slaves got a little confused and thought all these new individual liberties and freedoms that were being talked about as “natural rights” and “God-given rights” implanted deep within every human being upon birth, applied to them as well. And it’s easy to see where they got the idea that the method of securing these rights was a violent uprising against the oppressors.
SLAVERY IN CHARLESTON
Charleston was the slave-trading capital of America. Many of the 4 million slaves living in America had come in through the Charleston Harbor. There were around 400,000 slaves in South Carolina, with 37,000 of those living in Charleston County, the highest concentration of slaves of any county in America. Because of the geography of the Low Country, the plantations along the Charleston River and other marshy areas grew rice instead of cotton. Rice-growing was much more labor intensive, requiring significantly more laborers. And with close to 500 plantations that were larger than 1,000 acres each and another 1,400 or so that were over 500 acres each, the need for slaves was great and growing.
But so were the fears of whitefolk. They became increasingly worried about a Haitian-styled uprising in Charleston.
1818 MOTHER EMANUEL AME CHURCH
The Haitian Revolution was in its 8th year in 1799 when a 32-year-old slave in Charleston by the name of Telemaque bought the winning ticket in the city lottery. With his $1,500 in winnings ($28,000 in today’s dollars), he bought his freedom for $600 and changed his name to Denmark Vesey.
In 1818, Vesey got together with Rev. Morris Brown and founded and built the Emanuel AME church in downtown Charleston. On the first Sunday, more than 4,000 black congregants left the three largest white churches in Charleston and came to the new church. It soon became the center of the black community.
Due to their ever-growing fear of an uprising, Charleston leaders raided the church on many occasions, accusing the congregants of breaking the law by meeting after sunset or meeting without a presence of a white majority. Finally, in 1822, they claimed to have uncovered a plot for a Haitian-styled uprising and threw Rev. Morris Brown in jail and hung Denmark Vesey and 34 other black men. The whitefolk then got together and burned Emanuel AME to the ground.
That’s the same church that a white racist issuing a challenge to start a race war, would enter 193 years later, to massacre nine precious souls of color in a sacred prayer meeting.
1830s GROWING UNEASINESS
The growing uneasiness continued. Although each was short-lived and unsuccessful, uprisings were happening in other Southern states including the raid on Harpers Ferry that was planned and carried out by white men who wanted to see an end to slavery.
It was becoming increasingly evident that slaves in America had a new determination to be free and claim for themselves the Creator-endowed rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, an idea based largely on events that had started at Bois Caïman, inspired by Priest Dutty Boukman’s reading of Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence.
Washington was in gridlock between the ones who wanted to keep slavery in all states and the ones who wanted to abolish it altogether and the ones who wanted to leave each state as it already was, but require all new states to be free.
Briefly around 1830 when gold was discovered in Dahlonega, Georgia, they set aside their differences and came together to run the Cherokee Nation out of north Georgia, in the most Christian way possible, driving them like cattle, barefoot all the way to Oklahoma, whipping and beating and raping them as they went.
But once this unifying Christian task was finished, Washington was back to fighting over slavery. And white people who had grown accustomed to lazily lying around all day watching their 60” widescreens and playing on their Obama-phones while good hard-working black people went to work every day to support them, began to fear that their subsidized lifestyle of freebies and handouts was being threatened. This caused them to start restricting the movements and liberties of the slaves even more, which caused the slaves to grow more restless and the liberal white abolitionists to grow more vocal. Which caused the slave-owners to restrict more liberties…and on.
1860 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
As the 1860 presidential election neared, slavery had become the country’s main issue. In 1858, candidates Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglass held a series of epic debates, focused primarily on the issue of slavery. But when the people spoke and elected the anti-slavery candidate, the good conservative Christians in the South completely lost their grip on reality.
It was as if a black man had been elected to the White House.
Just as the Tea Party formed on April 15, 2009, three months after President Obama was inaugurated on January 20, 2009, the Confederacy formed on February 8, 1861, three months after President Lincoln was elected on November 6, 1860.
And for pretty-much the same reason…their irrational fear of black people; their concern that at any time, black people could morph into the Devil with black-magic superpowers and take away “their” white country which they had just stolen from Native Americans and end their white lifestyle of prosperous ease, sustained on the backs of hard-working black people who went to work everyday to support whites’ lazy unproductive moocher-selves.
BEGINNING OF THE CIVIL WAR
After Lincoln was elected in November 1860, South Carolina seceded from the United States in December 1860. The South Carolina rebels took over all federal government property in South Carolina except for Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. Rebel General Beauregard laid siege, starving the occupants of Fort Sumter.
Six other states withdrew from the United States and joined with South Carolina to form the Confederate States of America in February 1861.
Lincoln took office March 4, 1861 and immediately notified Rebel South Carolina Governor Pickens that he was sending supply ships to Fort Sumter to refresh the beleaguered occupants. The white rebels, afraid of eventually having to get a job instead of free-loading off of hard-working black people, decided the sending of the supply ships was as good of an excuse as any, so they called it an “act of war” and began firing on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, thus beginning the Civil War.
END OF THE CIVIL WAR
At a marble-topped desk in the front parlor of Wilmer McLean’s home in Appomattox Court House, Virginia, General Robert E. Lee humbly sat and surrendered his Confederate troops to General Ulysses Grant four years later on Palm Sunday, 1865.
More than 600,000 Americans had been sacrificed on the altar of preserving white-privilege.
The surrender of the South and the dissolving of the Confederate States of America essentially settled the question of whether white Southerners could whip, rape, beat, and burn people of color.
But it did little to quell the hate, as the assassination of President Lincoln five days later so starkly demonstrated.
It would be another 100 years before the self-evident truth that all are created equal and all are endowed by their Creator with the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, would be realized by people of color.
After a short period of the Confederacy licking its wounds from the war, a network of terrorist cells would spring up throughout America, primarily in the South, beginning a 100-year period of systematic and organized terrorism carried out by white people against people of color. Nearly 5,000 black men would be lynched, many of them burned alive, to the entertainment and delight of white Christians who would gather to watch as if it were a ball-drop on New Year’s Eve in Times Square.
It would take the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to truly bring this period of unconscionable history to an end.
And people of color would finally be afforded the unalienable God-endowed rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness which whitefolk had realized for themselves almost 200 years earlier on July 4, 1776.