An African Gathering in Senegal

An African Gathering in Senegal


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



One of the highlights of the Festival for the US delegation was a visit to the Presidential Palace where we heard remarks from many of the US participants

and received Goodwill Ambassadorships to the United States of Africa. 

During the ceremonies we were able to meet with the Haitian students being housed in Senegal as a result of massive December 2009 Haitian earthquake.



Writings of Runoko Rashidi


Introduction to African Civilizations / African Presence in Early Asia / Introduction to the Study of African Classical Civilizations


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An African Gathering in Senegal

By Runoko Rashidi


I think that it is safe to say that when many of us receive news from the mainstream media about Africa and Africans, all too often it is negative or disheartening.  Generally, such news reports are about conflict.  It might be about the crises in Darfur or Eastern Congo.  It is just as likely to be about Somali “pirates” or Somali “terrorists.”  Right now, it is about Ivory Coast.  Today, I’d like to write about something positive from Africa.  Specifically, I want to write about the recent Pan-Africanist intellectual gathering in Senegal called FESMAN 2010, the major intellectual component of the 3rd World Festival of Black Arts and Cultures.

The 3rd World Festival of Black Arts and Cultures began on December 10 and continues until December 31.  It is to my knowledge the most comprehensive gathering of artists and intellectuals in recent times.  It is the brainchild and creation of Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade and Dr. Iba Der Thiam—one of Africa’s great intellectuals and the First Vice-President of the Senegalese National Assembly.

It has featured many of Africa’s and the African Diaspora’s greatest artists, activists, intellectuals, and educators, including Youssou N’dour, Angelique Kidgo, Wycliff Jean, the Kora Jazz Trio, Julius Garvey, Leonard Jeffries, Theophile Obenga, Chiekh Mbacke Diop, Joyce E. King, Hassimi Maiga, Johnnetta Cole, Wade Nobles, Ron Daniels, Julio Tavares, Ruth Love, Chief Benny Wenda of West Papua New Guinea, Dieudonne Gnammankou, Djibril Diallo, Runoko Rashidi and many, many more. And, all of this was in the shadow of newly erected African Renaissance Monument.

I was a part of the United States delegation to the Festival.  It was a high powered group that included Black Mayors and elected officials, artists, athletes and actors, scholar and intellectuals, educators and activists.  The US delegation was coordinated by Dr. Djibril Diallo, who is both brilliant and hardworking.  He combines this with a calm demeanor and uncommon ability to focus.  He is one of the most impressive people that I have met in a long time and I pray that he will play an active role in Senegal’s future.

Within the context of the Festival there were several conferences or forums.  The first one was on the African Diaspora, of which I had the honor of serving as President and Chairperson.  Dr. Sheila Walker was Vice-President.

The fact that the Diaspora Forum was the first of the Festival is an indication of the importance of the Diaspora in the eyes of the Festival organizers.  And it was not something that we took lightly.  Indeed, we worked on the structure and makeup of the conference for months.  The coordinator of the Diaspora Forum was Dr. Ibrahima Seck—a professor at Cheikh Anta University in Dakar.  Nobody worked harder for the success of our Forum than Dr. Seck.

As immodest as it may sound, I think that the Diaspora Forum was the best and most powerful of the Festival. 

It was the first forum, it was the best attended, it was introduced by President Wade himself and, like all of the forums, it was presided over by Dr. Iba Der Thiam—one of Africa’s great scholars and intellectuals.  On a personal level, I enjoyed Dr. Thiam very much.  He seemed firm but fair.  He was hardworking, pleasant, and consistent.  He is a very dignified man who commands the respect of all around him.  It was both a pleasure and an honor to be in his company.

Dr. Thiam and President Wade made lengthy introductory remarks about the conference and the history and importance of Pan-Africanism.  Both of them referenced my work and President Wade went as far to wave a copy of my French language book on Asia around as he spoke. 

I was introduced as the first keynote and I responded by giving one of my best presentations ever.  I was determined as president, chairperson, and first speaker of the Festival to frame the African Diaspora beyond the realm of slavery.  I showed 135 of my very best photographs (shown across the auditorium on two gigantic big screen monitors) and spoke with great passion and conviction.  I spoke of Africa as the birthplace of humanity and African people as the aboriginal people of the world.

I dedicated my remarks to President Wade and acknowledged in the audience Dr. Julius Garvey, Dr. Diallo, and Dr. Seck.  I was very good, and received accolades through the duration of my stay in Senegal.

Julius Garvey (son of Marcus Garvey) and Chief Benny (Papua New Guinea) along with Runoko

My presentation was followed by Dr. Sheila Walker, whose lecture topic was entitled “A Map of the Americas.”  For me, the great contribution from Dr. Walker is that she focused on African communities in the Andean and Hispanic countries of South America, areas often neglected in our studies and discussions. 

Following Dr. Walker, we heard from Dieudonne Gnammankou, who discussed the lives of those great Africans in Russia—Ibrahim Hannibal and his descendant Alexander S. Pushkin—and Chief Benny Wenda, who explained the plight of Blacks in West Papua New Guinea.

Our panel, for the most part, concluded the following day with presentations by Professor Solmaz Ceyik of Turkey, who spoke on the enslavement of Africans in Ottoman Turkey and gave a very moving personal account of the current conditions of Black people in Turkey.  Solmaz was followed by Dr. Hassimi Maiga—the great Songhoi scholar—who focused on the African background to rice production in the Americas, and the great educator Dr. Joyce E. King, who gave us practical ways to implement our ideas.  Dr. King was one of the great highlights of the entire festival.  She was succinct, powerful, scholarly, and passionate.  The sister was awesome!

But perhaps the most emotional moment of the forum came with the presentation of Chief Benny Wenda of West Papua New Guinea.  It was Benny’s first trip to Africa and his first time being around Continental Africans.  He was a huge success.  For the first time he was able to share with non-Melanesian Black people the horrors of the Indonesian occupation of his homeland.  It was an incredibly moving presentation that rose to its highest heights when he presented President Wade with the feathered headdress of a West Papuan chief, and he and the president embraced each other.

The theme of the Festival then shifted to the Nile Valley.  Among the major speakers were Dr. Theophile Obenga, the great linguist from Congo Brazzaville, Cheikh Mbacke Diop, the son of Cheikh Anta Diop, Dr. Mario Beatty of Chicago State University, Anthony Browder, currently conducting the only African-American archaeological dig in Luxor, Egypt, Dr. Rosalind Jeffries, who focused on the art and imagery of Kmt, and Marie Louise-Maes, the widow of Cheikh Anta Diop.  All of the presentations were brilliant.

All of the forums were well done and each of them was accompanied by excellent photo exhibits.  The most impressive exhibit was organized for the Africans in Science and Technology Forum by Cheikh Mbacke Diop.  It was marvelous.  The Africans in Science and Technology Forum was chaired by Dr. Julius Garvey—son of Marcus Garvey.

The other two forums focused on African Resistance to Invasion, Enslavement, and Colonization and Africa’s Contribution to the Free World and Democracy.  In the resistance forum great presentations were made by Dr. Wade Nobles and a number of women, including sisters from Haiti and Jamaica on the role of African women in the resistance to oppression.  In the freedom and democracy forum I was most impressed, interestingly enough, by a speaker from Khartoum, Sudan who emphatically mentioned the contributions of Marcus Mosiah Garvey.  Ron Daniels and Shelby Lewis gave great presentations within their forums.

One of the highlights of the Festival for the US delegation was a visit to the Presidential Palace where we heard remarks from many of the US participants and received Goodwill Ambassadorships to the United States of Africa.  During the ceremonies we were able to meet with the Haitian students being housed in Senegal as a result of massive December 2009 Haitian earthquake.  These students being in Senegal is a singular gesture of Pan-Africanism in practice.

That night was my third interaction with President Wade and he impressed me as one of Africa’s great visionaries.  He honored me as the first recipient of the Goodwill certificate.

Riding back to the hotel that night I got my clearest view of the African Renaissance Monument.  It is both large and impressive and will surely outlive all of us.

The US delegation finished its stay in Senegal with a major Forum on HIV/AIDS. Dr.Diallo was at his best and excellent presentations were made by both Vera Nobles and Rosalind Jeffries.

Sisters and brothers, the gathering in Senegal was both historic and awesome.  In addition to the artists and scholars and activists and athletes, several African heads of state either appeared or were scheduled to appear.  Of course, there was President Wade, but also there were the former president of Benin [Mathieu Kérékou?], and the presidents of Liberia and Nigeria.  And Moammar Khadafy was there. 

It is wonderful to have the sense that you have been a part of history; that you were involved in the something the results of which are destined to outlive you. The participants in the Festival represented much of the African world.  Scores and scores of papers were presented and circulated.  The photo exhibits for all of the forums were exquisite.  We were well treated, well housed, and well fed. 

Do I have criticisms of my stay in Senegal?  Of course I do.  I would have liked to have stayed longer.  I would like to have had more interactions with students, particularly the university students.  I would have liked to have heard more presentations from the other members of the US delegation.  We had some really powerful people in our midst.  But you can’t do everything, at least not at one time. 

And what of the criticisms directed against the Festival organizers and hosts, including President Wade himself?  All that I can say is that I was always treated, and I think that I can say the same of the entire US delegation, with the greatest courtesy, dignity, and respect.  Great efforts were made to ensure our comfort, safety, and security. 

There are those who will say that the Festival, and the construction of the African Renaissance Monuments itself, was a lavish waste of resources at a time when many Senegalese are simply struggling to have regular electricity, clean water, good schools and full bellies.  There may be some truth to that. I cannot really say.  Not being Senegalese, it is not a subject that I feel competent to address.  But I do know that the problems that we confront as a people will not be solved today, and that FESMAN 2010 and the 3rd World Festival of Black Arts and Cultures is a bold attempt to link Africa and the Diaspora’s past and present as a foundation for the future.  It is my hope that, among other things, it will promote tourism to Senegal and stimulate the economy beyond today and into tomorrow. 

I am looking at the positives from FESMAN 2010 and the 3rd World Festival of Black Arts and Cultures, and I think that Pan-Africanism is alive and well.  Indeed, although it was certainly the biggest, I participated in a series of such gatherings this year.  In April I went to Mexico with a delegation from the Nation of Islam.  We participated in a historic gathering with African descendants in Costa Chica, Mexico.  In August I was the first keynote speaker at the first Global Black Nationalities Conference in Oshogbo, Nigeria.  That same week and in September I spoke at two more scholarly Pan-Africanist gatherings in Nigeria.  So I bear witness to the strength of the Pan-African ideal, and all of these gatherings demonstrate the importance of the relationship between African people—those at home and those abroad.

Runoko receives Goodwill Ambassadorship from President Wade of Senegal

Family, I regard the gathering in Senegal as a great triumph.  Rarely, if ever, has such a assembly of such distinguished Africans taken place.  And for me personally, it was clearly one of the crowning achievements of my life.  I have rarely received such recognition.  I was actually referred to by Dr.Diallo as “one of the world’s great intellectuals.”  That is fine praise indeed, and I was accepted as an equal and a peer by some of the world’s most outstanding scholars.

Sisters and brothers, I think, in spite of obstacles and setbacks, that African people are moving in the right direction.  Who would have thought, hundreds of years ago, that the descendants of those Africans who were taken out of the door of no return would indeed return to plot and plan and continue to lay the basis for the return of Mother Africa to her Ancestral greatness!

In love of Africa!

December 26, 2010

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High-Powered US Delegation Heading for World Festival of Black Arts in Senegal—African American Artists, Mayors, Senators, Scientists to Participate—For only the third time in 50 years, an unprecedented gathering of black artists, writers, filmmakers, academics, scientists, and other leaders in many fields will convene in Africa for an historic celebration. The World Festival of Black Arts and Cultures, under the auspices of President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal and his fellow African leaders, begins Dec. 10 in Dakar, Senegal, and will continue through Dec. 31. A high-powered U.S. delegation of more than 200 African-American leaders will participate in the Festival, including groups from the National Conference of Black Mayors, the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, and the African American Unity Caucus (AAUC), who will travel to Senegal from Dec. 8 – 17 for the event. In all, thousands of delegates from 80 countries will converge on Dakar. Among U.S. delegates are Dr. Julius Garvey, son of Marcus Garvey; actor Richard Gant; jazz legend Randy Weston; Professor James Turner, Cornell University; Dr. Johnetta Cole, Director of the National Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian Institution; Professor Leonard Jeffries, City University of New York; Runoko Rashidi, noted historian; Dr. Elsie Scott, the President & CEO of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Mississippi State Sen. Hillman Frazier; New York State Sen. Bill Perkins; Columbus (Ohio) Mayor Michael B. Coleman; Wayne Watson, president, Chicago State University; and Ron Himes, founder/director, The Saint Louis Black Repertory Theater. . . .

Among musical stars who will perform are Hugh Masekela (South Africa), Salif Keita (Mali), Bembeya Jazz (Guinea), Marcus Miller (U.S.), Habib Koité (Mali), Chucho Valdes with the Afro-Cuban Jazz Messengers (Cuba), Lokua Kanza (Congo), Kassav (Martinique/Guadeloupe), Alpha Blondy (Côte d’Ivoire), Orquesta de la luz (Japan), Haitian Toubadors (Haiti), Chico Freeman (U.S.), and I Jah Man (Jamaica). . . .

Dr. Diallo expressed thanks to Melvin Foote, President of Constituency for Africa; Dr. Gloria Herndon, President of GB Herndon and Associates; Vanessa R. Williams, Executive Director of the National Conference of Black Mayors; and LaKimba Desadier, Executive Director of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, for assistance with arranging for participation by political leaders in the U.S. delegation; and to Professor Leonard Jeffries for assistance with participation by academic experts.—Afraka 

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The first World Festival of Black Arts was initiated by Leopold Senghor [9 October 1906 – 20 December 2001], former President of Senegal, in 1966 and held in Dakar. The second World Festival of Black Arts was held in Lagos, Nigeria in 1977.—Wikipedia

When I’m dead, my friends, place me below Shadowy Joal,

On the hill, by the bank of the Mamanguedy, near the ear of Serpents’ Sanctuary.

But place me between the Lion and ancestral Tening-Ndyae.

When I’m dead, my friends, place me beneath Portuguese Joal.

Of stones from the Fort build my tomb, and cannons will keep quiet.

Two laurier roses—white and pink—will perfume the Signare.—Léopold Sédar Senghor

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African Renaissance Monument

The African Renaissance Monument is a 49m tall bronze statue outside of Dakar, Senegal. Built overlooking the Atlantic Ocean in the Ouakam suburb, the statue was designed by the Senegalese architect Pierre Goudiaby after an idea presented by president Abdoulaye Wade and built by a company from North Korea. Site preparation on top of the 100-meter high hill began in 2006, and construction of the bronze statue began 3 April 2008 . . .  formal dedication occurred on 4 April 2010, Senegal’s “National Day”, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the country’s independence from FranceWikipedia

Senegal unveils statue amid protest—Protesters say ‘African Renaissance monument’ is waste of money, sexist and un-Islamic. The sculpture of a muscular man pulling a scantily clad woman has also been labelled as sexist and the female’s “naked legs” caused a controversy with the architect offering to remodel the sculpture.But opposition supporters object not just to the monument, located on a hill overlooking the Senegalese capital, but to plans by the president to profit from the tourism revenues it would generate.Wade has said one-third of the revenues expected would could go to him, since according to him, he came up with the concept.—Aljazeera

Senegal President Wade apologises for Christ comments—Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade has apologised to the Christian minority for comparing a controversial statue to Jesus Christ. The statue, intended to symbolise the fight against racism, was Mr Wade’s idea and he says he will personally take 35% of the revenue it generates, with the rest going to the state..—BBC

Senegal inaugurates controversial $27m monument—The demonstration was called to protest against “all the failures of Wade’s regime, the least of which is this horrible statue”. Deputy opposition leader Ndeye Fatou Toure said the statue was an “economic monster and a financial scandal in the context of the current [economic] crisis,” AFP news agency reported. The inauguration ceremony was attended by 19 African heads of state, North Korean officials, and a delegation of 100 African-Americans including the Rev Jesse Jackson. . . . The vast staircase leading up to it was lined with hundreds of people wearing yellow and blue, the colours of the ruling Senegalese Democratic Party. “Africa has seized this monument,” presidential spokesman Mamadou Bamba Ndiaye told AFP. “It is rare to have one country hosting more than a dozen heads of state for this kind of event. That testifies to their support.”The statue has divided opinion in a country where half the population lives below the poverty line.—BBC

Senegal unveils colossal statue amid criticism—The 164-foot structure—about a foot taller than the Statue of Liberty— shows the figures of a man, a woman and a child, arms outstretched, facing the Atlantic Ocean. President Abdoulaye Wade says the statue, which he designed, is a monument to Africa’s renaissance. Critics say the opulent copper structure is merely the product of the president’s own self-indulgent vision and poor governance. And though it dominates the skyline of Senegal’s capital, Dakar, the monument falls far short of the president’s claim that it is the world’s largest. Several other statues are listed by multiple sources to be taller, including China’s Spring Temple Buddha, which stands just under 420 feet. Opposition group Benno Siggil Senegal called on the Senegalese people to “refuse to associate themselves with a fraudulent scheme designed to satisfy the fantasies of Abdoulaye Wade and to lay the foundations of dynastic reign of Wade on our country,” according to the African Press Agency.—CNN

Senegal colossus proves sore point—Art-lovers have also expressed concern. For some it has a Stalinist feel reminiscent of communist regimes, while others simply say it has no real soul or African appeal. “To have a work of art in the town, it’s very good. The only thing is, for me, it’s not typically African,” says Alassane Diagne, an art promoter in Dakar. “I don’t understand why we didn’t have an African artist.” Joel Dussy Fall, the owner of one of the country’s best-known art galleries is also confounded by the fact it was not designed and built in Africa. . . . However, the project has its defenders, including painter Kalidou Kasset, who believes it can only do good for the arts scene.

“We have a problem with large monuments in the cultural field . . . and the artists have always denounced that situation,” he says. “So if structures are built, it only can make the Senegalese artists happy… and there’s not a single large monument to visit in Dakar, so I believe this has come at the right time.” Aliou Sow, a government minister, argued when the ruckus first began that the land used to build the monument was sitting unused and drying under the sun. President Wade should be praised for making good use of it, he said. But the reactions which followed prompted him to join the rest of the government and keep quiet. Well, quiet at least until next April when the monument is to be officially unveiled during a ceremony the government wants to be “big” and “memorable”.—BBC  

A monumental folly in Senegal—It was billed as Africa’s Statue of Liberty, an artistic colossus to celebrate the continent’s renaissance. To many in Senegal, it has become nothing but a monumental scandal. You certainly can’t miss it. Flying in to the capital Dakar on the Westernmost tip of Africa, almost the first thing you see is the bronze male figure triumphantly emerging from a volcano, bearing a child aloft in his left hand and scooping a woman along in his right. Including its natural hillside pedestal, the statue towers 150m over the city, putting Lady Liberty across the Atlantic (a mere 139m on her plinth) in the shade. . . . Those living in the sculpture’s giant shadow endure spiralling food prices and increasingly frequent power cuts, while those in the poorer neighbourhoods have their homes flooded like clockwork every rainy season—one cartoon recast the monument as a ragged, dripping family climbing onto a tin roof to avoid the deluge. According to Le Quotidien newspaper, the cost of the sculpture is equivalent to the debts of the capital’s public hospitals, which are having to turn people away because resources are so tight. “Perhaps in 10 years’ time, we might appreciate the statue more, but at the moment people are angry,” said its editor, Mamadou Biaye. “All the resentments, all the frustrations of the Senegalese have come to the surface, people feel this monument is simply mocking them.” Opposition leader Abdoulaye Bathily has sharp words for Mr Wade, who swept to power in 2000 promising change after four decades of Socialist rule. “He’s gone senile,” he said in a telephone interview. “Spending all this money when our education system is in crisis, when our infrastructure is crumbling, it’s outrageous.”—Independent

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1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles C. Mann

I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.”

We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

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The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788

By Pauline Maier

A notable historian of the early republic, Maier devoted a decade to studying the immense documentation of the ratification of the Constitution. Scholars might approach her book’s footnotes first, but history fans who delve into her narrative will meet delegates to the state conventions whom most history books, absorbed with the Founders, have relegated to obscurity. Yet, prominent in their local counties and towns, they influenced a convention’s decision to accept or reject the Constitution. Their biographies and democratic credentials emerge in Maier’s accounts of their elections to a convention, the political attitudes they carried to the conclave, and their declamations from the floor. The latter expressed opponents’ objections to provisions of the Constitution, some of which seem anachronistic (election regulation raised hackles) and some of which are thoroughly contemporary (the power to tax individuals directly).

 Ripostes from proponents, the Federalists, animate the great detail Maier provides, as does her recounting how one state convention’s verdict affected another’s. Displaying the grudging grassroots blessing the Constitution originally received, Maier eruditely yet accessibly revives a neglected but critical passage in American history.—Booklist

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Exporting American Dreams

 Thurgood Marshall’s African Journey

By Mary L. Dudziak

Thurgood Marshall became a living icon of civil rights when he argued Brown v. Board of Education before the Supreme Court in 1954. Six years later, he was at a crossroads. A rising generation of activists were making sit-ins and demonstrations rather than lawsuits the hallmark of the civil rights movement. What role, he wondered, could he now play? When in 1960 Kenyan independence leaders asked him to help write their constitution, Marshall threw himself into their cause. Here was a new arena in which law might serve as the tool with which to forge a just society. In Exporting American Dreams: Thurgood Marshall’s African Journey (2008) Mary Dudziak recounts with poignancy and power the untold story of Marshall’s journey to Africa

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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posted 27 December 2010 




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