Giving Toussaint Louverture the Great Man Treatment – Malcolm Harris / New Republic

Why was Haiti’s revolutionary overlooked by historians for so long?

For nearly 80 years no scholar has written an English-language biography of Haitian revolutionary Toussaint Louverture. This fact is even more remarkable when you consider Louverture’s contemporary equals: a group so small it may not extend beyond Napoleon Bonaparte and George Washington. He was born a slave and became a world leader; even in his own time biographers reached back to the Romans, to Spartacus, for a comparison. Louverture is a unique figure in the modern era, and yet he has had some trouble getting due credit.

toussaintPhilippe Girard, a professor of history at Louisiana’s McNeese State University, steps into the gap. His book Toussaint Louverture: A Revolutionary Life is the kind of book you might think already exists. It’s a straightforward biography of one of the Age of Enlightenment’s Great Men, a designation that Louverture pursued and one that always seemed to elude him in important ways. Why that was does not confuse us now, and it did not confuse him then: “If I were white I would receive only praise,” Louverture lamented of his place in world politics, “But I actually deserve even more as a black man.” In an era when rebels and usurpers became statesmen and landowners, it was an obvious injustice that he and only he could be excluded.

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