OPINION: Why is city honoring Haiti’s blood-stained emperor?
With a notable lack of thought and discussion, the New York City Council voted on Wednesday to co-name a Brooklyn street in honor of Jean Jacques Dessalines, a controversial Haitian hero.
Dessalines became emperor of Haiti after the successful war for independence against the French Army in 1804. He is also credited with the massacre of thousands of French men, women and children in an act of bloodthirsty revenge.
At a time when Virginia, North Carolina, and other southern states are caught up in a debate about what to do about monuments honoring Confederate war heroes, it is regrettable that the Council is dashing headfirst into honoring a man accused of mass slaughter.
The co-naming of a 2-mile section of Rogers Avenue from Farragut Road to Eastern Parkway, within the “Little Haiti” Business and Cultural District in Flatbush was proposed by Councilmember Jumaane Williams (D-Flatbush).
Brooklyn is home to the largest percentage of foreign-born Haitian residents in New York state, with more than 40 percent of the foreign-born population residing in Flatbush.
Council Speaker Cory Johnson was on hand for the renaming ceremony. It’s not clear if he or the other Council members who voted in favor of the co-naming knew about the dark side of Emperor Dessalines.
After the victory over Napoleon Bonaparte’s army, Dessalines ordered his soldiers to slaughter nearly every remaining French man, woman and child on the island.
That is notably different from the way Washington’s army conducted itself after defeating the British three decades earlier or the way that President Abraham Lincoln treated the defeated South at the end of the Civil War.
Ironically the future emperor fought with the French in the first slave uprising in the 18th century. Later he would be honored as a Voodoo saint.
Perhaps Williams can explain why our concerns are unjustified or why he didn’t go to the history books or internet to view lists of other more worthy Haitian heroes not linked to massacres.
Jack Ryan is a former newspaper reporter and editor and a former public information officer for New York City.
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