This summer, the University Archives offered a new program for undergraduate students called Duke History Revisited. The idea was to give students a chance to dig into the University’s history and tell the stories of people and events that were not widely known.
On September 19th, the program’s eight students will come together to recap their research projects. During this event, each student will briefly introduce his or her topic, highlight their research discoveries, and offer their own insight into Duke’s history. The presentations will be followed by refreshments and an opportunity to talk with the students in more detail.
The DHR students spent 6 weeks working with faculty members Jolie Olcott and Joshua Sosin; graduate student Will Goldsmith; and archivists Amy McDonald and Valerie Gillispie. The group met twice a week to discuss progress and share research. This special program was made possible by a grant from Humanities Writ Large and the Office of the Dean of Trinity College of Arts and Sciences.
We also welcomed a number of special guests to the program to talk about the act of doing research or reflecting on the past. Our guests included William Turner (T ’71, M.Div ’74, PhD ’84), Charles Becton (Law ‘69), Brenda Becton (WC ‘70, Law ‘74), Bob Ashley (T ’70), Steve Schewel (T ’73, PhD ’82), and Robert Korstad (Duke faculty). We were also joined by experts from the library, including Tracy Jackson and Matthew Farrell (University Archives), John Gartrell (John Hope Franklin Center for African and African American History), Laura Micham and Kelly Wooten (Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture), Hannah Rozear (Librarian for Instruction), and Michael Daul (Digital Collections).
The students pursued a wide range of topics, using archival materials from the University Archives, materials from other repositories, oral histories and interviews, and other sources. Each created a final project that they felt best expressed the content. The titles and links to the projects are below:
Date: Thursday, September 15 Time: 3:30-5:00 p.m. Location: Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room, Rubenstein Library 153 Optional RSVP on Facebook
Feminist activist and advertising critic Jean Kilbourne’s pioneering work has helped develop and popularize the study of gender representations in advertising. Her presentation will show if and how the image of women has changed over the past 20 years and powerfully illustrates how these images affect us all. She is the creator of the renowned Killing Us Softly: Advertising’s Image of Women film series and the author of the award-winning book Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel.
The Rubenstein Library recently acquired a collection of letters and diaries from Harry Bernard Glazer, an American soldier who served in the 824th Tank Destroyer Battalion in France, Germany, and Austria in the closing months of World War II. Glazer was an excellent writer and tended towards introspection, so his letters and diaries are full of description and analysis of the war, his efforts to enlist, his training, and his off-duty excursions with his friends and dates. The archive is especially interesting because Glazer writes openly and poignantly about his experiences as a Jewish soldier and the role of his faith in motivating his effort to enlist and fight the Nazis.
One component of the archive is a lot of V-Mail, which Harry began to use when he was stationed overseas in 1944. V-Mail, short for Victory Mail, was developed by the postal service as a way to reduce weight and speed up mail delivery between the United States and soldiers overseas. Letters were required to fit onto a single sheet of paper, like so:
and were folded up and mailed, like so:
They would be routed through the wartime censors and then forward to a V-Mail processing center, which would essentially microfilm the letter and discard the original. The microfilmed negative would be transported to the U.S., and then blown up to a miniature photocopy and forwarded on to its intended addressee. The instructions on the back of the V-Mail form clarify the process:
The photocopied mini-letter would arrive in a tiny envelope, like this:
And it would be up to the reader to have some good reading glasses! The letters from Harry Glazer to his mother document how quickly V-Mail shifted from being a novelty to being an annoyance for him. He would number his V-Mails lest they arrive out of order, so his family would be able to reassemble them.
Kids across North Carolina will begin trudging back to school this month, trading in the freedom of summer for the mysteries of the hypotenuse and iambic pentameter. Many of them will, of course, be asking that age-old question: why do I have to learn this? As a young North Carolinian, I frequently puzzled over the usefulness of math, plate tectonics, and why knowing that President Taft got stuck in a bathtub was so essential to my educational development. Did my predecessors complain about school? Undoubtedly. What would they have been complaining about? That is the question this post sets out to answer.
The Rubenstein Library holds many items that offer a glimpse into North Carolina school rooms during the 19th century. Schools of the past would be unrecognizable to students today. Early North Carolina schools were rarely described in positive terms and helped contribute to the state’s reputation as the “Rip van Winkle state.” Until the 1880s, public education in the state was a local affair. County school boards reigned supreme while the state superintendent had little power and remained a distant figure in Raleigh. School funds were largely raised at the local level and many school buildings were built by local community members. Schools were small, often just a single room, and operated in four-month sessions to accommodate students who were needed on the family farm. The curriculum for young North Carolinians reflected the common school model that was popular in 19th century America. Students of all ages and levels were taught in one classroom by one teacher who relied on memorization and repetitive oral exercises to educate the group. A student learned at his own pace, and grades, as we think about them today, did not exist. There was also an emphasis on moral instruction. Local communities saw schools as the place (other than church) to form good, responsible citizens for the future.
As it did with most aspects of American life, the Civil War brought change to the classroom. This transformation was slow- attempts to improve the school system were hampered by the state’s poverty following the war and budget woes that lingered into the 1870s and 1880s. But as the state slowly became a more urban one, railroads extended their reach, and industrial growth offered new lines of work, state leaders recognized that a new educational model was needed if the state was to join the modern “New South.” To that end, school reformers turned to the graded school model that first took hold in antebellum New England. Graded schools were based on standardization. Students were promoted to a new grade level only after they had met a certain criteria. Written examinations, rather than public oral recitations, became a way of marking progress and obtaining a good grade was necessary for academic success. Memorization gave way to an emphasis on students understanding the information and being able to apply what they had learned. The first graded schools in North Carolina opened around 1870, but began to spread across the state in the 1880s and 1890s
The school register shown above provides a place for teachers to list the “books used” for instruction. The Rubenstein Library has a number of these registers from across the state and a fairly long list of textbooks used by students can be generated through the registers. Luckily for us, the library holds many of the listed titles.
If I had been a student in the 19th century, The Elements of Algebra would have been my least favorite textbook. Unlike the large math textbooks of today, this volume fits easily in one hand and is filled with text. Problems are immediately followed by solutions. The equations and steps needed to solve the problem are rarely shown. The problems are strikingly practical. For children in the rural South, learning to calculate the number of oxen a farmer purchased would seem like a useful skill. Calculating the length of cloth or the division of a man’s estate upon his death would also have been familiar to students.
Like math books, spelling books or spellers are commonly listed in the registers. The state of North Carolina published its own speller in 1892 and it is a surprisingly good read. Described as “a complete graded course in orthography,” this book was a product of the state’s graded school movement. Tailored to North Carolina classrooms, the preface explains that the book is intended to “aid Southern children in acquiring the pure language of America as it is found in the South.” In addition to listing practice words of increasing complexity, the book provides passages and poems that can be used to practice spelling the words in context. These chunks of text are often quotes from prominent North Carolinians, like Zebulon Vance, or lofty odes to the wonders of the state. My particular favorite is the anonymous passage that says “You must love your State very much. It is the best land on earth for a good home. Do not think that you can find more joy in some State far off, for all who go from our State soon want to come back.”
Geography seems like it would have been the most fun subject for students. Matthew Fontaine Maury’s geography books were popular and heavily illustrated. Maury’s First Lessons in Geography takes students on a trip around the world. One lesson begins with an invitation: “Would you like to go to sea? Suppose we take an imaginary voyage from Norfolk to Spain, that certain things may be explained to you, and your lessons made easier to learn.” Readers are taken on a journey through all of the continents and make brief stops to learn about each area. During a stop in China, students would learn about foot binding, rice, and religious beliefs. Writing in the late 1870s, Maury, unsurprisingly, has few good things to say about non-Western people. The Chinese, for instance, are described as starving “heathens.” Maury, however, can hardly find anything negative to say about England, France, or, of course, the United States.
We’ve come a long way from the one-room school house. Our textbooks and school records look significantly different than they did in the 19th century. It has been a while since I took the SAT, but I doubt casks of brandy or “the pure language of America as it is found in the South” were involved. While the lack of constant standardized testing and four month school terms may seem exciting to students today, I remain grateful that I went to school in a time of air conditioning and indoor plumbing.
Leloudis, James L. Schooling the New South: Pedagogy, Self, and Society in North Carolina, 1880-1920. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.
Post contributed by Brooke Guthrie, Research Services Coordinator.
Help the Hartman Center solve a mystery! Recently we acquired a photograph, dated circa 1949, of a woman working on art and layout for what appears to be a Chevrolet poster. A man is standing behind her watching as she labors on a snowman at a drawing table.
What we can put together from the photograph is that the image on the drawing board is similar to the snowman featured on a poster for Chevrolet Radio Service that is affixed to the wall above the woman. A recent online auction for a similar Chevrolet Dealers’ Service Department poster, by Barrett-Jackson, dated the campaign to the 1950s and likely it is the early 1950s based on some of the design elements. The Campbell-Ewald agency held the Chevrolet advertising account during this period.
If you have any information about the people in this photograph, who likely worked at Campbell-Ewald on the Chevrolet account in the 1940s-1950s, please contact the Hartman Center at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you!
Post contributed by Richard Collier, John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History
The Rubenstein Library’s Latin Manuscript 159 includes fragments of two well-known texts by Seneca the Younger (or Lucius Annaeus Seneca, 4 BCE – 65 CE), the Roman Stoic philosopher, as well as an epitaph for Seneca. This modest manuscript is comprised of only two small leaves of vellum, apparently separated from a florilegium (a medieval compilation of writings assembled by a scholar). A mid-12th century manuscript, it likely derives from Northern France. Duke University acquired it in 1995.
Latin MS 159 is an exciting piece, even though these surviving bits don’t include a single complete text by Seneca. Among the texts included, however, are the majority of letter 79 from Seneca’s Epistulae ad Lucilium (Letters to Lucilius) and the opening of his De Beneficiis (On Benefits). Letter 79 has been described by scholars as a discourse on scientific discovery. In it, Seneca asks his correspondent Lucilius to climb Aetna (Mount Etna) in Sicily to make first-hand observations, and to write something from his impressions. Climbing a volcano is no easy thing, but Seneca is crafty in his shaming: “Now if Aetna does not make your mouth water, I am mistaken in you” (“Aut ego te non novi aut Aetna tibi salivam movet”).*
The recto of the second surviving leaf contains the opening of De Beneficiis (On Benefits or On Gifts and Services). This work concerns the giving and receiving of benefits, but also how to express gratitude appropriately. For this Stoic, ingratitude is pervasive in humanity: “Nor is it surprising that among all our many and great vices, none is so common as ingratitude” (“Nec mirum est inter plurima maximaque vitia nullum esse frequentius quam ingrati animi”).
We’re fortunate (and grateful, Seneca!) to have this manuscript, which has a family relationship with two other pieces in our collection. Seneca was the uncle of the poet Lucan, and the Rubenstein Library has two important Lucan manuscripts in our collection, Latin 118 and Latin 125. These manuscripts – along with our many other early manuscripts – are invaluable for teaching and research. Contact us for more information about our early manuscript collection!
*Translations from the Loeb Classical Library.
Post contributed by David Pavelich, Head of Research Services.
“The babies are entered like any other exhibit at an agricultural fair. . . . They are examined by judges, just as live stock [sic], grain or apples are examined. . . . The result is bound to be – not prettier babies, – but better babies at each year’s fair, – a stronger, healthier race of people on the farms, in small towns and in the state.”
This excerpt from a Better Babies Bureau circular, from the papers of Victor Bassett, contains several templates for Better Baby Contest advertisements. Popular at local fairs in the early 20th century, Better Baby Contests presented a lighthearted way to challenge infant mortality and promote fitter populations. However, they also reveal governmental eugenic efforts to objectively quantify and thus improve American health.
Examiners judged children under five years old on their measurements and proportions, mental and developmental states, vision and hearing, and physical development. These tests set government-determined averages as the standard by encouraging families to “produce” children who met or exceeded these ideals. Additionally, they served to cement the public health as existing in the realm of scientific medicine and the government, rather than in the home. These kinds of contests illustrate the complex relationship between eugenics, popular movements, and public health.
Thanks to a generous History of Medicine travel grant, my visit to the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library allowed me to conduct research to support my dissertation, “Measuring Health: The United States Sanitary Commission, Statistics, and American Public Health in the Nineteenth Century.” I examine the statistical work of the United States Sanitary Commission (USSC).
During the American Civil War, the USSC attempted to improve the health of the Union Army. The leaders of this organization understood their work as forwarding ideas about preventative medicine and improving sanitation. Yet with the entirety of the Union army at their disposal, the USSC also inspected and measured over one million soldiers and sailors. These records include tabulations not simply of height and weight, but also the distance between a man’s eyes, the size of his head, and angles of his face. The statisticians presented their findings in groups divided by race and education level, and, while they provided limited interpretation of these numbers, they were made available to the broader scientific and anthropologic communities. It was in their hands that these numbers defined medical standards for Americans and shaped the nature of American public health.
My project explores why these statistics were collected and how they were used, and, more broadly, the Commission’s public health legacy. By using these statistics as a starting point, I explore the ties between the USSC and changes in public health, and how research from a 19th century organization continues to impact later public health issues. These Better Baby Contests represent the Commission’s legacy of measuring the quality and usefulness of a human being and of using governmental authority to establish scientific authority.
Post contributed by Sara Kern, a Ph.D. candidate in History & Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Penn State University.
I wanted to share one of the most powerful letters I’ve seen while working here at the Rubenstein Library: a letter from Fanny, a former slave, writing from Texas in 1867 (149 years ago today!). Here’s the letter. (Click to enlarge; transcript below.)
Texana, Jackson Co., Texas, August 5th, 1867
Your kind favor of a July 3rd to hand a few days ago, it affords me such pleasure to be in a position where I can converse, if not in person through this medium. it found us all in tolerable good health and delighted to hear of [your?] being well.
I am yet so very anxious about my children that I want you to take this letter and show it to Mr Slade urgently requesting him to write to Mr J. Paul Jones (to above address.) stating all he knows in connection with the sale of my children and Mr Jones has kindly consented to write for me. He could not afford me a greater pleasure or favor and in return beg to assure him of the fervent and constant prayer of one who though humble hopes that her prayers are heard.
I hope to have a longer letter the next time for paper must be scarce in your section.
Say to Brother Slade that he is in position to require all his prayers, for he was the cause of my children being sent away, or rather my being separated, for if God can forgive him for this sin he will forgive the balance —
You forget to state anything about John Wilkins, who was your first husband. how came you to be separated or is he dead. are you a member of any church you seem so silent on that subject.
George says to send his son out here and he will go home with him next spring.
When you write to sister Lotty write the general substance of what I have written to her. I am ashamed to hear you [?] of old age. I never feel old unless after a hard day’s work. I am more like a girl of sixteen than an old woman. Receive the love of one who may never see you, but constantly has you in mind. Love from all to your family.
Unfortunately we don’t have the letter’s envelope, so I don’t know who Fanny’s writing to. Although she addresses her sister, I can’t be sure they’re actual relatives. I don’t know Fanny’s last name. I don’t know her sister’s name, or where her sister lives. I’m not sure which Mr. Slade she’s referring to, or where he lived (it could be North Carolina, Georgia, or somewhere else). There’s a lot I don’t know about the people in this letter. But, one thing is very clear: Fanny’s looking for her children. The Slades sold them away, or sold her away, at some point before 1865. This letter is concrete, powerful evidence of the devastating impact slavery had on African American families, with ramifications lasting long after the the end of the Civil War.
I found this letter breathtakingly sad. I couldn’t stop thinking about Fanny. Did she ever find her children? All I could know for sure was that her sister did show the letter to Mr. Slade — because now it is held in the Slade Family Papers. But, unfortunately, I found no further correspondence with Fanny or J. Paul Jones in the collection.
I decided to look for circumstantial evidence instead. I returned to the pre-war years of the Slade Family Papers to look for evidence of her existence in the plantation records. Despite being able to trace many of the slaves owned by the Slades from the 1830s through the 1860s, Fanny was a mystery. The only hint of a slave named Fanny lies in this estate inventory for Henry Slade, who died in 1838.
The majority of the papers in the collection stem from Thomas B. Slade and William Slade, two brothers who appear to have inherited the majority of Henry Slade’s estate. In 1838, Fanny was 15, and the estate inventory suggests she was unmarried and had no children. She is listed in what appears to be a family group with Liley (presumably her mother), Stephen, Atwood, Maranda, Clay, and Reuben. Fanny does not appear on William B. Slade’s slave census for 1850, and is not listed on his slave inventories for 1861 or 1864. My guess is that Henry Slade’s Fanny was separated from her mother and siblings shortly after 1838. I base this theory on an undated slave valuation scrap that I found tucked into William Slade’s account book.
It has the same names and similar ages as the Henry Slade estate inventory, except several slaves, including Fanny, are missing. I’m guessing this scrap represents the slaves that William Slade acquired as part of the settling of Henry’s estate around 1838. It’s possible that Fanny, Stephen, Atwood, and Maranda moved with Thomas B. Slade down to Georgia, where he ran the Clinton Female Seminary. It appears that Liley, Clay, and Reuben were transferred to William Slade and stayed in Martin County, North Carolina. Clay and Reuben continue to show up on William Slade’s accounts in the 1850s.
Since that 1838 Estate List is the only evidence of any Fanny I could find in the papers, I turned back to her 1867 letter. She lived in Texana, in Jackson County, Texas, and referenced J. Paul Jones, a literate man who was writing for her. I decided to look for a Fanny from Texana in the 1870 U.S. Census, using the library’s subscription to Ancestry.com. One problem I faced was the location, Texana, which is not referenced in the 1870 Census (too small, I suppose) and is now a ghost town under the Lake Texana Reservoir. I ended up using J. Paul Jones as a reference point. By 1870, he was living in Victoria, Texas, near enough to Jackson County for me to feel confident that it was him.
He was a relatively successful landowner originally from Maryland. I then narrowed the search with a birthplace of North Carolina and a race of Black or Mulatto. And I eliminated the Fannys who were too young in 1870 to have had children before 1865.
I ended up with two possible Fannys in Texas; but, neither matched the age of the Fanny on the Henry Slade estate inventory. The first, Fanny Ward, was 26 in 1870; her estimated birth year was 1844. At the time of the census she lived with Lucas Ward (30) and George Nicholson (62) in Matagorda County, Texas, near Jackson County. The letter mentions a George, which is why this Fanny seemed like a possibility. But I’m also thinking that Fanny Ward seemed too young to be referring to herself as an old woman in her letter to her sister. The other option in Texas was Fanny Oliver, from Victoria County, Texas, also near Jackson County. In 1870, Fanny Oliver was about 58 years old, and was married to John Oliver (62). The tone of the letter reads to me like an older adult woman; between these two Fannys, I was leaning toward Fanny Oliver.
That of course presumed that Fanny still lived in Texas three years after she wrote her letter to Mr. Slade. I began to wonder if I had it wrong. Maybe by 1870, she had reconnected with her children and had returned to the East Coast. In looking around the 1870 census, I found several former Slade slaves who had taken the Slade name; I decided to see if there was a Fanny Slade living somewhere outside of Texas. It turns out yes, there were several Fanny Slades in 1870. I narrowed my census search to slaves born in North Carolina in or around 1820, and found the following:
Slade, Fanny. 45. F. Black. Works on Farm. Birthplace: NC. Cannot Read. Cannot Write.
And with her: Slade, Rose. 15. F. Black. Works on Farm. Birthplace: GA. Cannot Read. Cannot Write.
Circumstantial evidence suggests this is the right Fanny. She adopted the Slade last name. In 1870 she was 45, meaning that in 1867 she was 42 — she was old enough to have children pre-war. She would have been born around 1825, only 2 years off from the 1838 estate valuation from the Slade Family Papers, which put Fanny’s birth year as 1823. In 1870, Fanny Slade was living in Dooly County, Georgia, which was home to numerous other Slades, both black and white, in the 1870 Census. And most gratifying, in my mind, was to see that in 1870 she was living with Rose, a daughter, which suggests that her quest to be reunited with her children was partially successful.
It could be that I’m totally wrong; the Slade Family Papers are frustratingly silent and I’m out of ideas as to how to cross-reference this hypothesis. Too many blanks in the evidence means I have too many unanswered questions, the first being, What Happened to Fanny’s Other Children? I doubt we’ll ever know.
Letters from former slaves to their masters, like Fanny’s, are extraordinary documentary evidence of freedmen and women claiming their freedom and their rights. What’s amazing to me is that this letter was not only written, but has survived. So many former slaves did not have Fanny’s resources, especially friends like J. Paul Jones, to help her find her children. I hope that she at least found some answers, even if I never do.
(Note that the interview excerpts in this post have been translated from Haitian Creole and French, and in some cases have been lightly edited for clarity.)
Father Jean-Marie Vincent was halfway around the globe, at a conference in Rome, when he received word that mass violence had broken out in the remote town of Jean Rabel in arid northwest Haiti on July 23, 1987. The priest, part of the ti legliz (small church) liberation theology movement, had been working with the grassroots peasants’ rights organization Tèt Ansanm (which later became Tèt Kole Ti Peyizan Ayisyen) in Jean Rabel for fourteen years. Upon hearing that scores of Tèt Ansanm members had been massacred in his absence, Father Vincent returned to Haiti as soon as he could, only to find it impossible to reach Jean Rabel. In the midst of what were surely desperate days, he spoke with Michèle Montas at Radio Haiti-Inter to try to make sense of what had happened, and to explain the seemingly unthinkable: that a group of poor farmers had slaughtered other poor farmers en masse.
“There is an alliance between the big landowners [in Jean Rabel] and Macoutes, who coerced the ti peyizan… to kill other ti peyizan malere [poor peasant farmers] just like them, who are agitating for justice and for their rights in this country.” In Jean Rabel, most of the land was controlled by a few families: the Lucas, Poitevien, and Richardson clans. As in most of Haiti, those landowners had long profited from their alliance with the Duvalier regime, while the landless peasants remained systematically oppressed.
Father Vincent was accustomed to violent opposition from those in power, and was unruffled by rumors about his own ideology and practices. “If I’m not there anymore… there won’t be anyone to bother the landowners anymore, and they’ll regain the same power they’ve always had over people in the area, everyone calling them Uncle, Papa, so they can buy them off, do whatever they want with them. So I think it’s natural that they attack me…They’ve come to my house already, that same Nicol Poitevien and [others], carrying machetes, they said they were going to kill me… But I don’t think that’s what’s most important. What’s most important is that peasants’ rights be respected, that they continue to be able to organize.” His voice was measured and calm, even comforting, infused with warmth and good humor despite the circumstances.
In his early forties, Father Vincent still had a boyish, lively face and the energy of the soccer player he had been in his youth. “If you’re mobilizing poor peasants to assert their rights, you aren’t going to make certain big families who have held political and economic power for more than forty years very happy, because they’re going to lose certain advantages, they’re not going to find workers to come and work their fields for only one or two gourdes [a few cents] anymore… They find that people are a little ‘disrespectful’ now, they find people aren’t docile anymore. The peasants have become a little too enlightened, and they say, ‘You, you’ve taken the blindfold of the peasants’ eyes.’ They don’t like that kind of work, obviously. They call that kind of work communism.”
Jean-Marie Vincent’s analysis reflected not only the case of Jean Rabel, but also a wider reality about the Catholic Church’s moral and political identity in the 1980s, in Haiti as well as beyond. Liberation theology had emerged in Latin America in the 1950s and 1960s, focusing on poverty, human rights violations, and political oppression. For Jean-Marie Vincent and priests like him, following Christ’s example meant fighting against structures of oppression and injustice, against the tangible, worldly causes of suffering. Church authorities lashed out against liberation theology, in essence creating a battle for the soul of the Catholic Church.
The rise of and backlash against liberation theology in Haiti cannot be separated from the particularities of political context, for in Haiti, the “hierarchical Church” was associated with the powers-that-be: the Duvalier regime and their supporters and henchmen—the Macoutes. On February 7, 1986, the brutal right-wing Duvalier dictatorship had fallen after nearly thirty years in power, and the unsteady process of democratization cast Haiti into political uncertainty. For pro-democracy activists and human rights advocates, 1987 was filled with promise often overtaken by peril, a push-and-pull of freedom and repression. New political parties formed, while the army cracked down on the democratic movement. Although Duvalier was gone along with his death squads, the official Tontons Macoutes, Duvalierism nonetheless persisted, as did the Macoutes themselves. They were no longer formally designated Volontaires de la Sécurité Nationale, or VSN; now, “macoute” referred to members of the army, chefs de section and others who employed Duvalierist methods of domination and violence. Rural farmers, long oppressed under the Duvalier regime, began to organize. For the members of Tèt Ansanm and other grassroots peasant groups, the fall of the regime and the possibility of democracy represented an opportunity to at last reclaim their land and literally reap the fruits of their own labor.
The massacre began on July 23, but it lasted through the weekend and into the next week. Members of Tèt Ansanm hid in the brush – some survived, while others were found and slaughtered by the armed brigades. Those who had been injured were threatened at the hospital. Those who had been arrested were threatened at the prison. In the days that followed, members of Tèt Ansanm who had survived the massacre spoke on the radio. On Catholic-run Radio Soleil, they called on the Catholic Church authorities, the monsignors, the Red Cross, or any “moral person” to come with a convoy of cars to save the 120 or so people “who are left, whom they haven’t yet killed.” They declared it a duty for the Church to save them, and asked how many cars they could expect.
By July 28, 1987, two members of Tèt Ansanm who had survived the massacre made their way to Port-au-Prince and spoke with Michèle Montas on the air at Radio Haiti:
“It was a group of landowners that organized it, in La Montagne [in the commune of Jean Rabel],” explained Anne Jean-Louis. “They paid people 10 or 15 gourdes, to organize them to kill people…. [The landowners] are hiding behind them, they’re hiding themselves to send those people out to fight for them.”
Noland Métayer described what had happened. “We went to go see our fellow peasants in La Montagne, near La Reserve. We were going to have a meeting between peasant and peasant. We were going to hold a demonstration. We came in solidarity with our brothers. But when we arrived, they didn’t accept being together with us. From the moment we appeared, we didn’t even have the chance to explain why we’d come. They began to attack us, to throw rocks at us, shoot bullets at us, shoot rifles. And that’s when everyone became afraid. There were four people who got shot, they got hurt, they died – I believe of the four who were shot, we only saw one. The others, they disappeared. After that, when we saw that we had come in friendship and they hadn’t accepted it, we turned to leave, and that’s when they ganged up on us, they cornered us on a path, they joined up with the Macoutes from Jean Rabel… They formed their brigades. They blocked a bunch of people on the path, they forced them to go to Jean Rabel. And there were a lot of other people who were hurt, who had broken bones, and they thought that in the town of Jean Rabel they would be safe. So they tried to get to Jean Rabel. But when they got to Jean Rabel, that’s where they really massacred them. They put them in prison, they put some in the hospital. But even in the hospital, they weren’t safe. The Macoutes, all those people, they entered freely whenever they wanted. They were threatening them, they were putting lots of pressure on them, and they told them that whenever a single one of them was released, they’d be watching them, and they’d be eliminated nonetheless. They are going to die nonetheless. All those people…” his voice trailed off.
Anne Jean-Louis described in harrowing detail her escape from the massacre. “I pulled myself together not to sleep on the street, I didn’t want to sleep at someone else’s house. If someone came and found me sleeping on their porch, they could beat me and I could die badly. I had already almost died. I managed to sleep in a corner of the hospital, on the ground behind a toilet.” Her brother Fadiné, also a member of Tèt Ansanm, was arrested. “They took him, they wounded him to the point that he was in the hospital. I tried to see him, then. Everyone was worried. They were already saying I’d been killed, that I wasn’t among the living anymore. They thought I was dead, and when they saw me on Friday they were shocked. As for Fadiné, he was inside the hospital, and there was no security. They were asking for members of the gwoupman in both the hospital and the prison. They blamed them for everything…. Their lives are in danger. They can’t sleep. People say there was a massacre on July 23, but that’s only when it started. It lasted Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday. They kept killing people.” In the interview, Anne Jean-Louis said she had last seen her brother in the hospital. She wanted to know what had become of him, but she was afraid that if she reappeared, she would be arrested and killed.
The two pleaded, again, for people to come and rescue the survivors. “The danger is still there,” explained Noland Métayer. “That’s why we’ve left, because the lives of those people are in danger, we left to see if we could find any authorities, anyone who is mindful, if there’s any possibility for them to rescue those people as soon as possible from the prison so they don’t finish killing them all. That’s why we left.“
“If those people don’t get out of the hospital tomorrow, we should buy our mourning clothes here… Even though we’ve already lost people, we don’t want anyone else to die,” added Anne Jean-Louis. She requested perhaps thirty or forty cars, and asked that the rescuers come all at once, nan yon sèl kou, because if they came in shifts, those who were left behind would certainly be killed.
The events of July 1987 were strategic, born of long-standing anti-communism (which had been central to political strategy throughout the Duvalier years), the instability of the post-dictatorship landscape, and deepening divisions in the Catholic Church that pitted the church hierarchy, which was allied with the elites, against liberation theology priests like Jean-Marie Vincent, who worked alongside and promoted the rights of the poor.
Violence and discontent had been escalating for months in Jean Rabel. In February of 1987, the powerful landowning families had orchestrated the burning of peasant farmers’ homes in the nearby village of Gros Sable, though the wealthy landowners maintained that they were the true victims and accused Father Vincent and his team of fostering violence and communist ideology among the peasants. “The grassroots group is the arm of the movement, but the ekip misyonè [missionary team] is the head,” declared Rémy Lucas in an interview with Konpè Filo after the events in Gros Sable. When Filo asked Jean-Michel Richardson if he was affiliated with the Macoutes, his response was evasive and absurd. “That’s a strange question, because Tonton Macoutes don’t exist anymore, so I don’t see what relation I could have with the Tonton Macoutes.”
In the face of escalating oppression, Tèt Ansanm continued to demand their rights. Two days before the July 23 massacre, Tèt Ansanm issued a kout lambi [call to action]. Over drumbeats, a member of Tèt Ansanm invoked the revolutionary spirit of Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Charlemagne Péralte and called on rural cultivators, grassroots groups, and ti legliz members throughout Haiti to come together to uproot the spirit of Macoutism.
In the aftermath of the massacre, journalists and human rights advocates tried to understand its roots. It was not immediately clear what had happened, nor exactly how it had happened. The independent press could not reach Jean Rabel, and so Radio Haiti’s only option was to speak to people who had managed to approach the area. In an Inter-Actualités Magazine special report on Jean Rabel, Jean Dominique sat with Chavannes Jean-Baptiste and Michèle Pierre-Louis, and they tried to comprehend a situation in which, as Jean-Baptiste put it, “the little dog eats the little dog, poor peasants are killing poor peasants just like themselves.” Agronomist and activist Jean-Baptiste described the unrelenting propaganda campaign to convince the rural peasantry that Father Vincent was a communist, and that the communists were going to seize their land, their homes, even their wives. Michèle Pierre-Louis, who at the time was with the literacy program Mission Alpha, described a devastated landscape filled with incinerated houses, and the conflict between the peasant farmers and the landowners as a battle between good and evil. “This is what’s happening in this country, a face-off between the forces of change and the forces of death. There are certain forces, it is death they are spreading. That is their lifeblood and their source of power. And there are forces that are demanding change, and those are the forces of life. This is what is happening now. And all the forces that worship death, as we say, are coming into action now.”
“Forces de changement contre forces de mort,” repeated Jean Dominique. “Michèle has defined it well for us. What has happened in Jean Rabel, and what is at risk of happening to the rest of the peasantry.”
From the studios of Radio Haiti-Inter in Port-au-Prince, Dominique used his razor-sharp analysis to piece the story together and explain the political context of the slaughter to listeners throughout the country. He demonstrated that the Jean Rabel massacre was not spontaneous, and the manipulation of the poor and landless by the region’s powerful landowners was not an extraordinary act of brutality and avarice. “Jean Rabel is not an isolated case. Jean Rabel is not an exception. At the heart of Jean Rabel are problems that are taking place among all the Haitian peasantry, and, alas, throughout the whole Church, as well.”
On August 28, 1994, Jean-Marie Vincent was gunned down in a rainstorm in front of his rectory in Port-au-Prince. He was forty-eight years old. No one has been held accountable for his assassination. There has been no justice for Jean-Marie Vincent, just as there has been no justice for most of the victims of the “land conflicts” and politically-motivated massacres of which Jean Rabel was only one. Twentieth-century Haitian history is inscribed with the names of the recognized dead and with a litany of locations (Cazale, Jean Rabel, St. Jean Bosco, Piatre, Ruelle Vaillant, Gervais, Raboteau, Carrefour-Feuilles…) which have come to stand for the untold numbers of dead, mostly poor, whose names are largely unknown.
Yet they are not erased. Their voices persist, in Radio Haiti’s archive. “Is Gwoupman Tèt Ansanm going to be destroyed by this?” asked Jean-Marie Vincent in his July 28, 1987 interview at Radio Haiti. “I don’t believe it! I don’t believe that.” He laughed a little, a laugh that somehow contained exasperation, sadness, and hope all in one. “There is no people who will accept wearing chains forever. The solution for Haiti cannot come about through anything other than grassroots organization…. Are these peasants going to be discouraged? Are these deaths going to make it so we can no longer work alongside them?… Or is the solidarity of the Haitian people so strong that Gwoupman Tèt Ansanm will not perish? That is what I most believe, myself…I believe that the peasants may die, but they will not disappear… I believe that the poor will have their day, and the Macoutes will indeed lose, one day.”
Post contributed by Laura Wagner, PhD, Radio Haiti Project Archivist.
The Voices of Change project was made possible through a generous grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities.
The Human Rights Archive recently acquired the papers of journalist and human rights activist Robert J. Cox. Born in England, Cox arrived in Argentina in 1959 to begin work at the English language Buenos Aires Herald where he would eventually rise to the position of Publisher and where he would remain until his exile in 1979. During his tenure at the Herald, Cox witnessed and reported on the turbulent events of Argentina’s modern history including the growth of left wing guerrilla groups such as the Montaneros and right wing paramilitary groups such as the AAA, the short-lived but tumultuous presidency of Isabella Peron, and the massive human rights abuses of the military dictatorship which ruled the nation from 1976 to 1983. During the dictatorship Cox worked closely with human rights groups and activists including Marshall Meyer and Patt Derian whose papers are also part of the Human Rights Archive collections, to expose the crimes of the dictatorship and to help the abducted and disappeared as well as their families. Detained, jailed, and threatened, Cox and his family went into exile in 1979, but he continued to work on human rights issues in Argentina as well El Salvador and Nicaragua.
Dispatches from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University