The Haitian Declaration of Independence, January 1, 1804, The National Archives of the UK, CO 137/111/1.

Today is Haitian Independence Day, the anniversary of the revolution that defeated French colonialism. On January 1, 1804, Haiti became the second independent country in the Americas and the world’s first nation to permanently abolish slavery.

But today is also a time to remember Jean-Jacques Dessalines, a military leader, politician, and a long-neglected hero of the Revolution who actually declared Haitian independence. Born enslaved in Saint-Domingue (Haiti’s colonial name), he joined the revolution in 1791 and eventually became the country’s first head-of-state.

A highlight of the catastrophic year 2020 was the release of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series on Amazon Prime. For five consecutive weeks, Marlene Daut, Grégory Pierrot, Chelsea Stieber, and I gathered on Zoom and Telegram for watch parties as each new film was released.

The films are devastating, joyful, heartbreaking, and inspiring.

The first film in the series is “Mangrove,” which tells the story of the popular Mangrove Restaurant in Notting Hill that was a cultural, intellectual, and activist hub for Caribbean immigrants, many of whom came to England after World War II — the so-called “Windrush Generation.”


Julia Gaffield

Julia Gaffield is Associate Professor of History at Georgia State University. (

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