Feb 18, 2020

Two Influential Haitians in American History

(Li atik sa a an kreyòl)

February is Black History Month in North America. Started by historian Carter G. Woodson in 1926, this event is meant to recognize and celebrate the achievements of the African diaspora throughout American history. A devoted scholar, Woodson believed that a rich and recognized racial history was necessary to being a renowned factor in civilization.

In this article we’ll remember two incredibly influential Haitian Americans: the father of a city and a mother of providence.

Many have heard of the indelible Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable, the founder of what we now know to be the city of Chicago. Though very little is known about his life before the 1770s, it is widely accepted that he was born in 1745 in what is now known as Saint-Marc, Haiti. He traveled to North America sometime between 1770 and 1788. In 1788 he married a Potawatomi woman named Kitihawa in a French settlement on the east side of the Mississippi River. They had two children, Jean and Susanne, and  DuSable supported his family as a successful frontier trader.

 

After the Revolutionary War, he and his family settled on the north bank of the Chicago River, creating a large trading post with multiple buildings that he would maintain for years. Through the journals of other frontier settlers of the time, we see DuSable described as a large, affable and wealthy man with a house full of fine furniture. In 1800, he sold the settlement and it continued to grow, making DuSable and his family the first official residents of the “Windy City” we know today. Marked with a bust of Du Sable, created in his honor by sculptor Erik Blome, you can still visit the site of his trading post off North Michigan Avenue in Chicago today.

Next, we’ll travel east to the “Old Line” state of Maryland.

There are few truly selfless, truly kind individuals in this world and Mother Mary Lange is absolutely one of them. Born Elizabeth Clarisse Lange in 1784 to Haitian parents in Santiago de Cuba, she received an excellent education that she would later utilize to help those less fortunate. She immigrated to the United States in the early 1800s, eventually settling in Baltimore, Maryland in 1813. It was there Lange learned that schools could no longer keep up with the growing population of free African-Americans, and so she opened one herself in her own home.

 

She was later recommended to James Nicholas Joubert, a Sculpian priest who taught catechism to African-American children, as someone who could help him teach the children to read. Lange not only wanted to help, she also told Joubert that she felt called to serve God and wanted to start a religious congregation. Together they founded the Oblate Sisters of Providence, a community with the primary goal being the Catholic education of young girls. She became “Sister Mary” and spent the rest of her life helping to educate young women, providing housing to those without and at one point even risked her life to nurse those in her community afflicted with the cholera outbreak in 1832. She sadly passed on February 3rd, 1882, as Mother Mary Lange.

She is currently in the process of being venerated and the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints has opened a cause for her sainthood. The school founded by the Oblate Sisters of Providence is still open in Baltimore to this day. It’s currently known as St. Frances Academy.

Carter G. Woodson wanted to create this annual celebration of African-American history to serve as an important reminder. A reminder that as we move forward through the year, it’s important to take a moment to pause, have a look back and remember where we came from. To remember and to recognize the incredible people that came before and cleared the path.

In the same spirit, I would like to share 20 words that represent Black History Month to me.

English Haitian Creole
Africa Afrik; Lafrik
African-American Ameriken Nwa
Black Nwa
Culture Kilti
Dream Rèv
Emancipation Emansipasyon
Equal Egal; egalego
Equality Egalite
Freedom Libète
Gathering Rasanbleman
Heritage Eritaj; patrimwàn
History Itwa; Listwa
Independence Endepandans
Inventor Envantè
Leader Lidè
March Mach; Manifestasyon
Peace Pè; Lapè
Prayer Priyè; Lapriyè
Pride Fyète
Resistance Rezistans
Unity Inite; Linite

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