"The independence so hardly won has been maintained": C.L.R. James and the U.S. Occupation of Haiti.

Publication Date

Spring 2014


Cultural Critique



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This essay looks at C.L.R. James’s work on Haitian history, using Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s and Sibylle Fischer’s ideas to theorize the silencing of the occupation in James’s writing and in subsequent scholarship. Suggesting that James might have written about the Haitian Revolution in response to the occupation recasts how we understand the anticolonial narrative. James’s most famous engagement with Haiti, The Black Jacobins, becomes less a story of independence and national liberation initiating a utopian future; instead, it must be seen as an anxious response to the way the occupation and the rise of U.S. imperialism threatened any such teleology. The occupation stands at the onset of Caribbean anticolonialism, inspiring, initiating, and enabling it even as Haiti’s loss of sovereignty would hang as a shadow over the discourses of decolonization that followed. This essay makes the case that Haiti’s occupation is an undeniable context for work from 1915 to 1950, and acknowledging its importance requires new understandings of the canons of Caribbean, postcolonial, and African diaspora studies.

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