Haitian Immigration : Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries
From Saint Domingue to Louisiana
The Black Republic and Louisiana
Soldiers, Rebels, and Pirates
Afro-Creoles and Americans
From Revolution to Romanticism
The Haitian Influence on Religion
The Civil War
The Consequences of the Haitian Migration

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< Afro-Creoles and AmericansThe Haitian Influence on Religion >

Following the example of intellectuals in France and Haiti, Afro-Creole activists in Louisiana - led by Haitian émigrés, their children, and French-speaking native Louisianians - had been nurturing their republican heritage. As political expression was stifled, they poured their energies into a new vehicle of revolutionary ideas, the Romantic literary movement.

New Orleans' highly politicized black intelligentsia thereby tapped into the Atlantic world's ongoing current of political radicalism, protesting injustice in their literary work. Their principal forum was La Société des Artisans. Founded by free black artisans and veterans of the War of 1812, the organization provided local Creole writers the opportunity to exchange ideas and present their numerous artistic works in a friendly setting.

Fine Arts and Literature; Nineteenth Century Louisiana Black Artists and AuthorsLouisiana's Black HeritageFine Arts and Literature; Nineteenth Century Louisiana Black Artists and Authors from Louisiana's Black Heritage by Charles Edwards O'Neill, S.J.
What Louisiana's Architecture Owes to HispaniolaLouisiana Cultural Vistas (Summer 1999)What Louisiana's Architecture Owes to Hispaniola from Louisiana Cultural Vistas (Summer 1999) by Jay Edwards

Among these young writers was Victor Séjour. His father, a Haitian émigré, was a veteran of the War of 1812 and a prosperous dry-goods merchant. The young Séjour had been educated at New Orleans' prestigious black school Académie Sainte-Barbe, under the tutelage of Michel Séligny, the most productive Afro-Creole short-story writer. Séjour's audience at La Société proclaimed him a prodigy, and his father, determined to see his son fulfill his artistic potential and anxious for Victor to escape the burden of racial prejudice in Louisiana, sent him to France to complete his education. In Paris, the youth quickly came under the influence of another writer of African-Haitian descent, renowned novelist Alexandre Dumas, author of The Three Musketeers (1844), The Count of Monte Cristo (1844-45), and many other celebrated works.

Séjour made a dramatic debut on the literary scene with the publication, in March 1837, of an impassioned attack on slavery, "Le Mulâtre" (The Mulatto), the first short story by an African-American writer to be published in France.

Following the publication of "Le Mulâtre," Séjour embarked on a remarkably productive artistic career. When he was only twenty-six years old, the famed Théâtre Français produced his first drama; it would be followed by two dozen more. In one season, French theaters produced three of his works simultaneously, and Emperor Napoleon III attended opening nights of two of them.

Ironically, Séjour's first story, though it may have circulated privately within the black community, was never published in New Orleans. It fell within the parameters of an 1830 Louisiana law prohibiting reading matter "having a tendency to produce discontent among the free coloured population . . . or to excite insubordination among the slaves." Violators faced either a penalty of three to twenty-one years at hard labor or death, at the judge's discretion.

Despite such restrictions, the city's free people of color managed to fashion a vibrant literary movement, dominated by Haitian refugees and their descendants. The influence of the French Romantic movement among New Orleans' black intellectuals became more evident in 1843 with the publication of a short-lived, interracial literary journal L'Album littéraire: Journal des jeunes gens, amateurs de littérature (The Literary Album: A Journal of Young Men, Lovers of Literature). Its most prominent black founder was Armand Lanusse, of Haitian ancestry and one of the city's leading Romantic artists. Lanusse and his fellow writers, both émigré and native-born, ignored the 1830 literary censorship law and, like their fellow Romantics in France and Haiti, used their literary skills to challenge existing social evils.

In a series of introductory essays, the anonymous contributors to L'Album deplored "the sad and awful condition of Louisiana society," where the spectacle of rampant greed, unrelieved poverty, and institutionalized injustice "grips our hearts with deep sorrow, showering grief over all our thoughts, filling the soul with terror and despair."

Within a year of its debut, L'Album disappeared from the literary scene after critics attacked the journal for advocating revolt. Lanusse then edited a collection of poems by Creoles of color in 1845; Les Cenelles: Choix de poésies indigènes was the first anthology of literature by African Americans in the United States. Les Cenelles was much more subdued in tone than its predecessor. Still, Lanusse in his preface emphasized the value of education as "a shield against the spiteful and calamitous arrows shot at us." He and his colleagues considered their art form a springboard to social and political reform.

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The Haitian Influence on Religion >