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Before Malcolm X, Dessalines: a French tradition of black Atlantic radicalism

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This article explores the anticolonial and postcolonial thought of Haitian revolutionary leader Jean-Jacques Dessalines. Dessalines, like Malcolm X, whom Cornel West calls a prophet of Black rage, is part of a black Atlantic radical tradition. Dessaline's secretary Louis-Flix Boisrond Tonnerre has often been viewed as the author of some of Dessalines' documents, including the Haitian Declaration of Independence, but I argue that Dessalines' voice remains distinctive and that he and his secretaries should be viewed as authorial teams. Dessalines' vision is syncretic, incorporating African diasporan views of the spiritual world and nature into his decisively anticolonial political ideology. These texts challenge the anglophone identity of the black Atlantic, and invite reconsideration of the diverse beginnings of the postcolonial.

Keywords: Bois Caman; Jean-Jacques Dessalines; black Atlantic; decolonization; journalism; manifesto; postcolonial theory; the Haitian Revolution

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Publication date: November 15, 2007

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  • The International Journal of Francophone Studies offers a critical preview for a new development in the understanding of 'France outside France', with a thorough insight into the network of disciplinary issues affiliated with this study. The journal complements the thriving area of scholarly interest in the French-speaking regions of the world, bringing a location of linguistic, cultural, historical and social dynamics within a single academic arena.
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