On January 2, 1893, Frederick Douglass delivered an address at the dedication of the Haitian Pavilion at the World’s Columbian Exposition located in Jackson Park in Chicago. Douglass, a prominent writer, abolitionist, and publisher of the North Star, spent the years 1889 to 1891 in Haiti serving the Benjamin Harrison Administration as United States minister and general consul.
We should not forget that the freedom you and I enjoy to-day… is largely due to the brave stand taken by the black sons, of Haiti ninety years ago…striking for their freedom, they struck for the freedom of every black man in the world.
Remarks at Dedication Ceremonies at the Haitian Pavilion, World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago. Delivered by Frederick Douglass, Chicago, January 2, 1893. Frederick Douglass Papers at the Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
In his speech, Douglass discussed the character and history of Haiti, its evolution from slave colony to free and independent republic, and its relevance to African Americans. He expressed optimism about the country’s future despite its numerous problems. Douglass used the occasion to speak of the commercial potential and historical importance of Haiti and to argue for improved relations between Haiti and the United States. “It is a land strikingly beautiful,” Douglass explained, “diversified by mountains, valleys, lakes, rivers and plains, and contains in itself all the elements of great and enduring wealth.”
With one out of every three men in Haiti engaged in military service, Douglass observed, the prosperity of the country depended largely upon the women:
They supply the towns and cities of Haiti with provisions, bringing them from distances of fifteen and twenty miles, and they often bear an additional burden in the shape of a baby…Thousands of these country women in their plain blue gowns and many colored turbans, every morning line the roads leading into Port au Prince.
Lecture on Haiti, Frederick Douglass, January 2, 1893. Frederick Douglass Papers at the Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
Douglass understood the complex history of Haiti and how its French colonial experience had laid the ground work for poverty, inequality, and military rule. Economic Conditions in Haiti, an 1899 consular report issued by the U.S. Department of State, echoed Douglass’s message about the economic potential of Haiti:“There is probably no other country in the world where capital is so greatly needed as in Haiti, or where it ought to yield greater results, all things considered.”
- Search the collections on Haiti to locate more photographs of the island nation as well as documents pertaining to its history. See “Increasing Instability, 1843-1915,” in Dominican Republic and Haiti: Country Studies for information on conditions in the country at the time of Douglass’s visits.
- Learn more about Frederick Douglass and abolition. Search the Frederick Douglass Papers at the Library of Congress using those terms. Learn about other events related to Jackson Park or the Columbia Exposition. Search on those terms.
- Read Booker T. Washington’s controversial address delivered at the opening ceremonies of the 1895 Atlanta Cotton States and International Exposition. He said the “Negro problem” would be solved by a policy of gradualism and accommodation, a stand that became known as the Atlanta Compromise. This is found in African American Perspectives: Materials Selected from the Rare Book Collection.
- On January 2, 1893, the Emancipation Clubs of Salem and Roanoke, Virginia gathered at the Salem Town Hall to hear an Emancipation Address by Professor Daniel B. Williams on the subject of civic responsibility. This address can be found in African American Perspectives: Materials Selected from the Rare Book Collection.
- Consult Frederick Douglass: A Resource Guide to locate additional resources for Frederick Douglass.