How did black people in the postemancipation United States understand themselves, their changing country, and a world shaped by the restructuring of white supremacy? That question has animated my research agenda. My attempts to answer it have resulted in a research program spanning the fields of African American History, United States History, Haitian Studies, and African Diaspora Studies. They have encouraged an enduring interest in black internationalism, an insurgent political and intellectual response to slavery, colonialism, and white imperialism that has prioritized collaboration among people of color across the world.
Much of my work has focused on African Americans’ engagement with Haiti, the black nation birthed in the only successful slave rebellion in modern world history. “Black Republicans, Black Republic: African-Americans, Haiti, and the Promise of Reconstruction,” an article published in Slavery & Abolition, demonstrates Haiti’s significance to the international visions of black freedom that emerged in the Reconstruction-era United States while “‘To Start Something to Help These People:’ African American Women and the Occupation of Haiti, 1915-1934,” an article published in the Journal of Haitian Studies, analyzes black women’s response to the US occupation of Haiti. I extended my study of black women’s engagement with Haiti in “The Transnational Work of Moral Elevation: African American Women and the Reformation of Haiti, 1874-1950,” an award-winning article published in Palimpsest: A Journal on Women, Gender, and the Black International.
These articles preceded my first book, The Black Republic: African Americans and the Fate of Haiti (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019). The Black Republic recovers African Americans’ engagement with Haiti from the U.S. Civil War to the period between the two World Wars. While historians have focused on the impact of the Haitian Revolution on the antebellum United States, The Black Republic shows that African Americans’ subsequent concern with Haiti’s fate often revealed significant disagreement about race, nation, culture, and other contested subjects but centered on the understanding that Haiti had singular importance because it was free, black, and self-governing in a long postemancipation era marked by the reconstruction of global white supremacy.
Ultimately, The Black Republic advances our understanding of black internationalism. By 1915, the year that the United States occupied Haiti, African Americans had an established tradition of connecting their experiences of and ideas about freedom to Haiti. They took interest in the occupation even as they disagreed about its legitimacy and potential outcome. Eventually, black activists and intellectuals came to see the occupation as a symptom of the diseases plaguing the entire colored world. Their anti-occupation protests and, by extension, their ideas of Haiti became a cornerstone of the anti-capitalist, anti-colonial, and anti-racist radical black internationalism that arose and took root in the period between World War I and World War II.