Thursday, November 5, 2009
Savannah Monument: Let's do what's right by Stanley Lucas
In the late 17th to early 18th century in the Americas, the winds of freedom had its roots in Haiti. Haitians under les Chasseurs de Saint Domingue fought alongside Americans in the U.S. Revolutionary War in Savannah, Georgia in the United States of America. Among the Haitian soldiers that fought for U.S. independence was Henri Christophe, who would later become a great Haitian king. Haiti's founding fathers saw beyond the war to the universal values of freedom and equality. Haitian also fought alongside Simon Bolivar in his quest to liberate Latin American countries. For Haitians it was not about supporting a particular ethnic group or race, it was about freedom and liberation.
Haiti's great story of support was almost lost until a group of Haitian leaders in the diaspora decided that this significant contribution needed to be highlighted and honored in a meaningful way. This group of Haitians was lead by Daniel Fils Aime who conceptualized and implemented a project to build a monument to our ancestors in Savannah, Georgia. The monument honors a platoon of Haitian soldiers who fought for American independence at the Siege of Savannah in 1779. Because of Daniel's efforts and steadfast lobbying, the political leaders of Savannah really extended themselves to make this monument come to fruition as did the people of the Haitian American Historical Society. At some points, the project almost sunk because of a lack of resources, but Daniel Fils Aime actually put up his own house as collateral to pay for the monument. I call that patriotism, conviction and dedication to the greater good.
I attended the inauguration of the first phase of the project and witnessed a proud group of Haitians and American that came from all over the United States and Haiti for what was an exciting and meaningful event. Everybody went back home happy and proud to be a Haitian. Tourists from around the world will be amazed to read the plates around that monument (note: the statue will be mentioned on the Gray Line Tour of historic Savannah). Haitian's contribution to the U.S. will be better known -- something that only two books have covered in the 200 years of US history.
Also because of Daniel Fils Aime's lobbying, Representative Kendrick Meeks introduced House Resolution 909 commemorating the courage of the Haitian soldiers that fought for American independence in the Siege of Savannah and for Haiti's independence and renunciation of slavery. The resolution passed successfully in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The second phase of the project started right the way and Daniel Fils Aime again swung into action. Like a preacher trying to convert citizens, he traveled, called and tried to reach out to every single citizen in order to collect the funds to complete the project. Despite all efforts, he fell short. Again, he did not give up, and he continued to work the phones. While revisiting previous donors, he encountered Rudy Moise that was willing to put forward the remaining US$120,000 to complete the project. Again the Society and Daniel did a fantastic job in finishing the job and organized a great party attended by an impressive crowds of politicians, professionals, business leaders, and others. Most unfortunately, I was unable to attend because I was in Europe on business.
A bombshell landed shortly after the event with a report by Philipp Brutus revealing that the faces of two of the sculptures depicting the Haitian soldiers were those of Daniel Fils Aime and Rudy Moise. A close observation and pictures revealed that was the case. This revelation has created an outrage among Haitians. Haitians are very sensitive to the accuracy of our collective history, and unfortunately, many of them felt violated by this act. It should be noted that many raising their voices in criticism never contributed a dime to the construction of the monument -- including Philip Brutus who has been leading the charge.
How did this happen? How did the faces of Daniel Fils Aime and Rudy Moise appear on the statues? There are many explanations flying around. The most accurate version of what happened was shared with me by James Mastan, the sculptor and designer of the monument. He actually took it upon himself to put the faces of both men in the sculpture by using their pictures.
Quite simply, it was a mistake -- and an honest mistake that was blown out of proportion so that some could score political points. This could have been cleared up quickly and effectively without this divisive brouhaha.
Now we must move forward -- and the mistake should be remedied. James, Daniel and Rudy must recognize that an honest mistake was made and correct it in order to respect the accuracy of history. By doing so, they will not only make everyone happy, but it will respect our history and our legacy. Was that not the initial purpose? For those who want to turn this into a political circus, you must know that you are only doing damage to our collective reputation. Let's wise up and do what's right.