Saint-Domingue Slave Rebellion, Great Migration and 1967 Detroit Race Riot

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 23rd, 2013

History 101

The Brutal Slave Rebellion on Saint-Domingue created Haiti and opened the Door to the American West

Haiti was born from a slave rebellion.  Inspired by the French Revolution, which was inspired by the American Revolution, the slaves on Saint-Domingue could taste the liberty in the air.  The slaves outnumbered the whites on the island.  And when they rose in rebellion in 1791 their white overlords were powerless to stop them.  The slaves massacred the white planters.  Those lucky enough to survive fled the island.  The French tried to reestablish control.  Then they went to war again against the British.  Which complicated matters.  And led to a British invasion of Saint-Domingue.

Toussaint Louverture, a former slave, and educated, eventually led the now former slaves to victory.  And won the peace.  He invited the planters back.  Replaced slave-labor with paid-labor.  Reestablished trade with Great Britain.  And the new United States.  While the French did away with slavery in their colonial possessions.  For a while.  During the convulsions going on in France following the French Revolution there were many changes in government.  And the government in 1802 lent a sympathetic ear to the former white planters who wanted their plantations back.  And their slaves.  Napoléon Bonaparte, interested in reestablishing New France in North America, sent a military force to take back Saint-Domingue.  Who captured and sent Toussaint Louverture back to France.  But things did not go well for the French.

Jean-Jacques Dessalines continued the fight in Louverture’s place.  A determined enemy, and Yellow Fever, were too much for the French.  They pulled out their remaining soldiers.  Gave up on Saint-Domingue.  And on New France in North America.  Causing another exodus from the island.  And if you ever wonder why New Orleans is so French this is why.  A lot of those fleeing Haiti settled in New Orleans.  Doubling the city’s population.  Needing money to continue the war against Great Britain Napoléon offered to sell the Louisiana Territory, the thick center part of the United States between Texas and Canada, to Thomas Jefferson.  And did.  So the brutal slave rebellion on Saint-Domingue not only created Haiti.  It gave the Americans the Mississippi River and its tributaries.  The Mississippi Valley.  The Great Plains.  And opened the door to the West.

The Great Migration brought some 6 Million Blacks from the Rural South to Northern Factories

But that brutal slave rebellion did something else.  It made the southern planters nervous.  Over half of the 40,000 white colonists were killed during that slave rebellion.  A fact that weighed heavily on the minds of the highly outnumbered white planter class in the South.  Who lived in fear of a similar slave rebellion happening in the United States.  Which lead to a more oppressive control over their slaves.  So they could snuff out any rebellion at the first sign of trouble.  And there was a reversal of policy.  The Founding Fathers had shelved the issue of slavery for 20 years to get the South to join the new nation.  Believing that the institution of slavery would die out on its own.  And in the following two decades some slave owners were freeing a slave or two.  But that all stopped following the revolution in Saint-Domingue.  When the life of a slave went from bad to worse.  For the last thing the white planter class needed was a Toussaint Louverture in their midst.

By the time of the American Civil War the slave population had grown much larger.  Which added another element to the Civil War.  Especially for the South.  The North was fighting for a noble purpose.  To free the slaves.  And fulfilling the declaration that all men were created equal in the Declaration of Independence.  But what then?  What happens after the North wins the Civil War?  And they free the slaves?  Where are the slaves going to go?  Back to Africa?  Even the ones who have no idea what or where Africa was?  Having been born and raised in the United States?  No.  They weren’t.  They were going to remain in the South.  Nothing would change in the North.  But life in the South would be changed into something that just didn’t exist.  A biracial society.  Worse, this was going to be a biracial society where the majority was once brutally oppressed by the minority.  Thanks in large part to the slave rebellion on Saint-Domingue.

With this backdrop the odds for a peaceful reconstruction were slim.  The South did not adjust well to the new reality.  There were fears.  Anger.  And the old prejudices.  While in the North life went on as it always did.  Predominantly white.  And industrializing.  Creating more and more factory jobs.  That drew immigrants to the industrial north.  As it drew southern blacks.  Leading up to the Great Migration.  From 1910-1930.  Pausing during the Great Depression and World War II.  And picking up again from 1940-1970.  When some 6 million blacks left the rural south.  And headed to the jobs in the big cities in the Northeast.  The Midwest.  And the West.  Working and living in the big cities.  Like Detroit.

The 1967 Detroit Race Riot accelerated the White Flight from the City which decimated the Tax Base

Detroit dominated following the post-war period.  It was an economic powerhouse.  Thanks to a booming automotive industry.  And a war-torn Europe and Asia.  Whose industrial capacity suffered greatly from Allied bombing.  Leaving the motor city the auto capital of the world.  And making Detroit one of the richest cities in the nation.  With their population peaking in 1950.  As people came to the city for those manufacturing jobs.  But the housing did not keep up with the growth in population.  Blacks and immigrants often faced discrimination.  Getting the worst jobs.  And the worst housing.  Things that changed in the Sixties.  Thanks in large part to a shift of the auto industry out of Detroit.

Following World War II Packard, Hudson, and Studebaker went out of business.  And the Big Three went on a building spree.  In the suburbs.  And a lot of white Detroiters followed them.  Relieving the housing pressure a little.  Allowing a black middle class to grow.  But the suburbs kept growing.  As businesses moved their jobs to the suburbs that were a little more business friendly.  With sprawling spaces for new factories.  And a brand new interstate highway system to easily ship material and parts from one to another.  The same interstate highway system that converged four expressways in the city of Detroit.  Destroying a lot of neighborhoods.  Which were predominantly black.

Many of those displaced people moved to the 12th Street area.  An area that become twice as crowded as the city average.  Unemployment was rising.  As was crime.  Including prostitution.  Where white johns were coming to the neighborhood to solicit black prostitutes.  A big complaint of the black community.  So the police cracked down on prostitution.  And a black prostitute ended up dead.  The people blamed the cops.  The cops blamed a pimp.  Tensions were rising.  Then on July 23, 1967, the police raided a blind pig.  An unlicensed after-hours bar.  On the corner of 12th Street and Clairmount.  Where a party of some 80 people were celebrating the return of two soldiers just back home from the Vietnam War.  The cops arrested them all.  While they were waiting for the paddy wagon to take them away a crowd formed outside.  Someone threw a bottle at a cop.  And thus began the 1967 Detroit race riot.  Which only accelerated the white flight from Detroit.  Caused an exodus of jobs, too.  As businesses fled the city.  Which just decimated the tax base.  Accelerating the urban decay.  Soon the black middle class followed the whites.  In pursuit of those jobs.  And to escape the dying city.  Which it did in 2013.  Die.  Figuratively.  By filing the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.

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