Big Fires Everywhere: How the Haitian Revolution Inspired Today’s Protesters
“What’s his name?! George Floyd! What’s his name?! George Floyd!” a crowd of hundreds of protesters shouted on May 28 as they watched Minneapolis’ third police precinct be engulfed in flames. The precinct was the workplace of the four officers who murdered George Floyd during his arrest. Protesters had stormed the precinct earlier that evening to demand justice for the assassination of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. In a surreal scene, the crowd cheered and fireworks exploded into the night sky.
The burning down of the third precinct was the beginning of fires ignited in over 100 cities throughout the country. Political unrest erupted as protesters took to the streets to reject the state-sanctioned violence against generations of Black people. The month of May was heavy for Black Lives Matter protesters. During a global pandemic, the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and Breonna Taylor were the sparks that led to explosive outcries across the world to abolish the police and overhaul a social system that has deliberately hindered Black safety and progress.
When fires erupted across U.S. cities and towns in defiance of police brutality, it was compared to the long hot summers of the 1960s civil rights movement and the Red Summer of 1919. However, I was also reminded of the roots of Black revolutionary fire: the Haitian Revolution, the most important rebellion for the cause of racial equality in our modern world. Although the French and American Revolutions are touted as the greatest upheavals, the Haitian Revolution is the most significant example of how the enslaved used fire to overthrow their oppressors in the name of liberation and equality.
In 1791, enslaved Africans in the island colony of St. Domingue, now known as Haiti, scorched sugar plantations. Black struggle has always been global, and kidnapped Africans were forced to work on the sugar plantations of St. Domingue. They lived in constant terror…