Black History in the Diaspora: Bookman Dutty and Jean Jacques Dessalines, Part One
Updated: Feb 24, 2021
By Charles A. Grantham
Presented by Omni-University
"Good God who created the Sun which shines on us from above, who rouses the sea and makes the thunder rumble; Listen! God though hidden in a cloud watches over us. The god of the white man calls forth crime but our God wills good works. Our God who is so good commands us to vengeance. He will direct our arms and help us. Throw away the likeness of the white man's god who has so often brought us to tears and listen to liberty which speaks in our hearts." Ancestor Priest Bookman Dutty In keeping with the African Tradition, the prayer and directive above was led by Bookman Dutty, a Voodun Priest, on the eve of the Haitian Revolution, August 14, 1791. It was during the Celebration of Ogun, The Voodun Spirit of Warfare and Iron, that Bookman called forth and paid homage to Ancestral Spirits. In his seminal work on the Haitian Revolution, "The Irritated Genie: An Essay on the Haitian Revolution", Ancestor Dr. Jacob H. Carruthers, former Priest of the Temple of the African Community of Chicago, introduces us to Bookman and Dessalines and tells us that, " the revolution...had its roots in the African Worldview."  According to Carruthers, both Bookman Dutty and Jean Jacques Dessalines were pivotal figures in this rebellion which resulted in the independence of the Haitian people from the brutal oppression of the French: "Black people had been the victims of the most oppressive and miserable system of tyranny in history. Surely revenge, guided by wisdom and tempered with the desire for "liberty which speaks in all our hearts", was the appropriate guiding Spirit."[ 3] Although Bookman and Dessalines played major roles in the ultimate defeat of the French, the name that is most often associated with the French Revolution is Toussaint L'Ouverture- particularly during "Black History Month". This is no accident, as Dr. Carruthers' research reveals. What we have learned about the rebellion and Toussaint's role in it [as well as the overwhelming majority of the disinformation relative to Black History] has generally been from a non-African perspective. This, of course, has served others much more often than it has served the descendants of Africans who have suffered- and continue to suffer in various degrees- at the hands of Europeans and other oppressive White power structures. There had been numerous revolts by enslaved Africans on the island of what was then known as Saint Domingue. Like some of the past uprisings, this one was comprised of various factions of the island's population: Enslaved Africans on the plantations; Men of Color (Mulattos); and Free Blacks (Maroons) who lived in numerous enclaves in the mountains. When it came to self- liberation, the two factions that shared the most in common were the enslaved Africans on the plantations and the Free Blacks who often staged raids on the coastal towns controlled by the French as well as on the plantations freeing other Blacks.
The goal of the Maroons was the total liberation from the French including the elimination of the French from the island. However, throughout the revolution, alliances shifted back and forth between the groups and their French oppressors. As the rebellion waged on, L'Ouverture, who initially sided with Bookman and Dessalines, appears to have been motivated by personal objectives which he may have harbored all along.
It can be said that Bookman's prayer was unambiguous. He clearly did not expect the "White man's god" to assist African people in their time of need. As I read it, I was reminded of a story I was told by a Kenyan while living in Kenya, East Africa: "On the savanna, there lived a pride of lions and not too far away lived a herd of gazelles. As the sun rose one morning, a lioness woke up and prepared to go hunting. But before she went, the lioness prayed that she would have the good fortune to catch a gazelle for her and her cubs to eat. On the other side of the savanna, not far from where the lioness was, a gazelle was also waking up. The gazelle prepared to go out and graze. But before she went out, she also prayed. The gazelle asked that she be granted the speed, agility and good fortune to be able to graze and then return home safely to her family." I waited for the punchline but, there was none. Instead, I was asked if I thought the gazelle was praying to the same god as the lioness. I pondered the question as I visualized a lioness praying to a god who looked like a lion and who worked on behalf of lions. I could not, for the life of me, imagine a gazelle praying to a god that looked like a lion and who worked on behalf of lions- a gazelle who would then expect to receive favor from the god of the lions. The revolution began on August 22, 1791 and seemed to have been going as planned. However, after Bookman was killed , in November of that year, there was a change in leadership. The new leadership brought with it a change in the philosophy of the revolution from "conquer or die", as envisioned by Bookman, to "race accommodation".  The post- Bookman leadership, which included Toussaint, sued France for peace! Some of their demands were: Legal and complete freedom for a limited number of "slave leaders" ; Abolition of corporal punishment ; and Three days a week for the "slaves" to work for themselves. . The demands did not call for the total abolition of slavery but, only for the freedom of a few-about 400 "slave leaders"- who were, undoubtedly, loyal soldiers of Toussaint. Dr. Carruthers referred to this shift in objectives as the "Great Compromise". Another scholar, Ancestor Dr. Anderson Thompson, discusses this type of betrayal by Black leadership in "The African Principle: Essay Series": "The African Principle- That which is best for the greatest number of African People"- is the underlying source of the African Value System, the gift from our Creator passed on to us through our ancestors. Far too many of our African leaders, have compromised the African Principle -which should always guide our actions- in order to achieve personal success and security at the expense of the African masses."  Toussaint and his generals were defying the African Principle in pursuit of what Jean Jacques Dessalines referred to as the "Phantom of Liberty" "Liberty"? At what price? And, for whom? Toussaint vacillated between supporting Bookman's position and joining with the French in adopting the chant of their French Revolution: "Liberty Equality and Fraternity".  He attempted to gain support from a number of the other factions on the island, all of whom had varying ideas about solutions for the masses of African people. Ultimately, Toussaint wanted to be recognized by the French as their equal and to remain a part of France with himself and his lackeys as the new " leaders" of Saint Domingue. His objectives were success and security for himself and his cronies- at the expense of the greatest number of African people.
The foregoing essay was written by Charles A Grantham, author of, "The Battle for Kemet" (Published by The Kemetic Institute, 2003).
BlogNotes: Part One [1-4, 6] Ancestor Priest Dr. Jacob H. Carruthers, "The Irritated Genie: An Essay on the Haitian Revolution" (Published by The Kemetic Institute, 1985).  Ancestor Dr.Anderson Thompson, "The African Principle Essay Series Volume 1 Number 1" (Published by African World Community Press, 1994)