Serge Bellegarde wrote:October 8, 2007, a historic event in Savannah, Georgia
October 8, 2007 will forever remain engraved in the memory of the citizens of Savannah, Georgia and Haiti. Historical archives in Haiti and Savannah refer to the famous Battle of Savannah, but we can safely say that too few both in Haiti and in the United States and specifically in Savannah, are aware of the heroism of hundreds of soldiers of African descent. Former slaves recruited in the French Army in the colony of Saint-Domingue (later to become independent Haiti in 1804), who sailed from the city of St. Marc (later to become Haiti) to help the United States consolidate its young and fragile independence and get rid of the British who were still holding Savannah. Alongside soldiers of many other nations, the “Chasseurs de Saint-Domingue, as they were called, had the distinction of being the largest contingent of soldiers of African descent to come to the help of the United States. While we, Haitians who had the opportunity to go to school, learned about the famous Battle of Savannah, albeit not in great details, this historical fact remains largely ignored in the United States and in Savannah. That is what a group of modern day Haitians set out to do: to make this fact known and to honor the memory of these valiant soldiers, while seeking to establish a special relationship between Savannah and Haiti.
The Haitian-American Historical Society, led by Daniel Fils-Aimé, saw a 7-year long dream fulfilled with the unveiling, on October 8, 2007, of the monument in Savannah honoring those soldiers. The other members of the Society, Jean-Claude Exulien, Claude Charles, Pradel Vilmé, Anthony Box, Jean-Claude Cantave, Bernice Fidélia, Serge Rodrigue, Harry Saint-Louis deserve all our praise and admiration for this formidable feat. They scratched, they fought, they negotiated with mayors, City Council members, they lobbied US Congressmen, they appealed to reluctant fellow Haitians (oddly enough), sometimes were rebuffed, they made countless trips, they often spent their own money; but always they insisted, they persevered, they persisted, they remained focused, all for the noble cause of having Savannah and the American public at large recognize the heroic actions of these soldiers of African descent who had volunteered for such a noble cause and have the community at large look at Haiti from another perspective.
Haitians started arriving in Savannah on Thursday, October 4, but the bulk arrived on Saturday, all enthusiastic and proud, young and old, kids and adolescents, even babies. They came from Haiti, from Miami, from Maryland, from New York, from Connecticut, from Wilmington, Georgia etc. Many more who could have come did not know, were reluctant to participate and to help, or were just incredulous. Ah! The proverbial incredulity of my compatriots! In any case, those who came had the moment of their lives and those who did not….are now very sorry that they missed it.
The Gala which took place on Sunday night was an opportunity for the Haitian-American community to meet those who made the project possible: the members of he Haitian-American Historical Association, the former Mayor of Savannah, Floyd Adams, the Mayor of Savannah, Otis Johnson, the members of the City Council, key African-American supporters and many other high officials of Savannah, Congressman John Barrow from Georgia. Also in attendance was a representative of the Governor of Georgia, Sonny Purdue.
Also present were an imposing delegation from the city of St-Marc, Haiti. The reason for this is that it was from St.Marc that the Haitian contingent left for Savannah. Senator Bergrome, Senator Riché, the Mayor of St. Marc, the Minister for Haitians Abroad Jean Généus representing the Prime Minister of Haiti, Mr. Raymond Joseph from the Haitian Embassy, and Haitian Consul in Miami Ralph Latortue, were also present. A strong contingent of officials from Florida was in attendance: Congressman Kendrik Meeks and his family, Haitian-American State Representative Ronald Brise, former City Council members Jacques Despinosse and Philippe Brutus, Councilman Frantz Pierre.
The evening started with a beautiful rendition of the national anthems of the United States and of Haiti by professional singer Janelle Daguissan. Throughout the evening, musical entertainment was provided by fantastic sax player Jowee Omicil. Rather than giving you a blow by blow description, I Invite to go to the photo gallery of this electrifying evening. You will also view scenes from the actual unveiling on October 8 at Franklin Square.
Let me conclude by referring to another most important aspect of the project: that is the second phase. Yes indeed, the October 8 unveiling was only the first phase and Phase 2 started right on October 9. As you browse through the pictures, you may have noticed that there still is a lot of space on the pedestal. The 4 statues on the pedestal are in bronze. They have been exquisitely designed by artist James Masten. Adequate space was left on the pedestal to erect 2 more statues and that is the essence of the second phase: to collect funds for the completion of this project. The Haitian-American Historical Society aims at completing the project by February 2008. That means that there is an urgency to find the funds to proceed. The artist has to be paid to start on the other statues. All this to say that each and every one of us should make an effort to contribute, however small the contribution may be. Every penny counts. Contributions may be sent to the following address:
Haitian American Historical Society
9822 NE 2nd Avenue , Suite 3A
Miami Shores, Fl 33138
All checks are to be made to the order of: Haitian-American Historical Society
E-Mail: [email protected]
There was a lot of skepticism when this project started and were it not for the 7 years of perseverance and tenacity on the part of the members of the Haitian-American Historical Society, it certainly would not have come to fruition. Now that the monument at Franklin Square is there for everyone to see, to go on a pilgrimage even, the time is now to make the second phase another reality by actively contributing to the fund collection. Do not delay! It is a matter of history, of solidarity and of rehabilitation.
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