- New York 1967–71, Prelude to Ti difé boulé: An Encounter with Liberation Theology, Marxism, and the Black National Liberation Movement
In an annotated bibliography published soon after Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s death, Drexel Woodson and Brackette Williams end their tribute with a quote by Trouillot reflecting on the various meanings and significance of his works. Trouillot stated that what will remain is Ti difé boulé sou istoua Ayiti, the Kreyòl history of the Haitian Revolution that he published in 1977.1 This self-reflection of Rolph prioritized, in my view, the socio-political and cultural experiences that he had between his arrival in New York in late 1968/early 1969 and his departure for Baltimore in 1978 to begin his graduate studies in anthropology at Johns Hopkins University.
I met Rolph in Haiti around 1965. Both born in 1949, we were in the same cohort of the graduating class of 1968. We also belonged to two of the four denominational elite schools of Port-au-Prince: he to the all-boys Petit Séminaire College St. Martial, directed by the Holy Ghost Fathers, and I to the all-girls Institution du Sacré-Coeur, led by the Sisters of Wisdom. In the sixties, there were many youth activities and groups, usually organized by the Holy Ghost Fathers, also known as the Spiritains. Our encounter was initiated by our participation in the cinémathèque created by Father Jean-Yves Urfié. I left Haiti in the summer of 1967 to join my family in New York, but Rolph stayed there until the end of 1968. In early 1969 a few of us from that same cohort formed a youth group named La Cordée. Rolph was instrumental in the formation of the group for many reasons. First, the leader of the group, Father Paddy Poux, was a mentor of Rolph’s at St. Martial. Second, most of the members of the new group knew Rolph already.
St. Martial, “un espace de liberté” before the 1969 Expulsion of the Holy Ghost Fathers
Poux was already in the United States when the Duvalierist state expelled nine priests in the summer of 1969, among them five Holy Ghost Fathers [End Page 152] including Poux. Thus the formation of La Cordée in 1969 was a way to recreate a Christian youth movement, the Rally, that had roots in Haiti in the mid-1960s and that involved many Catholic parishes and the St. Martial school. One of the most important leaders of the movement at St. Martial was indeed one of the most radical and progressive Spiritains, Max Dominique.2 To some extent, the regime justified the expulsion by claiming that Father Dominique was collaborating with Communists.3
Dominique had been very active in creating the network of the Bibliothèque des Jeunes (Youth Library), which had become a meeting and discussion space where young people could share ideas about political, cultural, and economic issues affecting the society. Most likely, members of some progressive political groups of Marxist tendency also joined. As Spiritains Émile Jacquot and Jean-Yves Urfié later mentioned, the school was used for political asylum for some opponents of the regime.
As Hurbon, Trouillot, and Charles have indicated, the systematic control of the Duvalierist state over all social and political institutions in the country was a process beginning with the judicial and the military sectors, followed by the gradual takeover of student organizations, trade unions, and the clergy.4 By 1965, the Duvalierist regime was effectively in control of most institutions of civil society. Paradoxically, the activities run by the Holy Ghost Fathers remained some of the only spaces for the circulation of democratic ideas. It was a paradox because they had benefited from the project of the Duvalierist state to nationalize the clergy. The arrival at St. Martial of many young Haitian priests was part of a process of introducing new natives into Church leadership. As Jacquot mentions, by the mid-1960s many of these new priests were questioning the practices of the old, mostly foreign and white, leadership.5 They questioned the purpose of the Holy Ghost Fathers in relation to the Haitian population’s extreme poverty...