Haiti and the Harlem Renaissance, by Peggy Brooks-Bertram, Dr.P.H., Ph.D.

Author: Coccoon Webware |

Eavesdropping on Souls and the educational materials which support it, is of extraordinary educational value not only to the visual arts and to Haitian history but to US history as well.

For example, one of the most important periods in African American history is the Harlem Renaissance with its emphasis on the arts of Black people including those of Haitian descent.

In 1925, Alain Locke articulated the idea of the “New Negro” and admonished black artists in the United States to reclaim their legacy and embrace “the uniquely creative possibilities of their own natural racial heritage.”

Aaron Douglas was an African American painter and graphic artist especially important in the Harlem Renaissance. He played a leading role in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s

Later in his career he received a fellowship from the Julius Rosenwald Foundation in 1938, which funded his painting trip to Haïti and several other Caribbean islands.

Equally important was William Edouard Scott who also received a Rosenwald Foundation grant to go to Haïti and paint. He produced 144 paintings and drawings in Haiti. Most of them were scenes of the everyday lives of Haitians and his exhibit was promoted by the Haitian government. He played a major role in invigorating Haitian art 2 in the mid-twentieth century. His theoretical statements resulted in the artistic movement known as the Harlem Renaissance.

In Haiti, Dr. Jean Price Mars initiated a similar project urging Haitian artists to look to their African heritage and to exalt the traditions that came with the slave trade.” With the removal of the US Marines from Haiti in 1934, there was fascination with the island and its mythologies which manifested itself in interesting ways in the US from staged musical portrayals and major off Broadway plays, e.g., Black Mac Beth (1926) and Haiti (1938).

As for the visual arts, in 1937 there was created a multi-paneled series of paintings on the life and deeds of Toussaint L’Ouverture, the former slave turned military leader of the Haitian Revolution. This resulted in 41 paintings that stunned viewers at a 1939 Baltimore unveiling. These paintings “were remarkable not only for their high key colors and narrative strengths but for their clear and unapologetic allusions to black agency.” Even five years after the Harlem Renaissance had unofficially come to an end, there was still solid interest in works depicting Haiti and its history

Jacqueline Jean Baptiste with her film Eaves dropping on Souls, once again asks viewers all over as well as Haitian children and adults to take pride in the achievements of Haitian people and Haiti in general. Jean Baptiste takes the viewer to the historic island of Haiti with this outstanding work, and she powerfully introduces the world to current paintings from proud artists in Haiti as well as the Haitian/Cuban music that enriches the film. Both children and adults around the world will be able to make a connection between the visual arts of this important time in history to the many successes of the Haitian people as expressed through these paintings.

Useful references:

Rhapsodies in Black: Art of the Harlem Renaissance


Richard J. Powell, David A. Bailey, Hayward Gallery - 1997

Cary D. Wintz. The Harlem Renaissance. A History and an Anthology. Brandywine

Press. 2003


De Veaux, Alexis. 1995. "Bold Type: Renaissance Woman." Ms. Magazine, May/June, 73. Ferguson, Sally Ann. 1987.


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