African Americans - Civil war and recognition of black countries




During the nineteenth century, slavery and its accompanying racist ideology prevented the United States from conducting full diplomatic relations with Haiti and Liberia, states modeled on modern republics that were populated and governed by blacks. Many U.S. diplomats did not believe it possible to consort with black counterparts on an equal basis and receive them into the polite society of the period. Proslavery southerners saw Haiti as anathema on social and political grounds and as a security problem. Some southern states passed laws that forbade the entry of sailors and other free people of color from Haiti. Before the Civil War, the U.S. government did not recognize Haiti and was represented there only by consuls. Southern secession removed the obstacles to recognition, which occurred on 12 July 1862 when the State Department appointed a chief of mission, Benjamin Whidden. In 1869, U.S. representation was raised to the ministerial level with the appointment of the first African American in such a post, Ebenezer Don Carlos Bassett. The defeat of the Confederacy and the abolition of slavery meant improvement in Haitian-American relations, ending the threat of slavery expansionism and filibustering raids on Haitian coasts. Beginning with Bassett's appointment, diplomatic and consular posts to Haiti and Liberia became patronage posts for loyal black Republicans, a pattern that persisted until well into the mid-twentieth century.

In the late nineteenth century, American activists sought to bring international attention to the lynching problem in the "Jim Crow" South. Hampered by lack of access to sources of state power, activists such as the anti-lynching advocate Ida B. Wells-Barnett searched for unconventional and less restrictive venues for international contact. Just as American activists had sought British support for abolition during the slavery era, Wells-Barnett toured the United Kingdom in 1893 and 1894 to publicize the lynching problem and bring the weight of British public opinion to bear on the issue. She devised another way to focus international attention on U.S. domestic affairs when, in 1893, Chicago hosted the Columbian Exposition, which brought visitors from all over the world. Through the mediation of Frederick Douglass, the government of Haiti selected Wells-Barnett to manage its exhibit and provided her with a table in the Haitian pavilion. There she sold copies of a book she had written to document lynching and the context in which it occurred. Wells-Barnett was thereby able to reach a wide audience in one of the first efforts to employ an international cultural festival to air concerns about U.S. race relations.

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