Those of my generation who did history at the high school (“Ordinary”) level in the 1950s and 1960s basically studied mostly British and a little European history during the last part of the fifteenth century, the sixteenth century, and a large portion of the seventeenth century. If, like myself, you went on to do history at the Sixth Form (“Advanced”) level, then you would do a lot of European history, cum British, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, perhaps even some nineteenth century matters. This is a long time ago, so I cannot be sure of the specifics.
I think that when we started history at St. John’s College in the first form, we began with the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, which is when Henry VII became King of England by becoming the victor in the so-called War of the Roses. Thus began the Tudor family dynasty in English royalty.
Henry VII’s son, Henry VIII, was the one who created an uproar in the British and European status quo by taking the English version of the Roman Catholic Church out of the jurisdiction of the Pope of Rome in Italy’s Vatican, and declaring himself the head of the Anglican Church. This would be around 1534. When Henry’s daughter, Elizabeth I, became Queen of England in 1558, a bitter, bloody rivalry had developed between Protestant England and Spain, which had remained Roman Catholic and appeared to consider itself the chief military defender of the Roman Catholic faith, while seeking to defend its empire in the Americas from the attacks of English pirates, who would be encouraged by Elizabeth I.
The fracture in the religion unity of Europe was precipitated by a German monk named Martin Luther around 1517 or so. Martin Luther challenged the absolute dominance of Roman Catholicism in Europe. Protestant religions emerged in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the Scandinavian countries which threatened the Pope’s power. The challenge to Roman Catholicism was referred to as “The Reformation,” and the defence of the Roman faith was known as “The Counter-Reformation,” led by the Jesuit order which had been organized by a Spanish soldier, Ignatius Loyola, in the 1540s.
I don’t remember much of my Advanced Level studies in history at Sixth Form.
All I recall is that there were some major wars amongst the European powers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, such as the Thirty Years War and the Hundred Years War.
I remember more of “O” Level history because of the fact that we were living in a British colony, the only English-speaking country in Central America, and history at the high school level in British Honduras was all about presenting and extolling the various virtues and accomplishments of the British.
What we call Great Britain is comprised of an island which is dominated by England, and includes Scotland and Wales. How Ireland, another island, fits into this scheme is another matter, which I will not address presently. The point I want to focus on is that England is separated from mainland Europe, specifically France, by twenty-six miles of what is known as the “English Channel.”
There were two so-called World Wars in the twentieth century in which England and France were allies, with their main enemy being Germany. But up until England began to focus on fighting with Spain in the middle of the sixteenth century because of religion and competition for the wealth of the Americas, the four or five centuries before featured various, repeated military campaigns and wars between England and France, whose populations were basically warlike, barbarian tribes. (Germany did not become a real factor in Europe until Otto von Bismarck united the various Germanic tribes in 1871.)
I envy Sandra Coye because of her familiarity with the French language and her knowledge of French history. You can’t reach, so to speak, the Haitian Revolution of 1791, the only successful slave uprising in history, without passing through the French Revolution of 1789. At the time of the Haitian Revolution, Haiti was a French Caribbean colony which was the wealthiest colony on planet earth.
At St. John’s College, I had not been taught anything about the French except for their being mentioned when they were waging wars with the British. And, the most important event in the five-century history of us African people in the Americas is the Haitian Revolution. This, I believe. To understand Haiti and its revolution, we would have needed to know something about France.
Remember now, in a sense the English had had their version of the French Revolution when the Oliver Cromwell, a so-called Puritan Roundhead, beheaded King Charles I in 1649, and the middle classes of Parliament began to rule England instead of the Stuart family monarchy which had succeeded the Tudor family’s Elizabeth I in 1603.
Growing up in a British colony, one really never learned anything about Napoleon Bonaparte except that he was eventually defeated by the Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo circa 1814. But from 1796 or so, emerging from the socio-political wreckage of the French Revolution, Napoleon became like an imperial power in France and then began to march up and down Europe, kicking all other armies to hell. But, he never crossed the English Channel.
Napoleon’s relevance to us Afro-descendants in Black History Month is his attempt to re-institute slavery in Haiti in 1802, and his imprisonment/murder of Toussaint L’Overture. Under Dessalines, Black Haitians protected and preserved their revolution. Haiti declared a free black republic in 1804.
The implications of the Haitian Revolution, and its significance in the history of the Caribbean and the Americas are totally unknown in Belize. There has been a total blackout on that history here, because, jump high or jump low, white supremacy rules Belizean minds.
The Southern Confederate States of the United States of America were horrified by the Haitian Revolution. Their wealth and prospects were based exclusively on enslaved African labor, and they considered the rise of a free African republic just a couple hundred miles away from Florida a direct threat to their way of life, even life itself.
I want to end by saying to you Belizeans, especially in the American diaspora, that the issue of race in our region is a very serious one. The rise of Donald Trump represents, to a substantial extent, a white American reaction to the American experiment with a Black presidency between 2008 and 2016. Washington’s obsession with a Venezuela controlled by a protégé (Nicolas Maduro) of the late Hugo Chavez, himself a disciple of Simon Bolivar, derives from the race consciousness of the American superpower. Ditto, to a great extent, where their attitude to Cuba is concerned. All this begins with the Haitian Revolution in 1791 where our Afro-descendant fight for freedom and upliftment is concerned. It was the revolutionary Haitian government which enabled the South American liberation movements of Simon Bolivar in the early nineteenth century. A lot of things are related historically to each other of which our Belizean children are never made aware. White supremacy, I repeat, rules in Belize.
Power to the people.
P. S. On Tuesday morning, I heard a KREM Radio announcer pass off Black History Month as an “American thing,” not really relevant to Belize. I understand his perspective. If he would examine a map of the Caribbean, however, and note how near, in the nineteenth century, the American Confederate slave population in the United States, the Spanish-held African slaves in Cuba, the British-held slaves in Jamaica, the Spanish-held slaves in Puerto Rico, free Black Haiti, the Spanish-influenced eastern part of Hispaniola (the Dominican Republic), and French-held Martinique were to each other, where many, many millions of Africans, enslaved in the other areas but free in Haiti, were living in relatively close proximity to each other, he would understand why I have thought in my adult years that Belizeans need to get a sense of what has been going on around us, and the implications for our present and our future.