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Racism in France: Paris to commemorate the figure of the slave rebellion

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo gives a speech at the opening of the Jardin Solitude in Paris on September 26th

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image captionMayor Hidalgo opened the Solitude Garden on Saturday

Paris is about to erect a statue of a black woman involved in a 1802 rebellion against slavery on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe.

The woman, called only Solitude, was captured and possibly executed.

Opening a public garden in her honor on Saturday, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo called Solitude “a heroine” and a “strong symbol”.

France’s history of slavery has come under new scrutiny, in part due to US protests Black Lives Matter.

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There has been an inner quest for public commemoration of colonial figures such as the 17th-century statesman Jean-Baptiste Colbert, who codified slavery overseas and is remembered by a statue outside the national parliament in Paris.

But President Emmanuel Macron has spoken out against the removal of statues or names of controversial characters, offering instead “a clear look at our history and our memory”.

Who was the loneliness?

Very little is known for sure, with only a brief written mention in the history of 19th-century Guadeloupe, according to UNESCO.

That tale reports that Solitude, a mixed-race woman, was arrested in the midst of “a band of rebels” during a revolt against slavery – which had been restored by Napoleon after being abolished during the French Revolution.

She was sentenced to death, the story notes, but she was allowed to give birth before she was “tortured” – an ambiguous term that could mean that she was actually put to death, such as through flogging.

Loneliness was portrayed in a 1972 work of fiction by the French writer André Schwarz-Bart and a statue already honors it in Les Abymes, Guadeloupe.

The Solitude Garden is located on Place du Général Catroux, in the northwest of Paris, where a statue will be erected over time.

While a statue of a black woman would be rare in the French capital, it wouldn’t be unprecedented. American entertainer and French Resistance agent Josephine Baker (1906-75) was honored by both a square and a monument.

Related topics

  • Racism

  • France
  • Paris
  • Slavery
  • Guadeloupe
  • Black life is important

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