July 21, 2011 - Victor Schoelcher Day

French Caribbean

Victor Schoelcher was born in Paris on July 22, 1804, but he is celebrated today in Martinique, Guadeloupe and other French Caribbean isles because of his role in the abolition of slavery there.

I don't know why every source I consulted listed Schoelcher's birthday as July 22, yet every source on Caribbean holidays listed July 21 as the birthday celebration of the man! At any rate, Schoelcher seems to be one of history's unambiguous “good guys.”

He was born into a rich merchant family, and he became a journalist. He had a college education but learned about slavery when he traveled to America in 1829, visiting southern U.S. states, Mexico, and Cuba. From then on, he devoted himself to working to abolish slavery throughout the world.

I have always thought that travel is a great teacher, and Schoelcher deliberately chose his travel destinations to learn more about slavery. He traveled throughout the West Indies, including Haiti, and he traveled in Greece, Egypt, Turkey, and the west coast of Africa. He published many articles about slavery and the positive outcomes of its abolition. He also contributed some of his family fortune to establishing and promoting societies for the benefit of black people.

In 1848, Schoelcher was appointed under-secretary of the navy and finally had some power to win rights for slaves. In April of that year, he wrote a decree in which France declared that slavery was abolished in all of its colonies.

Schoelcher went on to serve in the legislature of Martinique—although he took time out from his service to defend Paris against Prussia in 1870.

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