July 21 - Victor Schoelcher Day in the "French Caribbean"

    Posted on July 21, 2022     

This is an update of my post published on July 21, 2011:

Victor Schoelcher was born in Paris on July 22, 1804, but he is celebrated today in Martinique, Guadeloupe and other islands in the "French Caribbean" - 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 freedom and rights for enslaved people. 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.

Schoelcher Library, in Martinique;
Schoelcher left his 10,000 books and
250 musical scores to his adopted 
island as long as the library remained
open to all - and he especially stated
that the library was to be used to help
formerly enslaved people to gain an

What islands are considered the "French Caribbean"?

Well, it depends on what year! This video shows the exploration and settlement of islands by many different groups. (If you don't want to do a lot of reading, scroll to the 0:30 second mark, to see the ever-changing map.) Watch for France's red-white-and-blue tri-color  flag and the blue color-coding on the map.

Nowadays, Guadeloupe and Martinique are French overseas departments, and Saint Martin and Saint Barthélemy are French overseas collectives.

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