Anténor Firmin

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Anténor Firmin
Firmin-antenor.gif
Minister of Finance, Commerce and Foreign Affairs
In office
December 17, 1896 – July 26, 1897
PresidentTirésias Simon Sam
Preceded byCallisthènes Fouchard (Finance and Commerce)
Pourcely Faine (Foreign Affairs)
Succeeded bySolon Ménos
In office
October 29, 1889 – May 3, 1891
PresidentFlorvil Hyppolite
Preceded bySaint-Martin Dupuy (Finance and Commerce)
Himself (Foreign Affairs)
Succeeded byHugon Lechaud
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Agriculture and Worship
In office
August 22, 1889 – October 29, 1889
PresidentFlorvil Hyppolite
Preceded bySaint-Martin Dupuy (Foreign Affairs)
Néré Numa (Agriculture)
Maximillien Laforest (Worship)
Succeeded byHimself (Foreign Affairs)
Clément Haentjens (Agriculture)
Léger Cauvin (Worship)
Member of the provisional Government of the Republic of Haiti
In office
August 22, 1889 – October 9, 1889
Personal details
Born
Joseph Auguste Anténor Firmin

(1850-10-18)18 October 1850
Cap-Haïtien, Haiti
Died19 September 1911(1911-09-19) (aged 60)
Saint Thomas, Danish West Indies
NationalityHaitian
Political partyParti libéral
Spouse(s)Marie Louise Victoria Rosa Salnave
ChildrenAnne-Marie Firmin
Georges Anténor Firmin
ProfessionAnthropologist, Egyptologist, Politician and Journalist

Joseph Auguste Anténor Firmin (18 October 1850 – 19 September 1911), better known as simply Anténor Firmin, was a Haitian anthropologist, journalist, and politician. Firmin is best known for his book De l'égalité des races humaines (English: On the Equality of Human Races), which was published as a rebuttal to French writer Count Arthur de Gobineau's work Essai sur l'inégalité des races humaines (English: Essay on the Inequality of Human Races). Gobineau's book asserted the superiority of the Aryan race and the inferiority of blacks and other people of color.

Firmin's work, first published in 1885, argued the opposite, that "all men are endowed with the same qualities and the same faults, without distinction of color or anatomical form. The races are equal" (pp. 450). He was marginalized at the time for his beliefs that all human races were equal.[1]

Firmin pioneered the integration of race and physical anthropology and may be the first black anthropologist. His work was recognized not only in Haiti but also among African scholars as an early work of négritude. He influenced Jean Price-Mars, the founder of Haitian ethnology and on American anthropologist Melville Herskovits.[2] He worked in teaching, politics, and diplomacy. He founded Le Messager du Nord, a political and literary publication.

As the third generation of a post-independent Haiti, Firmin grew up in a working class family in Cap-Haitien. He studied law, and in the early 1800s, the political turmoil surrounding the new government of General Salomon forced him into exile in Paris[3] where he served as a diplomat. During this time, he was admitted to the Societe d'Anthropologie de Paris where he began writing L'Egalite des Races Humaines.[4]

Following the ideas of August Comte, Firmin was a stark positivist who believed that the empiricism used to study humanity was a counter to the speculative philosophical theories about the inequalities of races.[4] Firmin sought to redefine the science of Anthropology in his work. He critiqued the early French and English traditions of the field such as craniometry and racialist interpretations of human physical data. He was the first to point out how racial typologies failed to account for the successes of those of mixed race as well as one of the first to state an accurate scientific basis for skin pigmentation.[4]

Of the Equality of Human Races[edit]

In his best known work, De l'égalité des races humaines (aka Of the Equality of Human Races) published in 1885, Firmin tackles two bases of existing theories on black inferiority in an effort to critique Gobineau's De l'Inégalité des Races Humaines (aka Of the Inequality of Human Races). On the one hand, Firmin challenges the idea of brain size or cephalic index as a measure of human intelligence and on the other he reasserts the presence of African Blacks in pharaonic Egypt. He then delves into the significance of the Haitian Revolution of 1804 and ensuing achievements of Haitians such as Léon Audain and Isaïe Jeanty in medicine and science and Edmond Paul in the social sciences. (Both Audain and Jeanty had obtained prizes from the Académie de Médecine de Paris.)[5]

Founder of Pan-Africanism[edit]

Firmin is one of three Caribbean men who launched the idea of Pan-Africanism at the end of the 19th century to combat colonialism in Africa. As a candidate in Haiti's 1902 presidential elections, he declared that the Haitian state should "serve in the rehabilitation of Africa". Along with Trinidadian lawyer Henry Sylvester Williams and fellow Haitian Bénito Sylvain, he was the organizer of the Panafrican Conference which took place in London in 1900. That conference launched the Panafricanism movement. W.E.B. Du Bois attended the conference and was put in charge of drafting the general report. After the conference, 5 panafrican congresses were held in the 20th century which eventually led to the creation of the African Union.[6]

Firmin was invested in the three main elements of Pan-Africanist thought: the rejection of the postulate of race inequality, proof that Africans were capable of civilization, and examples of successful Africans producing knowledge in diverse fields.[3] In looking to move away from the biological understanding of race, Firmin's scientific approach was informed by the idea of a black Egypt as the source of Roman civilization.[3]

Pan-Caribbeanism[edit]

Anténor Firmin devised between 1875 and 1898 a Caribbean Confederation project which envisioned the unification of Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Puerto Rico.[6]

Firmin was interested in creating political and social unity throughout the Caribbean.[7] This can be seen through his relationship with Puerto Rican intellectual and physician, Ramon Emeterio Betances. The pair first met in a meeting of the Society of Latin American Unity, an organisation that served as a social and political network for exiles from Latin America.[7] It is here where they discussed the ideals of political sovereignty throughout the region. Unlike other icons from the Cuban and Puerto Rican separatist movements, Betances celebration of the Haitian Revolution countered those who did not see Haiti as an ideal revolutionary model, thus excluding it in their own plans for a Hispanic Caribbean federation.

Letters from St.Thomas[edit]

After a failed bid for presidency in 1902, Firmin was sent to live in exile in St. Thomas. In his last works, Letters from St.Thomas, Firmin remaps Haiti in the archipelago of the Americas, outlining its significance to the region as a whole. The letters reinforces Firmin's anti-essentialist agenda first displayed in L'Egalite des Races Humaines.[8]

Selected works[edit]

  • De l'égalité des races humaines - published 1885
  • Haïti et la France - published 1891
  • Une défense - published 1892
  • Diplomate et diplomatie - published 1898
  • M. Roosevelt, Président des États-Unis et la République d'Haïti - published 1905
  • Lettres de Saint-Thomas - published 1910

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Firmin, Anténor; Introduction by Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban (2002). "The Equality of the Human Races". University of Illinois Press. Retrieved 24 January 2010.
  2. ^ Fluehr-Lobban, Carolyn (2005). "Anténor Firmin and Haiti's contribution to anthropology". Gradhiva - musée du quai Branly (2005 : Haïti et l'anthropologie): 95–108.
  3. ^ a b c Magloire-Danton, Gerarde (2005). "Antenor Firmin and Jean Price-Mars: Revolution, Memory, Humanism". Small Axe. 9 (2): 150–170. doi:10.1353/smx.2005.0017. ISSN 1534-6714.
  4. ^ a b c Fluehr-Lobban, Carolyn (September 2000). "Antenor Firmin: Haitian Pioneer of Anthropology". American Anthropologist. 102 (3): 449–466. doi:10.1525/aa.2000.102.3.449. ISSN 0002-7294.
  5. ^ Péan, Leslie (2012). Comprendre Anténor Firmin. Haiti: Editions de l'Université d'Etat d'Haiti. pp. 71–72. ISBN 978-99935-57-50-0.
  6. ^ a b Lara, Oruno D. (2007). Tracées d'Historien. L'Harmattan. pp. 117–119. ISBN 978-2-296-04932-1.
  7. ^ a b Chaar-Pérez (2013). ""A Revolution of Love": Ramón Emeterio Betances, Anténor Firmin, and Affective Communities in the Caribbean". The Global South. 7 (2): 11. doi:10.2979/globalsouth.7.2.11. ISSN 1932-8648.
  8. ^ Dash, J. Michael (June 2004). "Nineteenth-Century Haiti and the Archipelago of the Americas: Anténor Firmin's Letters from St. Thomas". Research in African Literatures. 35 (2): 44–53. doi:10.2979/ral.2004.35.2.44. ISSN 0034-5210.

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