Chair of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn on Thursday celebrated the 220th anniversary of the Haitian Flag, noting that Haitian Flag Day is a celebration of freedom from French colonizers, who occupied the French-speaking Caribbean nation and forced Haitians into slavery.
“Our ancestors’ tremendous bravery is the very reason we celebrate our freedom today, and why Haiti is an inspiration to nations as the first free Black republic in the world,” said Bichotte Hermelyn, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, who represents the 42nd Assembly District in Brooklyn.
“We are the sons and daughters of revolutionaries, and we must carry their legacy forward and recognize their struggles by continuing to champion their values of equity and civil rights for all,” she added. “We must keep carrying the torch of our Haitian resiliency and altruism, as Haitians here and in our home country band together in the face of recent adversity and natural disasters.
“Today, we stand in solidarity with all Haitians and embrace and uplift one another,” Bichotte Hermelyn continued.
She said that Gen. Toussaint Louverture, a former slave of the French colony, had commanded his revolutionary army to many victories in the Haitian Revolution, and is now known as the “Father of Haiti.”
“Although Louverture died before the final stage of the Haitian Revolution, his achievements set the grounds for the Haitian army’s final victory,” said Bichotte Hermelyn, stating that on May 18, 1803, revolutionary leader Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Louverture’s lieutenant, tore up a French tricolor flag (blue, white and red), “and threw the white portion away.”
She said Catherine Flon, a Haitian seamstress and goddaughter of Dessalines, stitched together the remaining parts horizontally to create the first version of the Haitian Flag.
The following year, Bichotte Hermelyn noted that Dessalines led the first successful slave revolt in history, and that Haiti gained independence from France to become the second country in the Western Hemisphere, after the United States of America, to free itself from colonial rule.
“Ever since, Haiti has been an inspiration to nations around the world,” she said. “Flon is also now widely recognized as the creator of the first flag of the independent Republic of Haiti, and Haitian Flag Day is an opportunity for us to acknowledge women’s role in the revolution.
“Flon’s story will continue to be a celebrated part of our culture and women’s contributions to it,” the assemblywoman added.
On Wednesday, New York City Mayor Eric Adams joined Haitians and Haitian-American legislators in the New York City Council at a flag-raising ceremony for Haiti at Bowling Green in the Wall Street Financial District in lower Manhattan.
Among the elected officials at the ceremony were Brooklyn representatives, Haitian-born Rita Joseph and Mercedes Narcisse, and Farah Louis, the daughter of Haitian and Bahamian immigrants.
“Last year was the first time this flag was raised here,” Adams told the ceremony. “Although you were in this country and building this country as nurses, doctors, professionals, engineers, no one saw it fitting to raise the flag here at Bowling Green until you got a mayor that says, ‘I’m of you, I’m part of you, and your flag will raise here’.
“I did not come here to leave folks outside. I came here to bring people inside who have been ignored for years,” he added. “In the spirit of Toussaint Louverture, you brought the spirit and energy of being fighters. That is who you are. That is who you are going to continue to be.
“And I enjoy being side by side fighting for you to make this city where we know it could be,” the mayor continued.
In early May, the New York State Assembly passed a resolution that Bichotte Hermelyn introduced in formally designating May as Haitian Heritage Month statewide.
Speaking to the chamber, Bichotte Hermelyn – the first Haitian American woman elected in New York City – noted the importance of “Haitian Heritage Month commemorating the heart and soul of the people of Haiti in New York, and our home country, Haiti.”
“New York is a symbol of freedom to people worldwide, and Haiti was the first free Black nation in the western hemisphere,” she said, stating that Haitian Creole is one of the top 10 languages spoken in New York City, and that New York City has the largest concentration of Haitians in the United States, as well as the oldest established Haitian communities of the country.
The assemblywoman also said of “vital importance” is celebrating “Haitian history and culture as a beacon of historical freedom”, stating that Haiti is the first independent Black republic in the world.
She said Haitian holidays recognized by New York State include Haitian Flag Day and Haitian Unity Day, which are celebrated on May 18.
“Although this has not been an easy time for Haitians, we remain resilient,” said Bichotte Hermelyn, noting the recent earthquakes, pandemic and political turmoil affecting Haiti.
“As the first Haitian-American woman from New York City to serve in Albany (New York’s capital) as a state legislator, and as a proud resident of Little Haiti Brooklyn in Assembly District 42, which recently welcomed a train station rededication, now named ‘Little Haiti-Newkirk’ – where the surrounding streets are named after our Black revolutionaries, I thank you all for supporting this recognition of our culture,” she told the State Assembly.