Haitian Flag Day

Haitian Flag Day

Date Observed: May 18
Location: Haiti and some U.S. cities

Haitian Flag Day is observed on May 18 in Haiti and in a number of U.S. cities with large populations of Haitian Americans. Many Africans of the diaspora, regardless of their ancestry, also join in the holiday celebration, because it commemorates the slave revolt in Haiti that led to the country's independence from France and also prompted slave uprisings in America.

Historical Background

During the 1700s in the French West Indies colony of St. Domingue (later renamed Haiti), a few French families owned huge sugar plantations and brought in more than one half million slaves from Africa to work the fields. As in some other parts of the Western Hemisphere, many plantation owners treated slaves brutally, often working them to death.

In 1789 a revolution broke out in France, and the ideals of liberty and equality expressed by the revolutionaries quickly spread to the colonial plantation owners and merchants, who demanded freedom from French rule. Free blacks and people of mixed race wanted social justice. And slaves were ready to fight for their freedom.

The most successful slave uprising in history began in August 1791. A former Creole slave, Toussaint Louverture (too-SAN loo-vehr-TYOOR), was a leading figure in the revolution. He trained an army of slaves who fought against tens of thousands of French, Spanish, and British soldiers. An estimated 350,000 people died, most of them slaves, in the Haitian Revolution before independence was won in 1804.

The French captured Toussaint in 1802 and sent him to France, where he died in prison in 1803. Two other Haitian leaders took up the fight: Jean Jacques Dessalines and Henri Christophe.

Creation of the Holiday

When Dessalines and other leaders decided to march on what is now Port-au-Prince, they wanted to carry a flag that would represent their troops. On May 18, 1803, they pieced together a design for the official flag. Since then, May 18 has been known as Haitian Flag Day.

The design of the new flag began with the French flag made up of blue, white, and red bands. The white band was removed to indicate that the French no longer controlled the colony. A woman named Catherine Flon sewed the new flag together, using vertical bands of blue and red cloth. Blue represented blacks and mixed-race people, and red symbolized their blood.

Over the years the nation's flag has been modified several times, but Flag Day itself has remained the same as the day the nation's flag was first sewn together. May 18 is a major national holiday in Haiti.


Haitians celebrate Flag Day on the grounds of the national palace, and Haitians in the diaspora also honor the Haitian flag. In the United States, for example, Haitian Flag Day is celebrated in public and private schools in cities with Haitian-American populations. Students are likely to carry the Haitian flag with them during a week of commemoration, and school events emphasize Haitian history and culture.

Each year on the last Sunday in May, New York City's Haitian Day Parade processes down Toussaint Louverture Boulevard (also known as Nostrand Avenue) in Brooklyn. Organized by the Haitian-American Carnival Association since 2002, the parade is followed by a festival featuring Haitian music and food.

Boston observes May as Haitian Heritage Month. Events include a Flag-Raising Day as well as a parade. In Florida, Haitian Flag Day is celebrated in cities such as Tampa, Delray Beach, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, and others, and events include Haitian food, music, and art exhibits. In 2004 special festivities in such cities as Brooklyn, New York, and Miami, Florida, marked the 200th anniversary of Haiti's independence.

The Haitian Flag

The current Haitian flag is made up of two horizontal bands: a blue one on top and a red one below. Red symbolizes the blood and the sacrifices made during the Haitian Revolution, and blue stands for hope and unity. The slogan on the flag reads L'union fait la force , "In unity we find strength."

Contacts and Web Sites

Haitian-American Carnival Association, Inc. P.O. Box 863 Wall St. Station New York, NY 10268 718-434-9250

Haitian Americans United 10 Fairway St., Ste. 218 P.O. Box 260440 Mattapan, MA 02126 617-298-2976

Haitian Bicentennial Committee

Tampa Haitian Flag Day Festival Motown Maurice Productions P.O. Box 272507 Tampa, FL 33688 813-951-0794

Further Reading

Aptheker, Herbert. American Negro Slave Revolts. 5th ed. New York: International Publishers, 1987. Auguste, Wilner. "Gearing Up for a Month-Long Celebration of Haitian Pride." Dorchest- er Reporter (Boston, MA), April 9, 2005. . Charles, Jacqueline. "Parties, Protests Mark Haiti Flag." Miami Herald, May 18, 2005. Lush, Tamara. "Haitian Roots Deepening." St. Petersburg Times, May 6, 2002. Simon, Darran. "Haitians to Raise Flags for Unity." Miami Herald, May 17, 2004.
African-American Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations, 1st ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2007
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