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25168: Hermantin (News)A Monumental Undertaking (fwd)
From: leonie hermantin <email@example.com>
Posted on Sun, May. 22, 2005
A MONUMENTAL UNDERTAKING
A Miami nonprofit hopes to raise about $500,000 to build a monument honoring
Haitian soldiers who fought in the Siege of Savannah during the American
BY DARRAN SIMON
With steady hands, James Mastin shaves clay and wax from the knees and
knuckles of a statue honoring Haitian soldiers who fought in one of the
bloodiest battles of the American Revolution.
The life-size statue and five others the Miami artist plans to sculpt
commemorate more than 500 Haitian soldiers who fought in Georgia against the
British during the Siege of Savannah in October 1779.
One of Mastin's works, a statue of Haitian founding father Toussaint
L'Ouverture, was unveiled Saturday in Little Haiti.
The Miami-based Haitian American Historical Society, which commissioned
Mastin's Georgia work, is seeking about $500,000 from corporations and South
Florida businesses to mount and maintain the pieces in Savannah's Benjamin
The group has raised $100,000 so far, and it hopes to raise the remaining
$500,000 by August so the monument can be installed in October, 226 years
after the siege.
The monument got a boost last month when Haiti's interim Prime Minister,
Gerard Latortue, flew to Savannah from Pope John Paul II's funeral in Rome
to show his support.
''Haiti cannot afford to have this project fail,'' Latortue said at a
reception in the Savannah History Museum, situated on the siege battlefield.
The soldiers, free black men from Haiti -- then a French colony -- became
the largest military unit to fight in the siege, joining French and American
troops. The troops failed to drive the British from Savannah but did help
fend off a British counterattack. That allowed the Revolutionary forces to
retreat. They would later be victorious at Yorktown.
PRIDE AND JUSTICE
''`For us, it's a matter of pride. It's a matter . . . of justice,'' said
Claude Charles, historian of the 13-member Haitian American Historical
Society. ``It's history revisited.''
''The fog of history has denied us a lot of details, but there is no denying
that Haitians were part of the French forces and participated in the siege
and the battle of Oct. 9,'' said Scott W. Smith, executive director of the
Savannah-based Coastal Heritage Society.
Daniel Fils-Aime, chairman of the Miami-based society, added: ``The Haitians
saved the day.''
The siege was the second-bloodiest Revolution battle, next to Bunker Hill.
The Haitian soldiers went on to fight in other clashes, like the battle of
Pensacola, and helped Haiti win independence from France, monument
The monument will bring ''a sense of pride to us as members of the American
society,'' said Marcel Fontin, a historical society board member and
Pembroke Pines resident who plans to travel to Savannah with his family for
the ceremony once the monument is done.
Supporters say the monument would educate Haitian Americans and other
people, particularly children, about a history sparsely covered in the
'This was our parents', our ancestors', blood,'' said Jean F. Colin,
executive director of the Cooper City-based Haitian Health Foundation of
ONE OF A KIND
It would be the first monument in Savannah honoring soldiers of color who
fought in the American Revolution. The historic city of Savannah has more
than 40 monuments.
The project has the support of people like Savannah businessman Richard
Shinhoster, former president of the board of the Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil
Rights Museum in Savannah.
Society Chairman Fils-Aime told Shinhoster of the monument idea when the two
met five years ago at a summit.
''After meeting Daniel Fils-Aime, I just believed in his dream,'' Shinhoster
The bronze monument would stand on a six-foot pedestal near Savannah's
downtown waterfront, close to the First African Baptist Church -- perhaps
the oldest black church in North America, according to church records. One
figure is of former Haitian King Henri Christophe, depicted as a young
Sculptor Mastin still has to chisel the statue's facial features and
details, like the buttons on the jacket. The figures will be cast in bronze
and transported to Savannah.
For Mastin, the sculpture is a chance to continue exploring his interest in
the Haitian struggle. Some of his pieces, like works of Christophe and
Toussaint L'Ouverture, are on display in Haiti and France.
''If you want to do monumental work, inspiring work, you have to find
somebody who is inspired,'' said Mastin.