Courtesy Reuters

Tension in the French West Indies

THERE are explosive possibilities in the French West Indies. For three years the predominantly Negro populations of Martinique and Guadeloupe have been stirring restlessly under the heavy hand of Admiral Robert and the French Navy. During that time these French authorities have been able to invoke the love which all West Indians feel for France in support of their policies. The Allied occupation of North Africa and the end of the fiction that Vichy was independent have removed that moral prop; there no longer is a legitimate or quasi-legitimate French Government on which the Admiral can depend for authority. The only factor except naked force which has kept the latent dissatisfaction of the population from bursting forth in action is gone.

II

Throughout the West Indies, the fertility of the soil and the difficulties which Europeans experience in doing hard physical work in the tropics, early prompted the importation of Negro slaves from Africa. In the French islands, the living conditions of the slaves certainly were not happy. But thanks to the influence of the clergy and to the family organization of French life, the French Negroes were less miserable than those of some neighboring colonies. In the rural regions, especially, masters acted as natural protectors of their slaves. Some were granted their freedom; the most intelligent and reliable were given positions of trust on the plantations or in commerce; a black militia was created. These were decisive steps in the improvement of the masses, and they drew the whites and Negroes unusually close together.

Many wrongs still existed, nevertheless. Nor could the Negroes forget that Christian doctrine taught the equality of all men before God. By the eve of the Revolution of 1789, their desire for liberty and for better living conditions had become general. The whites themselves were influenced by the liberal philosophies of the eighteenth century and opposed the freeing of the slaves only because it would ruin the whole economic system of the islands.

The suppression of slavery

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