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Jacob Lawrence:  Heroes



Toussaint L'Ouverture

Francois Dominique Toussaint was born a slave in Haiti.  He was a smart young man and his owner allowed him to get an education so he could become a servant in his house.  It was unusual for slaves to be taught to read and write, but Toussaint read as many books as he could.  One of  the people he read about was Julius Caesar who commanded a large army and won many wars.  When there was an uprising of slaves against their owners, Toussaint helped the master who had been kind to him to escape with his family.  Then Toussaint led the other slaves in battles against the French soldiers who were trying to rule Haiti and would not allow an end to slavery.  Toussaint was such a skillful general that he was able to win many battles.  For this he was called "L'Ouverture", which meant, in French, that he could make an "opening" in the lines of the enemy soldiers he was fighting.  He was able to defeat them, even when they had better weapons and more men than he did.  Napoleon, who was the emperor of France, said he would make peace with Toussaint.  But he lied and put Toussaint in a dungeon.  Toussaint said when Napoleon captured him, "In arresting me, you've only pulled down the trunk of the tree of freedom; it will outgrow from its roots for they are deep and numerous".  He was right.  Six months after Toussaint L'Ouverture died in a French  prison, Napoleon's soldiers gave up and left Haiti.  It became the first free black republic in the western hemisphere in 1804.


From Brooklyn College Portraits

Here is another picture of Toussaint L'Ouverture.  It is in a realistic style.  Jacob Lawrence painted in a style called abstract.  Abstract art uses colors and shapes to show meanings and ideas about the subject.  Abstract artists aren't trying to make their subjects look real.  Instead, they want you to think about them yourself and figure out what  the pictures are about.

What do you think Jacob Lawrence wanted you to understand about Toussaint L'Ouverture when he painted him riding on his horse?  What ideas and feelings do you get when you look at his picture?

Toussaint L'Ouverture was using figurative language when he said that Napoleon pulled down the trunk of the tree of freedom, but the roots would continue to grow.  What do you think he meant by that?  Who was the "trunk"?  What  were the "roots of freedom"?

Here are some more things you can read about Toussaint L'Ouverture.
Books
Toussaint L'Ouverture: The Fight for Haiti's Freedom, by Jacob Lawrence
Published:  Simon and Schuster Children's, 1996
ISBN (Identification Number) 0689801262

Toussaint L'Ouverture, Lover of Liberty, by Laurence Santrey, Gershom Griffith
Published:  Troll Books,  1994
ISBN (Identification Number) 0816728240 
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