France Racism: Paris commemorates the figure of the slave rebellion

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Paris will erect a statue of a black woman involved in a 1802 rebellion against slavery on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe.

The woman, named Solitude only, was captured and possibly executed.

Opening a public garden on Saturday in her honor, the mayoress of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, called Solitude a “heroine” and a “strong symbol”.

The history of slavery in France has come under new scrutiny, in part because of the American Black Lives Matter protests.

The public commemoration of colonial personalities such as the 17th century statesman Jean-Baptiste Colbert, who codified slavery abroad and who is remembered by a statue in front of the national parliament in Paris, has been arrested .

But President Emmanuel Macron spoke out against the removal of statues or names of controversial figures, offering instead a “lucid look at our history and our memory”.

Very little is surely known, with only one brief mention written in a 19th century history of Guadeloupe, according to Unesco.

This account reports that Solitude, a Métis woman, was arrested among “a band of insurgents” during an uprising against slavery – which had been reinstated by Napoleon after being abolished during the French Revolution.

She was sentenced to death, the story notes, but allowed to give birth before being “tortured” – an ambiguous term that could mean that she was actually put to death, by flogging for example.

Loneliness was portrayed in a 1972 work of fiction by French writer André Schwarz-Bart and a statue already honors it in Abymes, Guadeloupe.

The Jardin de la Solitude is located on the Place du Général Catroux in the north-west of Paris, where a statue will be erected in time.

If a statue of a black woman would be rare in the French capital, it would not be without precedent. American artist and French Resistance agent Josephine Baker (1906-75) was honored with both a square and a monument.

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