Suzanne Sanité Bélair

I imagine when the Geto Boys penned the lyrics to “Damn it Feels Good to Be a Gangsta,” they weren’t thinking about women being the gangsters. But they should have been. Not the Scarface, Godfather or Bonnie and Clyde kind of gangsters; rather, the cradling the universe while birthing civilizations and fighting for equality at all costs kind of gangsters. Sanité is the movie I want to watch about a gangster. Suzanne Sanité Bélair, a young war hero during the Haitian revolution, died in 1802. Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the first ruler of independent Haiti under the 1805 constitution, called her “the tigress.” I prefer to call her Harriet Tubman’s blueprint for freedom fighting.  

Although Sanité was considered Afranchi, a free person of color, she experienced restrictions to freedom that compelled her to join the fight for Haiti’s independence from France. She married at 15 years old and spent the remaining six years of her life engaged in war with the French army to secure Haiti’s independence. Sanité was fierce and forward thinking, rising to lieutenant in Toussaint Louverture’s army during the Haitian revolution.  

When she was captured, along with her husband, by the French army, she told her beloved to “die bravely” before meeting his death by a firing squad. By law, women had to be decapitated. But she refused to be taken to the block and blind folded. Sanité forced her executioners’ hands demanding to die by firing squad. She was a soldier, after all. Facing imminent death, she fought to die on her terms and won. Sanité was killed in front of an audience of enslaved Haitians (a demonstration by the French of the consequences to seeking freedom). Before she was shot to death she cried out, “Viv Libète anba esklavaj! (“Liberty, no to slavery!”).  

Today, the Haitian government formally recognizes Sanité as a National Heroine of Haiti and commemorates her bravery and defiance on their currency. In America, we’re still waiting for Harriet to get her paper.  

Portrait of Sanite Bélair on a Haitian 10 Gourdes banknote from 2004.
From a series of bank-notes commemorating the 200th anniversary of Haitian independence (1804 - 2004).

 

About the author

Hailing from Glendale, Arizona, Bria Griffith is our Senior VP of Strategy and organizer of Jackson's annual Lemonade Day.
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