La Catastrophe de la Martinique: fifty-six

Pastel drawing of Martiniquaise feeling fearful and resigned

Jean Hess

La Catastrophe de la Martinique







This passage contains, within quotes from interview subjects, some strongly racist opinions.



The journal that represents the radical socialist majority of Martinique voters, the organ of the people of color, of negroes has printed, therefore, these beautiful compliments to the army…

Perhaps one is curious to read, not what was printed by the army, since the army printed nothing, but what was said by the mouths of its officers.

I ought not to write its officers, since I have not heard from all its officers. But I’ve heard many, whether they spoke in groups where I found myself…or, well…nearby.

 Here is a summary of what they say:


“It is shameful to make us work for these dirty negroes, for these pigs, who, since they are victims, want to work no longer, and rest themselves. White soldiers are not meant to be servants to those people, and the drudgery imposed on them makes them servants. They are made to unload food for the victims, as though the victims could not unload their own…but this fatigues these gentlemen.”

A sailor said:

“Happily, the commander of the Navy has said he no longer wants his men hammered with these chores. As a result, the negroes have let the rains damage several tons of commodities.”

A gunner said:

“Now you have to pay all these loafers double when you need a man for heavy labor. The mayor feeds his voters.”

Another who, before being an officer, had been an enfant de troupe [fairly analogous to the term “army brat”], a Breton, said: “It is shameful to see the bread they give to these negroes, of the first quality, white bread such as thousands and thousands of Bretons have never eaten and never will eat, such as they never give to a soldier…monsieur, up to the age of twenty-five years, I had known there was bread like that, but I had never eaten it. And all these negroes are having it for nothing, without working…is it not shameful?”

This tirade, I guarantee it absolutely exact, not only in substance, but in form. It is the same officer who said to me, while showing the Schoelcher library: “See there, see the great gentleman thief, him whose busts and statues we ought to send to the prison hulk, because for him we must see the negro here dominate the white. That was him, who wanted it.”





When I then told this officer that for a long time I had worked with the master, and that the ideas of the great emancipator had been simply to want justice for everyone; that forbidding the white to oppress the black was not at all to deliver the white to the oppression of the black, he supposed I was joking. He did not want to believe.

The army, in Martinique, hates the black. It is still under the blow of the events at Le François. It still has not forgiven the black the disgrace of M. Kahn. And it lets itself be blinded by the prejudice of color. A white officer does not admit that a black man can be a citizen…

I say all the officers with whom I have spoken, or that I have heard speak. Perhaps there are others with whom the passions of race, of caste and of class, have not obscured their reason. But those, I have not yet known.



Article excerpt, Figaro 3 March 1900


The Troubles of Martinique


The journals of Martinique arrived here yesterday carrying to us different versions of the sad events, occurring for a month in the colony; and particularly of the deplorable clash, which, pitting a troop of marines against the strikers, has bloodied the town of Le François.

We know the origin of the conflict. On the 8th of February a detachment of twenty-five soldiers, commanded by Lieutenant Kahn, arrived at Le François, at the request of the mayor, to occupy the Liottier factory that the strikers threatened. The next day, at five in the evening, a band of several hundred strikers presented themselves before the factory, now closed by its director, but before the door of which Lieutenant Kahn had posted his men, with crossed bayonets, while the mayor, M. Clément, spoke to the crowd and tried to restore calm.

On the facts, the different versions are in accord. Where they differ is on the manner of the fusillade which exploded, felling, alas! to the ground nine dead and fourteen wounded.








La Catastrophe de la Martinique

Public domain photo of candles for Martinique deadSee more on Catastrophe page
Catastrophe: fifty-seven














(1902, Jean Hess, La Catastrophe de la Martinique; 2019, translation, Stephanie Foster)



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