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France racism: Paris to commemorate slave rebellion figure


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image captionMayor Hidalgo opened the Solitude Garden on Saturday

Paris is to put up a statue of a black woman involved in a 1802 rebellion against slavery on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe.

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

Opening a public garden in her honour on Saturday, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo called Solitude a “heroine” and a “strong symbol”.

France’s history of slavery has been under new scrutiny, in part because of the US Black Lives Matter protests.

There has been soul-searching over public commemoration of colonial figures such as 17th-Century statesman Jean-Baptiste Colbert, who codified overseas slavery and is remembered by a statue outside the national parliament in Paris.

But President Emmanuel Macron has spoken against removing statues or names of controversial figures, offering instead a “clear-headed look at our history and our memory”.

Who was Solitude?

Very little is known for sure, with

just one brief written mention

in a 19th-Century history of Guadeloupe, according to Unesco.

That account records that Solitude, a mixed-race 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 history notes, but allowed to give birth before being “tortured” – an ambiguous term which could mean she was indeed put to death, through flogging for example.

Solitude was portrayed in a 1972 work of fiction by French writer André Schwarz-Bart and a statue already honours her in Les Abymes, Guadeloupe.

The Solitude Garden is located on Place du Général Catroux in north-western Paris, where a statue will be erected in time.

While a statue of a black woman would be rare in the French capital, it would not be unprecedented. The US entertainer and French Resistance agent Josephine Baker (1906-75) has been

honoured by both a square and a monument

.

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