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Haitian Heritage Month, 2016
Background Information, Lesson Plans, and Internet Resources for the Secondary Classroom

Miami-Dade County Public Schools

Department of Social Sciences

May 2016 (Revised)
Ms. Perla Tabares Hantman, Chair
Dr. Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall, Vice-Chair
Ms. Susie V. Castillo
Dr. Lawrence S. Feldman
Dr. Wilbert “Tee” Holloway
Dr. Martin Karp
Ms. Lubby Navarro
Dr. Marta Pérez Wurtz
Ms. Raquel A. Regalado

Logan Schroeder Stephens

Student Advisor

Mr. Alberto M. Carvalho

Superintendent of Schools

Mrs. Maria L. Izquierdo, Chief Academic Officer

Office of Academics and Transformation

Ms. Lissette M. Alves, Assistant Superintendent

Division of Academics

Mr. Robert C. Brazofsky, Executive Director

Department of Social Sciences

Introduction and an Instructional Note to Teachers about

Haitian Heritage History Month
Haitian Heritage Month is celebrated each May. This occasion gives our diverse community the opportunity to recognize and celebrate the many historic, social, and cultural contributions Haitians have made to our community, nation, and world.
To assist teachers, staff in the Department of Social Sciences has developed this instructional resource guide that includes background information, detailed lesson plans, character education activities, and Internet resources to support Haitian Heritage Month. The resources in this guide include:

  • BACKGROUND INFORMATION - Background information that is helpful for both the teacher and student is provided.

  • LESSONS, ACTIVITIES, AND STRATEGIES FOR SECONDARY STUDENTS - Detailed lesson plans with all support materials needed to complete the lessons are provided in this section of the guide.

  • INTERNET RESOURCES - Related background information, lesson plans and interactive activities may be found on the web sites listed in this section of the guide.

  • SECONDARY CHARACTER EDUCATION RESOURCES – Additional lesson ideas are included to support the core value of “integrity,” which has been designated by the District for the month of May.

Background Information

  • Haiti - World Book (Advanced), 2014

  • Facts About Haiti

  • A Chronology of Key Events in the History of Haiti

  • Maps of Haiti

  • Haitian Flag Day, Flag, and Shield

  • Haiti Earthquake - Fast Facts

  • Hurricanes and Haiti: A Tragic History


The article below on Haiti is an excellent overview of the nation’s geography, history and people. The article is intended primarily as a reference for teachers.
The article is from the on-line edition of the World Book Encyclopedia Advanced (2014) available for students and teachers through the Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ Department of Library Media Services. To access the full article:

  1. Visit Library Media Services at

(Password needed. Check with the Media Specialist.)

  1. Click the On-line Data Bases and select World Book Online Reference Center

  2. Select World Book Advanced

  3. Search for the article entitled “Haiti.”

Introduction - Haiti is a country in the Caribbean region. It covers the western third of the island of Hispaniola, which lies between Cuba and Puerto Rico in the Caribbean Sea. The Dominican Republic covers eastern Hispaniola. Most of Haiti is mountainous, and the country's name comes from an Indian word that means high ground.
Haiti’s official name in French is République d’Haiti. Its official name in Creole is Repiblik dAyiti. Both official names mean Republic of Haiti. Port-au-Prince is Haiti’s capital and largest city.
Haiti is the oldest black republic in the world. In addition, it is the second oldest independent nation in the Western Hemisphere. Only the United States is older. Haiti has been independent since 1804. Most of the time, it has been ruled by dictators.
Haiti is one of the most densely populated and least developed countries in the Western Hemisphere. Many Haitians are farmers who raise food mainly for their families. The country has a shortage of hospitals and doctors. Because of poor diet and medical care - especially in rural areas - the average life expectancy in Haiti is only about 50 years.
Christopher Columbus, an Italian navigator in the service of Spain, arrived at Hispaniola in 1492. His crew established a Spanish base in what is now Haiti. Later, French settlers developed Haiti into what was then the richest colony in the Caribbean.
Government - A president serves as Haiti's head of state. The people elect the president to a five-year term. The president appoints a prime minister to serve as head of the government. A parliament called the National Assembly makes the country's laws. The people elect members of the upper house, called the Senate, to six-year terms. Members of the lower house, called the Chamber of Deputies, are elected to four-year terms.
People - Most of the people are descendants of Africans brought to Haiti to work as slaves. A majority of Haitians live in the country's overcrowded coastal plains and mountain valleys, where the soil is most productive. A typical Haitian family grows beans, corn, rice, yams, and other necessities on a tiny plot of land. They may also raise chickens, pigs, or goats. The family usually lives in a one-room dwelling built with a thatched roof and walls made of sticks covered with dried mud.
Most Haitian farmers use a hoe to till their land. Sometimes, a farmer will request help from other farmers for major jobs such as clearing the land, planting, or harvesting crops. This type of cooperative effort is called a combite (also spelled coumbite). During a combite, the farmers encourage one another with music and singing.
Most Haitians belong to the Roman Catholic Church. However, the religious beliefs and practices of many Haitians are strongly influenced by African customs. As a result, a religion known as Vodou exists in Haiti. People who follow Vodou, sometimes called Voodoo, believe that by performing certain ceremonies they can be monte (taken over) by spirits. For example, ahoungan (Vodou priest) draws a veve (sacred design) on the ground with flour. Then, the people dance until spirits have taken over one or more of them. The followers of Vodou believe in many spirits, such as the gods of rain, love, war, and farming. Since the mid-1900’s, a growing number of Haitians have become Protestants.
About 5 percent of the people of Haiti are mulattoes (people of mixed African and European ancestry). Most mulattoes belong to the middle or upper class, and many have been educated abroad. A few Americans, Europeans, and Syrians also live in Haiti. Most Haitians speak Creole, a language partly based on French. The middle and upper classes also speak French.
Land - Mountains cover about 80 percent of Haiti. Two chains of rugged mountains run across the northern and southern parts of Haiti and form two peninsulas at the west end of the island. The northern peninsula juts about 100 miles (160 kilometers) into the Atlantic Ocean, and the southern peninsula extends about 200 miles (320 kilometers) into the Caribbean Sea. A gulf, Golfe de la Gonave, and an island, Île de la Gonave, lie between the two peninsulas. The wide Artibonite Valley of the Artibonite River lies between the mountains in eastern Haiti. Tortue Island (also called Tortuga Island) lies off the northern coast. Tropical pines and mahogany forests cover some mountains, and tropical fruit trees grow on others.
The people grow coffee and cacao (seeds used to make cocoa and chocolate) in the mountains. Rice and sugar cane are the main crops in the black, fertile soil of the Artibonite Valley. Because of a shortage of suitable land, farmers raise crops wherever they can, even on steep mountain slopes. In some mountain areas, overcultivation has resulted in serious soil erosion.
Haiti has a tropical climate with mild temperatures. Temperatures range from 70 to 95 °F (21 to 35 °C) along the coasts and from 50 to 75 °F (10 to 24 °C) in the mountains. The tropical forests in the northern mountains receive about 80 inches (200 centimeters) of rain a year. The southern coast receives less than 40 inches (100 centimeters). Destructive hurricanes sometimes strike the country between June and October.
Economy - Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world. Frequent natural disasters and political unrest have weakened the country's economy. Haiti has a high unemployment rate. Many Haitians live in poverty. Remittances (money sent home) from Haitians living abroad and foreign aid are important to the economy.
Haiti's economy relies largely on agriculture. Many of Haiti's workers are farmers. But most farmers own barely enough land to grow food for their families. The country grows bananas, beans, coffee, corn, mangoes, rice, sugar cane, and yams. Haitian farmers raise beef and dairy cattle, chickens, goats, and hogs.
Haiti has few industries. The country's factories produce cement, clothing and textiles, and food and beverage products. Craft workers in the cities sell handicrafts to tourists. Mining plays a small role in Haiti's economy.
Haiti imports much more than it exports. The United States is Haiti's leading trade partner. The country imports machinery, motor vehicles, petroleum products, rice, and sugar. It exports clothing, cocoa, fruits, and oils.
Haiti has a poor transportation system. The country has no railroads and most roads are unpaved. Port-au-Prince has an international airport. Cap-Haïtien and Port-au-Prince have important seaports. Some cruise ships stop at Labadie, a small resort on Haiti’s northern coast.

History - Haiti has had a tumultuous history. Europeans controlled what is now Haiti from the 1500's through the 1700's. Military leaders and dictators ruled Haiti during much of the 1900's. In addition, peacekeeping forces from various countries have occupied Haiti on and off since the 1990's. Natural disasters also have caused serious problems for the nation.

Colonial Days - Christopher Columbus arrived at an island he named Hispaniola in 1492. One of his ships, the Santa Maria, ran aground on Christmas Day on reefs near the present-day city of Cap-Haïtien. Columbus's crew used the ship's timber to build a fort, which Columbus named Fort Navidad. Some of the crew stayed to hold the fort when Columbus sailed on. But the Arawak Indians who lived on the island destroyed the fort and killed the men.
Columbus discovered gold in what is now the Dominican Republic. Other Spanish settlers then rushed to Hispaniola. They forced the Indians to mine gold and raise food. They treated the Indians so harshly that by 1530 only a few hundred Indians were alive. Africans were then brought in and forced to work as slaves.
Spanish settlers began leaving Hispaniola for more prosperous Spanish settlements in Peru and Mexico. By 1606, there were so few Spaniards left on Hispaniola that the king of Spain ordered them to move closer to the city of Santo Domingo (in what is now the Dominican Republic). French, English, and Dutch settlers then took over the abandoned northern and western coasts of Hispaniola. Many settlers became pirates called buccaneers. The buccaneers used the small island of Tortue (also called Tortuga) as a base and attacked ships carrying gold and silver to Spain. The Spanish tried to drive out the buccaneers but failed. In 1697, Spain recognized French control of the western third of the island.
France named its new colony Saint-Domingue. French colonists brought in Africans as slaves and developed big coffee and spice plantations. By 1788, there were eight times as many slaves (almost 500,000) as colonists.
Independence - In 1791, during the French Revolution, the slaves in Saint-Domingue rebelled against their French masters. The slaves destroyed plantations and towns. Toussaint Louverture, a former slave, took control of the government and restored some order to the colony. Toussaint wanted to separate Saint-Domingue from France. He wrote a constitution that essentially removed Saint-Domingue from French control. But Napoleon I came to power in France in 1799, and in 1802, he sent an army to Saint-Domingue to restore French rule. After several battles, the army sent by Napoleon captured Toussaint and imprisoned him in France, where he later died. In Saint-Domingue, many of the French soldiers caught yellow fever and died. After a long campaign, the African rebels defeated the French army in 1803. On Jan. 1, 1804, General Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the leader of the rebels, proclaimed the colony an independent country named Haiti.
Dessalines became the nation's first chief of state. When he was killed in 1806, two other generals, Alexandre Pétion and Henri Christophe, struggled for power. Pétion took control of southern Haiti, and Christophe took control of the northern part of the country. Jean-Pierre Boyer replaced Pétion in 1818 and reunited the country after Christophe committed suicide in 1820. In 1821, Boyer took control of the Spanish colony in eastern Hispaniola. Haiti ruled it until the colony revolted in 1844. During the next 70 years, 32 different men ruled Haiti. Unrest spread throughout the country.
U.S. Occupation - In 1915, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson sent Marines to Haiti to restore order. He feared other nations might try to take Haiti if unrest continued. Haitians resented this interference. The U.S. occupation force made Haiti make payments on its large debts to other countries. The force strengthened the government; built highways, schools, and hospitals; and set up a sanitation program that eliminated yellow fever in Haiti. The U.S. force withdrew in 1934, and Haiti regained control of its own affairs. The next two Haitian presidents encouraged foreign companies to invest money in Haiti. But the upper-class benefited most from these investments.
Military Rulers and Dictators - Army officers took control of Haiti's government in 1946, and again in 1949 after riots broke out. An army officer, Paul Magloire, was elected president in 1950. He resigned in 1956 when rioting broke out, and the army took control of the government again.
François Duvalier, a country doctor, was elected president of Haiti in 1957. In 1964, he declared himself president for life. Duvalier ruled as a dictator. In 1971, Haiti's Constitution was amended to allow the president to choose his successor. Duvalier chose his son, Jean-Claude. François Duvalier died in April 1971. Jean-Claude, then only 19 years old, succeeded him. He also declared himself president for life and ruled as a dictator. Both the Duvaliers controlled Haiti's armed forces and a secret police force. The secret police enforced the Duvaliers' policies, often using violence. The people called the secret police Tontons Macoutes (bogeymen).
In the early 1970's, many people left Haiti because of poor economic conditions and severe treatment by the secret police. In 1986, Haitians staged a revolt against Jean-Claude Duvalier. Jean-Claude fled from Haiti. Lieutenant General Henri Namphy became head of the government. Namphy tried to disband the Tontons Macoutes but failed.
A constitution adopted in March 1987 provided for presidential and national assembly elections by the people. But the government tried to shift control of the elections from a civilian electoral council to the army. The presidential election was to be held on Nov. 29, 1987. But as a result of terrorist attacks on voters at polling places, the election was canceled. In January 1988, new elections were held. The voters elected a parliament and a civilian president. In June 1988, Namphy overthrew the government and seized power. He declared himself president of a military government.
In September 1988, officers of Haiti's Presidential Guard seized power from Namphy. Lieutenant General Prosper Avril declared himself president and began to rule as a dictator. In March 1990, Avril resigned his office following protests against his rule.
The Aristide Years - In December 1990, the Haitian people elected Jean-Bertrand Aristide as president. However, in September 1991, military leaders overthrew Aristide. Aristide fled the country. The Organization of American States (OAS), an association of North and South American nations, led a trade boycott against Haiti designed to force Aristide's return to power. The United Nations (UN) later imposed its own boycott. Following the coup, many Haitians attempted to flee to the United States in small boats. At first, the U.S. government forced most of the refugees to return to Haiti. Later, the government sent fleeing refugees to the U.S. military base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
On July 3, 1993, the Haitian military agreed to allow Aristide to return to office and restore a democratic government by October 30. But the military leaders failed to carry out the agreement and barred Aristide from returning. The UN and the United States demanded that the agreement be followed. On Sept. 18, 1994, the United States began sending troops to Haiti to force the Haitian military to do so. The military then agreed to give up control and allow Aristide to return. United States troops were stationed in Haiti to help keep order. Aristide returned to office in October. The OAS and UN boycotts were then ended. The refugees at Guantánamo returned to Haiti.
Most U.S. troops left Haiti in March 1995, though some remained as part of a UN peacekeeping force. In late 1995, René Préval, a member of Aristide's Lavalas coalition, was elected president. Préval took office in early 1996. The United States withdrew the last of its combat troops from Haiti in April 1996. UN peacekeepers withdrew in December 1998. Aristide was again elected to the presidency in November 2000. He took office in early 2001.
Under Aristide, Haiti suffered economic hardship and political instability. His opponents claimed that the presidential and legislative elections held in 2000 were fraudulent. As a result, foreign donors refused to release aid to Haiti. Coup attempts and demonstrations both for and against Aristide erupted in Haiti in the years following the election. Political opposition groups refused to take part in or deal with a government that included Aristide.
In early 2004, a violent rebellion spread across northern Haiti. The rebels, who included former members of Haiti's army, demanded Aristide's resignation. On February 29, Aristide resigned and fled to Africa. Soon afterward, a U.S.-led peacekeeping force arrived in Haiti. The chief justice of Haiti's Supreme Court, Boniface Alexandre, became president of a transitional government. In exile, Aristide said that the United States had forced him to resign, but U.S. officials denied the charge. In June 2004, the U.S.-led peacekeeping force handed over its duties to a UN peacekeeping force led by Brazil.
The early 2000's. In May 2004, flash floods from torrential rains caused widespread destruction in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. More than 1,400 people were killed in the two countries, and more than 1,800 others were missing. In Haiti, entire villages were wiped out, including Mapou and Fond Verrettes. Extensive deforestation of Hispaniola contributed to the flooding. In September, flooding and mud slides caused by Tropical Storm Jeanne killed over 3,000 people in Haiti.
In February 2006, Haitians voted for a president and parliament to replace the interim government that had held power since 2004. An electoral commission declared former President René Préval the winner following accusations of election fraud and street protests in Préval's favor. Préval, a former ally of President Aristide, belonged to the L'Espwa (The Hope) party and had wide support among Haiti's poor.
Tropical storms and hurricanes killed hundreds of Haitians and left many thousands homeless in August and September 2008. The city of Gonaïves was largely destroyed, and the country's agriculture suffered huge losses.
In April 2008, rioting broke out in Les Cayes and Port-au-Prince over steeply rising food prices. In response, the Haitian parliament dismissed Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis, claiming he had not done enough to improve the troubled economy. Michèle Pierre-Louis, Haiti's second woman prime minister, replaced him in September. In October 2009, the Senate dissolved Pierre-Louis's government because of her economic policies. President Préval then appointed Jean-Max Bellerive, Pierre-Louis's minister of planning and external cooperation, as prime minister.
A powerful earthquake struck southern Haiti in January 2010. About 316,000 people were killed, and more than a million were left homeless by the disaster. An outbreak of cholera detected in October added to the country's hardship.
In January 2011, former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier returned to Haiti after about 25 years in exile. He was charged with corruption and human rights abuses from the time of his rule. Duvalier died of a heart attack in 2014. In March 2011, former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide also returned to Haiti following several years in exile. The same month, the popular Haitian singer Michel Martelly was elected as Haiti's new president. In October, Martelly appointed UN development expert Garry Conille as his prime minister. Conille resigned in February 2012, owing to conflicts within the government. Laurent Lamothe, Haiti's foreign minister, succeeded Conille as prime minister in May.
In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy killed more than 50 people and left tens of thousands of others homeless. The storm also caused extensive crop damage, raising worries about food shortages.
In December 2014, Prime Minister Lamothe resigned amid tensions over long-delayed legislative and municipal elections. Elections had been delayed several years because of a stalemate over election law. Haiti's parliament was dissolved in January 2015, when legislators' terms ended. President Michel Martelly was left to rule by decree. He chose Evans Paul, a former mayor of Port-au-Prince, as his new prime minister and appointed a cabinet. The government also created an electoral council to organize elections.

Source: adapted from World Book (Advanced), 2014

Facts about Haiti
History - The native Taino Indians inhabited the island of Hispaniola when it was discovered by Columbus in 1492. Within 25 years the Taino Indians had been virtually annihilated by Spanish settlers. In the early 17th century, the French established a presence on Hispaniola. Haiti became a bustling French colony, based on forestry and sugar-related industries, Haiti became one of the wealthiest colonies in the Caribbean but only through the heavy importation of African slaves and considerable environmental degradation. African slaves were imported by the thousands to work on sugar, tobacco and coffee plantations. A long and violent slave uprising finally led to Haitian independence in 1804. Haiti became the first black republic to declare independence. However, the country could not revive its profitable plantation economy. Haiti has been plagued by political unrest for most of its history. Haiti endured a series of occupations by U.S. Marines and, beginning in the 1950s, a period of rule by dictators François “Papa Doc” Duvalier and “Baby Doc,” his son. During that period, an estimated 30,000 Haitians were killed for being opponents of the Duvalier regime. The country returned to a few brief months of democratic rule under President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was temporarily overthrown in a coup that eventually led to intervention by the United Nations, which continues today. Haitians currently live with a tentative restored government and a demobilized military. In 2008, Haiti was hit by four tropical storms back-to-back, which severely damaged the transportation infrastructure and agricultural sector. Then on January 12th, 2010 a massive magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti with an epicenter about 15 km southwest of the capital, Port-au-Prince. The earthquake is assessed as the worst in this region over the last 200 years; massive international assistance is required to help the country recover.

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