Cross purposes: U.S. missionaries and the U.S. occupation of Haiti

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Christopher W. Davis (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Mark Elliott

Abstract: The purpose of this dissertation is to explore the previously understudied role of U.S. missionaries in the intervention and occupation of the Republic of Haiti by the United States from 1915 to 1934. The prior historiography for the U.S. occupation of Haiti has focused on the Wilson administration in its decision to intervene in the beleaguered Caribbean republic, as well as how the subsequent occupation created animosity toward U.S. control after it diminished native sovereignty and reportedly committed abuses against the Haitian population. Important to our understanding of those events is the 1921 U.S. Senate hearings investigating the rationale given for U.S. intervention in Haiti and reports of misconduct by U.S. soldiers against the Haitians. However, how U.S. Protestant missionaries in Haiti influenced and impacted these hearings, and the occupation overall, has not been studied up to this point. This study demonstrates that U.S. Protestant missionaries working in Haiti first appealed to the U.S. government to assist an increasingly unstable Haiti, and later became outspoken opponents to the U.S. occupation once they concluded it was increasing the suffering of the Haitian people. These missionaries are shown to have influenced both political decision-making regarding U.S. policy towards Haiti and U.S. public opinion regarding the occupation. This study focuses on two U.S. missionaries who were shown in U.S. government documents, NAACP articles, and U.S. newspaper reports to be the most active in trying to first reform, then encourage the withdrawal of the U.S. forces from Haiti: L. Ton Evans from the American Baptist denomination and S.E. Churchstone Lord of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Whereas Evans’s activities focused on bringing political attention to the abuses of the Haitians by the occupying forces, first to the Wilson administration and then to Wilson’s Republican opponents, Lord focused his efforts on informing the NAACP and the African American community of these abuses. Both missionaries are shown to have influenced the U.S. press in shifting public opinion of the occupation from supportive to critical. Their actions resulted in the U.S. government under the Harding administration curtailing abuses against the Haitian people and diminishing political and public support for the occupation until its end in 1934. This adds greater complexity to the existing historiography of both U.S./Wilsonian policy towards the Caribbean and Latin American in the early twentieth century, which has traditionally viewed U.S. missionaries there at that time as agents of U.S. imperialism. A brief comparison with the parallel U.S. occupations of the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua during that same period also reveals that this role of U.S. Protestant missionaries challenging their home government’s occupational policy in the region was unique to Haiti.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2019
AME, Baptist, Haiti, Missionaries, Occupation, Wilson
Haiti $x History $y American occupation, 1915-1934
Protestant churches $x Missions $z Haiti $x History $y 20th century
Methodist Church $x Missions $z Haiti $x History $y 20th century
Baptists $x Missions $z Haiti $x History $y 20th century
Missionaries $z Haiti $x History $y 20th century

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