On May 18, 1803, the newly independent Republic of Haiti officially adopted one of today’s most recognizable symbols of Haitian freedom—the Haitian flag. Since then, Haitians have recognized May 18 as Haitian Flag Day.
Each year, at Zanmi Lasante's (ZL) socio-medical complex in Cange, thousands of people from across the Central Plateau proudly celebrate the Haitian flag.
Festivities focus on the importance of standing together with pride as Haiti continues to rebuild. Hope permeates the air as students from 29 ZL-supported schools recite poems, sing songs, and perform dances and plays, all to honor the history and optimism that Haiti’s flag represents.
The history of Haiti’s flag
The story of Haiti’s flag begins during the Haitian Revolution—more specifically with the battle of Cul-du-Sac, which took place outside Port-au-Prince on December 1, 1802. On that day, Haitian General Alexandre Pétion led his men into battle against the French army; not only did the Haitian forces lose, but they lost their tricolor flag during their retreat.
That flag was quickly seized by the French and heralded as a symbol of their victory. European newspapers ridiculed the Haitian army not only for losing this battle, but also for carrying the French flag in a battle against the French. This was seen as a sign of the rebels’ chaotic disorganization.
The French press interpreted the use of the French flag to mean that Haiti’s people were not fighting for succession, rather they were merely making a proclamation. The spin: the Haitian army’s use of the French flag during battle was proof that the insurgents were not fighting for their independence, but were simply expressing their desire for greater liberties under French rule.
After hearing these stories, Haiti’s revolutionary leaders knew they needed their own flag.
Jean-Jacques Dessalines, a leading figure in Haiti’s struggle for independence, was so enraged upon reading these stories that he grabbed the tricolor French flag, and with a sharp jerk, ripped the white stripe to pieces. He turned the flag on its side and rejoined the blue and red strips of fabric—symbolic of the union of mulattoes and blacks against the French. In doing so, he also made Haiti’s flag.
Haitian soldiers went on to win their independence against the French under the new bicolor flag.