House of Negritude and Human Rights in Champagney (Haute-Saône)

“The inhabitants and community of Champagney cannot think of the ills being suffered by Negroes in the colonies without feeling a stabbing pain in their hearts..."
Article 29 of the register of grievances of the inhabitants of Champagney of 19 March 1789

The House of Negritude and Human rights owes its name to the former president of the Republic of Senegal, Léopold Senghor, committed defender of the Negritude movement, which granted him patronage in 1971.

This place of memory around the slavery of the blacks was created in 1971 by a "Champagnerot" passionate in local history, René Simonin  (1911/1980), who exhumed from the departmental archives of Haute-Saône the only text of its kind: article 29 of the register of grievances of Champagney in which the inhabitants of this modest village demanded the abolition of the slavery of the blacks as early as 1789.

The House of Negritude is also a place of reflection on the latest human rights violations in general and the persistence of slavery in particular.

The reign of Louis XVI is marked by economic difficulties and the growing deficit of public finances. The debt aggravated by the cost of America's war absorbs up to 60% of the revenues of the State. To this financial crisis is added a social crisis, the 98% of French belonging to the Third Estate no longer accepting tax inequality.

In 1788, the crisis was at its maximum. On 8 August 1788, Louis XVI convened the State General for the 5 May 1789 in Versailles.

All around the Kingdom of France, the election of deputies and the writing of the Registers of grievances began.

On the eve of the French Revolution, Champagney had about 2,000 inhabitants, peasants and miners, who, for the most of them, knew what hard work, pain, suffer on a thankless land and harsh climate meant.

In the greyness of their everyday life, however, the inhabitants of Champagney had a pride: their brand new church where they met and which was also a place of meeting where ideas and decisions to be taken at Community level were exchanged. The winter 1788-89 was terrible: to the food shortage and cold were added taxes and chores. So they quite naturally answered the call of their priest who asked them to meet to write their register of grievances, on 19 March 1789. Just as naturally, they addressed their material difficulties that were those of other village communities of the time. But they also added a unique article in its kind - number 29 - denouncing the slavery of black people.

This article was undoubtedly suggested by the local notable Jacques Antoine Priqueler (1753/1802), native of Champagney, bodyguard of the king, then on leave for a six-month period in his native village. His position in Versailles, his family ties - he was the nephew of Bishop Gobel - as well as his acquaintance with high spheres of the capital where the members of the abolitionist Society of the Friends of the Blacks were recruited, explain his knowledge of this normal and legal economic system, which is slavery of blacks in the 18th century.

The "Champagnerots" were perhaps all the more sensitive to the message of the officer that if they knew nothing of this slavery taking place thousands of kilometres from them across the Atlantic Ocean, they knew a black-skinned man - the Magus Balthazar - represented on a painting of their church, still visible today.

“The inhabitants and the community of Champagney can not think of the evils which the negroes suffer in the colonies without having the heart penetrated with the most acute pain, by representing their fellow men, still linked to them by the double bond of the religion, being treated more harshly than beasts of burden…. "
Extract from Article 29 of the Register of grievances of Champagney. The original is kept in the Departmental Archives of Haute-Saône (Document B4213)

This wish is doubly exceptional:

  • Indeed, if some twenty registers of grievances in France were in favour of the emancipation of slaves, all do it in an ambivalent way between humanitarian concern and preservation of economic interests. Only Article 29 of the register of Champagney will mark a clear and fully humanist position.
  • In three paragraphs, we find the anger expressed by the humble ones of Champagney, at once the principles of the philosophical condemnation of Montesquieu and the economic denunciation of Turgot in a biting style worthy of Diderot. Remaining the prerogative of intellectuals until the 1830s, the denunciation of anonymous persons of Champagney, part of which was illiterate, was the first spark of a popular movement in the French society.