"Firmin and Equality" by Robert Bernasconi, Ph.D.

Bernasconi is Edwin Erle Sparks Professor Philosophy at Pennsylvania State University. He has written and edited numerous works on race and existentialism, such as Race (2001) and Situating Existentialism (2012).

Anténor Firmin was one of the first Pan-Africanists and for his day one of the strongest opponents of the European idea of permanent racial differences. He published The Equality of the Human Races in 1885 when he was only 34.

Firmin had been in Paris little over a year, but during that brief time he acquainted himself with the dominant currents of thought among the French anthropologists. Turning their own arguments against them, he challenged their belief that race was defined by unchanging inheritable characteristics. He conceded that there would always be variations in levels of civilization, but he insisted that this had nothing to do with racial differences, as the glories of ancient Egypt confirmed. Adopting the positivists' idea of human progress toward equality, he nevertheless rejected the suggestion, promulgated by  Auguste Comte, the father of positivist philosophy, that Whites would remain in the vanguard. He believed that all races contributed to progress by their interaction with each other and that they all had a central role at one time or another.

After he returned to Haiti in 1888, Firmin renewed his engagement with Haitian politics. This culminated in a failed bid for the Presidency. He was in 1902 forced into exile and before his death nine years later, he wrote two more major books. In 1905 in  M. Roosevelt President des Etats-Unis et la reupblique d'Haiti he reaffirmed his belief in human perfectibility and then, in 1910 in Lettres de Saint-Thomas he further developed the idea that each nation and people improved by learning from others.