"Class and Color at Century’s End" by James G. Leyburn, Ph.D. (1902-1993)

An excerpt from Leyburn’s The Haitian People (1941). Leyburn was an American sociologist who went to Haiti to observe its people. There he witnessed class and color inequality that was so extreme that he believed Haiti had a "caste" system.

Up to the time of the American Occupation of 1915, there were no other measures of much influence upon the status of the peasant. The whole impulse of the common people seemed to be toward the acquisition of plots of land for themselves. By the indifference or impotence of the state, they were allowed to install themselves upon government lands, there to found families and pass on the property upon which they had settled.

With the peasants prevailingly satisfied in their daily round of life the separation of upper and lower castes in Haitian society has gradually become an accepted fact. At least ninety per cent of the total population now belong to the peasant group…. Of the remaining ten per cent of the population a small faction look upon themselves as élite. Some families of this group can be traced back to colonial times when their ancestors were already affranchis.

It is significant that although the blacks had the government in their hands for three quarters of a century they were unable to effect any slight change either in caste membership or in caste lines.

The part of the population which is neither élite nor peasant is not "middle class," as that term is understood in the Western World. It is rather a shifting percentage of Haitians whose one prevailing characteristic is their residence in towns. Some are wage earners, some small tradesmen; some are ex-élite on the way down the social ladder, while others are ex-peasants on the way up. Acceptance by the élite entails requirements severe enough to discourage many aspirants; at the same time, the heavens can be stormed by those willing to endure the heat and strain of battle. Lacking descent from former affranchis, the only means by which the ambitious may achieve entrance into the élite caste is by money, education, sustained social show and leisure, "proper" marriage, and separation from lower caste friends; and one generation rarely suffices to win acceptance by the élite.