The first Haitian flag
Did you know?
Two countries used the same flag! Until they met in competition during the 1936 Summer Olympics: Meet one of our best athletes who ever lived.
The first Haitian flag was adopted on 18 of May 1803 when the newly appointed general-in-chief Jean-Jacques Dessalines ripped apart the French tricolor flag removing the white and creating a new revolutionary flag. He asked his god-daughter to sew the remaining colors together. The fusion of the Blue and Red traditionally symbolized the union of the blacks and the mulattoes under a new banner. Napoleon armies were beaten, and a new nation was born. In 1806, the actual contemporary bicolor flag became our symbol of Pride under President Alexandre Petion.
Surprisingly, it is only during the 1936 Summer Olympics of Berlin, Germany, that the world realized that two countries shared the same and identical banner. Nobody has given much attention to such detail until athletes of Haiti and The Principality of Liechtenstein crossed path sharing the same colors. It was a surprise to the organizers of the third Reich and to the world. Graciously, Liechtenstein opted later to add a golden crown to its flag, in June 1937.
This fact demonstrated how little attention was given to such emblem because this was not the first time Haiti has participated to the Olympic games. Our athletes were scanty but showed pride in competing for their country. We are going to bring to light the story of our best track and field athlete who has written his name in the Olympic record book and for which, a Haitian record in the competition for the Long Jump still probably hold on after more than ninety (90) years.
The first time Haiti participated to the Olympics was in the year 1924 at the Paris, France Summer Olympics. Proudly a young gentleman bearing the name of Silvio Paul Cator, an avid football player, member of two different teams: the Trivoli Athletic Club and the Racing Athletic Club of Haiti was at the rendezvous. He was born from an aristocratic family in the south of Haiti, in Cavaillon. His father, the general Millien Cator, a closed ally of President Antoine Simon, needed to take an exile to Jamaica, once the president was deposed. The Cator family was able to return 7 years after in a country of Haiti, invaded by the Yankees.
Silvio benefited from exposure to many sports under the British rules and when he returned to the country, he was old enough to avoid any contact with the forces of occupation. He refused to accept the rules of the invaders or to play baseball during his childhood because this sport was imported by the American ruler to our land. The Americans failed to impose their will upon our youth although Baseball was practiced all over the Caribbean except in Haiti. This was certainly a form of resistance to the occupation.
He became a dactylographer and performed in many sports like Football, Tennis, Boxing and Athletism especially when the USSH (Union des Societies Sportives Haitiennes) was formed in 1921 to prepare athletes joining the first Haitian Olympic team. The force of occupation did not provide any support to this organization nor did they see it with enthusiasm. They demonstrated a preference to the Haitian military personnel who had no other choice than to cooperate with them. It is well known that patriotic Haitians raised money to fight the Yankees and to allow the build-up of the first national team of Haiti.
Racist attitudes toward the people of Haiti were noted and soon the Haitian elite witnessed junior American non-commissioned marine-officers to be ignorant and ill-educated. Many stories of abuses, fighting with drinking and sexual assaults were daily reported. Dantes Bellegrade then minister of Education, wrote regularly on such crimes. The NAACP was called upon to investigate. The situation was so bad that the Marine General John A. Lejeune, based in Washington D.C., banned all sale of alcohol to American military personnel. This was the atmosphere in which young athletes were living in under the American occupation.
Silvio Paul Cator was an outstanding member on the Haitian national team of Football and he will be best known later for scoring the winning goal against the national selection of Curacao in 1926. He chose to sharpen his skills in athletics early because he wanted to represent his country at the Summer Olympics in two disciplines: High Jump and Long Jump. The Haitian Olympic team managed to train under the directives of a French coach, E. Lambergeon. Silvio competed but did not do so well in his first competitions, finishing in a poor 15th position in high jump but did a little better in the long jump securing a 12th position finish at the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, France.
Far from being happy of his performance, he dedicated less time to play football and more time to train harder in the goal of competing more efficiently at the next 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, Netherlands. There, better prepared, he won proudly a silver medal in the long jump competition clearing up the distance of 7.58 meters, only “16 cm” shorter than the Olympic gold medalist, Edward Hamm.
Perseverance always pays. It took Silvio P. Cator only one month to shatter this world record in a long jump, on September 9th, 1928 during a world competition held in Colombes, France: a jump of 7.93 meters, a new world record. The American press was negative about the world record holder describing him as the “Haitian Grasshopper” coming from a magic island of voodoo. No matter, he was the first man to have crossed the barrier of 26 feet. We know well how difficult it was for Bob Beamon, years later, at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico, to set a new world record of 29 feet, 2.5 inches which lasted for 23 years until it was broken by Mike Powell in 1991. This record still stands in the record’s book.
Silvio Paul Cator last jump, although recorded as a world record, was not accepted as such, because the wind conditions were not optimal. More, in 1929, he also jumped, for another world record, the distance of 8.04 meters. To date, his “Silver medal” represents the highest honor that Team Haiti has ever received at any Olympics. A “Bronze medal” was awarded in the free rifle competition to the famous Haitian quattro-team (Augustin, Metellus, Destine, Roland), a military team supported by the American Invaders during the same 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, France.
Silvio P. Cator also competed in his last Olympics, at the 1932 Los Angeles. California Olympics with others like Andre Theard, Armand etc. He was then 32, babysitting injuries to both ankles but he still managed to represent his country proudly, finishing the long jump competition in a 9th position. Fortunately, his world record of 7.93 meters and later unofficially 8.04 meters, surely still stands as the Haitian best long Jumps ever recorded unless young athletes of Haitian descent, studying presently in American Universities, or in any other foreign countries have proven the contrary.
The country of Haiti showed much appreciation to one of his exceptional sons, a super athlete by re-naming and re-novating the previous Cincinnatus Leconte stadium, “Stadium Silvio Paul Cator”, in his honor. He became later an influential Mayor for the town of Port-au-Prince. Many stamps and postal cards have commemorated the accomplishments of such a fine athlete. He was also a businessman and built the Savoy Hotel in Champs de Mars at the same place later, the mortuary salon Pax Villa has erected office.
Perhaps, more will surface with time. Silvio P. Cator was an activist who did not accept well the American invasion of our land. He was ashamed and resisted to cooperate with the invaders. He joined in 1930, the students in their revindications to ouster president Louis Borno, the US backed president of Haiti, until two commissions were sent by President Hubert Hoover to study the situation. Cator joined an anti-occupation movement led by Joseph Jolibois-Fils and other nationalists to fight better. He did not accept the teaching of Jacques Roumain on indigenism and humanism.
His role in 1932 on the national team travelling to compete at the games in Los Angeles California, changed drastically, especially when he learned that the official attaché to the Haitian Olympic team was a US Marines’ colonel. At age 32, he became more vocal, addressing the American press and expressing his discontent for having his country occupied. He voiced openly his opinions about prejudice in an America where discrimination was rampant especially after the “Jim Crow law” was adopted. He supported the struggle of the African American athletes who were poorly treated by the media. This was his way in demonstrating solidarity toward the one he competed against.
Silvio P Cator was a close friend of President Paul Eugene Magloire and became a State Representative (Depute) at Aquin in 1950 until his sudden death by asphyxia, on the 21st of July 1952. He received a National Funeral, reserved to dignitary.
Silvio Paul Cator is definitively the Jesse Owens of the Nation of Haiti. He will remain invariably the only Haitian athlete to have participated at three Olympiads, inscribing the name of Haiti on the book of records.
In all, Silvio P. Cator was a proud athlete, a competitor, a nationalist, a politician and an activist, conscious of his responsibilities of athlete called upon to represent his country everywhere he would be invited to compete. He was fluent in French, English, Spanish, Creole. Frankly, I was astonished to discover that we have ignored a so outstanding athlete with so many virtues.
I am happy to be able to reveal in our Newsletter, the hidden face of this human being who had written in Gold, the word “Haiti”, on the Olympics records book. He will remain the best athlete Haiti has ever produced.
Thank You Silvio Paul Cator.
Maxime Coles MD
1- Gjerde, Arid, Jeroen Heijmans, Bill Mallon, Hilary Evans: Silvio P Cator Bio, Stats and Results: Olympic sports. September 2014-09-29.
2- Bill Mallon, Jeroen Heijmans: Historical Dictionary of the Olympic Movement: (ISBN 978-0-8108-7522-7(2013)
3- Michael R Hall: Historical Dictionary of Haiti: pp.55-ISBN 978-0-8108-7549-4 (2013)
4- Silvio P Cator: Wikipedia
5- Brandon R Byrd: Silvio P Cator. Haiti’s Olympian
6- Cator Confident of Broad Jump Win: Pittsburg Courier, July 16, 1932
7- Al Monroe, Chicago Sees Haiti’s Jump King. Chicago Defender. August 27, 1932.
8- 100 Greatest Moments in Sports History: A long Jump. (39), 10-18-1968
9- Paul Medan: Gouverneurs de la Cendrée.