Jean-Baptiste Belley: French leftist parties call for public tribute to first black lawmaker

Jean-Baptiste Belley: French leftist parties call for public tribute to first black lawmaker

A group of leftist parties in the French National Assembly has proposed a public tribute to the country’s first black deputy, Jean-Baptiste Belley.

The Democratic and Republican Left group (GDR), a collective made up of representatives of the French Communist Party and left-wing parties based in Overseas France, wrote to Assembly President, Yaël Braun-Pivet, after a racist incident which occurred during a legislative session last week.

The letter, which was made public on Monday, was written by communist MP André Chassaigne on behalf of the group.

Gregoire de Fournas, a member of the far-right National Rally party, was heard shouting “return to Africa” during a question from black lawmaker, Carlos Martens Bilongo, on Thursday.

Bilongo, a member of the leftist France Unbowed party, had been grilling the government on the issue of 234 migrants stranded at sea.

De Fournas claimed the remark had been aimed at the migrants trying to reach Europe by boat but later apologised to Mr Bilongo for any “misunderstanding” caused by his comments.

In a statement published on Twitter, Mr Bilongo wrote: "To everyone reading this, I call you to stand against the poison that is racism."

Since Thursday, the far-right MP has been given a 15-day ban from the National Assembly, and he will lose half of his parliamentary allowance for two months.

In Monday's letter, Mr Chassaigne called for the National Assembly to go further in its fight against racism.

“The racist character of the remarks made [on Thursday] deeply shocked us and pushed us to engage in a real reflection that goes beyond the initial and necessary responses [to the incident]” wrote Mr Chassaigne.

“This is why, on behalf of the GDR group, I would like to make a contribution without further delay to this necessarily collective approach by asking you to have the National Assembly pay a public tribute to the first black deputy in France.”

Jean-Baptiste Belley was elected during the French Revolution as the MP for Saint-Domingue, a French colony in modern-day Haiti.

Born in Gorée in around 1746, an island off the coast of Senegal, he was sold as a slave as a child.

After regaining his freedom in 1764, he took part in the Haitian Slave Revolt to demand the emancipation of slaves before being elected in 1793 to the French parliament of the revolution, making him the first black legislator.

An active spokesman for the rights of black people, Mr Belley spoke in a 1794 debate, when the parliament decided unanimously to abolish slavery.