The Legal History Podcast

EPISODE 21: Ariela Gross and Alejandro de la Fuente

July 29, 2020

In this episode, Siobhan talks with Alejandro de la Fuente and Ariela Gross about their book, “Becoming Free, Becoming Black: Race, Freedom, and Law in Cuba, Virginia, and Louisiana” (Cambridge University Press, 2020).

How did Africans become 'blacks' in the Americas? Becoming Free, Becoming Black tells the story of enslaved and free people of color who used the law to claim freedom and citizenship for themselves and their loved ones. Their communities challenged slaveholders' efforts to make blackness synonymous with slavery. Looking closely at three slave societies - Cuba, Virginia, and Louisiana - Alejandro de la Fuente and Ariela J. Gross demonstrate that the law of freedom - not slavery - established the meaning of blackness in law. Contests over freedom determined whether and how it was possible to move from slave to free status, and whether claims to citizenship would be tied to racial identity. Laws regulating the lives and institutions of free people of color created the boundaries between black and white, the rights reserved to white people, and the degradations imposed only on black people.

Alejandro de la Fuente is Robert Wood Bliss Professor of Latin American History and Economics and is Professor of African and African American Studies and of History at Harvard University. He is a historian of Latin America and the Caribbean who specializes in the study of comparative slavery and race relations.

Ariela Gross is John B. and Alice R. Sharp Professor of Law and History at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law where she teaches Contracts, History of American Law, and Race and Gender in the Law. Her research and writing focuses on race and slavery in the United States.

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