New Books Network

A. de la Fuente and A. J. Gross

Becoming Free, Becoming Black

Race, Freedom, and Law in Cuba, Virginia, and Louisiana

Cambridge University Press 2020

New Books in African American StudiesNew Books in American StudiesNew Books in Caribbean StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in LawNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network June 24, 2020 Adam McNeil

How did Africans become ‘blacks’ in the Americas? Becoming Free, Becoming Black: Race, Freedom, and Law in Cuba, Virginia, and Louisiana (Cambridge University Press,...

How did Africans become ‘blacks’ in the Americas? Becoming Free, Becoming Black: Race, Freedom, and Law in Cuba, Virginia, and Louisiana (Cambridge University Press, 2020) 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.


Adam McNeil is a third year Ph.D. in History student at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.