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Speaker Series: Ariela Gross, University of Southern California

  • When: February 28, 2018, 12–1:30 pm
  • Where: ABF Woods Conference Room, 750 N. Lake Shore Drive, 4th Floor, Lakeside, Chicago IL 60611

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Manumission and Freedom in the Age of Revolution: Comparing Law and Race in Cuba, Louisiana, and Virginia, 1763-1806

Between 1763, at the close of the Seven Years’ War (French and Indian War), and 1831, when Nat Turner’s Rebellion shook the U.S. South, the Atlantic world was roiled by war, revolution, and slave rebellions. Slaves in both North and South America took advantage of revolutionary ideologies and social unrest to make claims for freedom. The uprisings in Haiti in particular raised a beacon of hope to the enslaved, and the specter of disaster to enslavers. Lawmakers in the Spanish Empire as well as in Virginia passed legal reforms to retrench and secure the slave system that had the unintended consequence of greatly expanding freedom claims. Across Cuba, Louisiana, and Virginia, freedom suits exploded and populations of free people of color grew, sometimes exponentially, during this period. Yet, there were also important differences among the three jurisdictions. In Cuba and Spanish Louisiana, enslaved people became free by expanding traditional modes of manumission and self-purchase, or coartación. In Virginia, one of the most important ways to claim freedom was to claim an Indian identity, making race increasingly the basis for freedom suits, and tying blackness more tightly to slavery. Furthermore, in Virginia, legislative debates increasingly associated the issue of individual manumission with general emancipation, making it a political question in a way that did not happen in Cuba and Spanish Louisiana. Although freedom suits and manumission continued after Louisiana changed hands to the U.S., and both the Virginia and the new Louisiana Territorial legislatures placed new limits on manumission in 1806-7, differences were already evident that would become increasingly salient in the nineteenth century.

Courtesy University of Southern California

Ariela Gross is John B. and Alice R. Sharp Professor of Law and History, and Co-Director of the Center for Law, History and Culture, at the University of Southern California, where she teaches History of American Law, Race & Gender in the Law, and Contracts. She has been a visiting Professor at Tel Aviv University and the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, and will be in residence in June, 2010 at Kyoto University, sponsored by the Organization of American Historians and the Japanese Association of American Studies. Her most recent book, What Blood Won’t Tell: A History of Race on Trial in America (Harvard University Press, 2008), a Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2009, was awarded the J. Willard Hurst Prize for outstanding scholarship in sociolegal history by the Law and Society Association, the Lillian Smith Book Award for a book that illuminates the people and problems of the South, and the American Political Science Association’s award for the best book on race, ethnicity, and politics. Gross is also the author of Double Character: Slavery and Mastery in the Antebellum Southern Courtroom (Princeton University Press, 2000; ppb., University of Georgia Press, 2006), and numerous articles and book chapters, including most recently, “When is the Time of Slavery? The History of Slavery in Contemporary Legal and Political Argument” in the California Law Review (2008), and “The Constitution of History and Memory,” in Austin Sarat, et al., eds., Introduction to Law and the Humanities (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2009). Her research has been supported by a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Frederick J. Burkhardt Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies, and an NEH Long-Term Fellowship at the Huntington Library. She is currently working on a study of law and the memory of slavery in the U.S., U.K. and France, as well as a comparative project on law, race and slavery in the Americas with Cuban historian Alejandro de la Fuente.

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