Comparing Law, Race, Slavery and Freedom in the Americas: Freedom Suits in Cuba, Louisiana, and Virginia, 1763-1803

Ariela Gross and Alejandro de la Fuente

Mon, 03/13/2017 - 4:30pm
301 Marx Hall
Event Category: 

LAPA’s seminar format assumes that seminar participants have familiarized themselves with the paper in advance. The commentator opens the session by summarizing the main themes in the paper and presenting some topics for discussion. The author then has the right of first response before we open to the floor for questions. The seminar will end with a brief reception, giving everyone a chance to mingle and meet.

Abstract: "Enslaved people across the Americas made claims on legal institutions in order to gain their freedom or improve their lives. Many shared legal knowledge across broad networks that crossed boundaries of nation and empire. Yet those borders made a difference; the varying trajectories of legal regimes helped set the terms within which free and enslaved people of color operated. Our book is a transnational and comparative study of the ways in which people of color challenged the boundaries of slavery and freedom, black and white, using Cuba, Louisiana and Virginia as case studies over several centuries. Unlike older comparative studies, our work uses the techniques of cultural-legal history, studying the interactions of ordinary people with law in their everyday lives. The chapter we will present focuses on freedom suits by enslaved people during the Age of Revolution, 1763 to 1803." 


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Ariela Gross
University of Southern California

Ariela J. Gross is the John B. and Alice R. Sharp Professor of Law and History at the University of Southern California, and Co-Director of the USC Center for Law, History, and Culture. Gross is the author of Double Character: Slavery and Mastery in the Antebellum Southern Courtroom (Princeton UP 2000) and What Blood Won’t Tell: A History of Race on Trial in America (Harvard UP 2008), winner of the James Willard Hurst Prize from the Law and Society Association, the Lillian Smith Award for the best book on the U.S. South and the struggle for racial justice, the American Political Science Association’s Best Book on Race, Ethnicity, and Politics, and a Choice Outstanding Academic Title. She is the editor of a special issue of Law and History Review just out in February 2017 on Slavery and The Boundaries of Legality, Past and Present, and has written numerous articles in law reviews and history journals on the topics of slavery, race, and the memory of slavery in contemporary law and politics. In 2017-18 she will be a Fellow at the Stanford Center for the Advanced Study of the Behavioral Sciences, as well as an American Council for Learned Societies Collaborative Research Fellow. She has been a Guggenheim Fellow, a National Endowment for the Humanities Huntington Research Fellow, and an American Council for Learned Societies Burkhardt Fellow. 

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Alejandro de la Fuente
Harvard University

A historian of Latin America and the Caribbean who specializes in the study of comparative slavery and race relations, Professor de la Fuente joined Harvard University after holding faculty appointments at the University of Pittsburgh, the University of South Florida in Tampa, and the University of Havana. His works on race, slavery, and Atlantic history have been published in Spanish, English, Portuguese, Italian, German, and French. Professor de la Fuente is the author of Havana and the Atlantic in the Sixteenth Century (University of North Carolina Press, 2008), and of A Nation for All: Race, Inequality, and Politics in Twentieth-Century Cuba (University of North Carolina Press, 2001), published in Spanish as Una nación para todos: raza, desigualdad y política en Cuba, 1900-2000 (Madrid: Editorial Colibrí, 2001), winner of the Southern Historical Association's 2003 prize for “best book in Latin American history.” He is the editor of two bilingual (English-Spanish) volumes, Grupo Antillano: The Art of Afro-Cuba (Pittsburgh, 2013) and Queloides: Race and Racism in Cuban Contemporary Art (Pittsburgh, 2011) and of a special issue of the journal Debate y Perspectivas titled “Su único derecho: los esclavos y la ley” [“Their Only Right: Slaves and the Law”] (Madrid, 2004).   Professor de la Fuente is the founding Director of the Afro-Latin American Research Instituteat Harvard and the faculty Co-Chair, along with Professor Jorge Domínguez, of the Cuban Studies Program. He is the Senior Editor of the journal Cuban Studies and the Editor of Transition.

Paul Frymer
Director, Program in Law and Public Affairs
Professor, Politics

Paul Frymer teaches and writes on topics in American law and politics, particularly as they intersect with issues of democratic representation, race and civil rights, and labor and employment. He is a former LAPA fellow (2004-2005), and served two terms as Acting Director (2009-2010 and 2012-2013) before his appointment as Director in 2015. He is the author of two books: Uneasy Alliances: Race and Party Competition in America (reissued in 2010 with an afterward on President Obama's election) and Black and Blue: African Americans, the Labor Movement, and the Decline of the Democratic Party (2008), both of which were published by Princeton University Press. He has also either authored or is currently writing about topics ranging from legal understandings of political parties to the racial politics of Hurricane Katrina and affirmative action to the role of law and politics in the historical development of American territorial expansion.