Book Review: Becoming Free, Becoming Black: Race, Freedom, and Law in Cuba, Virginia, and Louisiana Book by Alejandro de la Fuente and Ariela Julie Gross

I was gifted to review an advance copy of BECOMING BLACK, and it has given me a new perspective not only on slavery but the lives of my ancestors. This book tells the part of the story that has been hidden from us for hundreds of years. Most history books have whitewashed the lives of the enslaved, making it seem as though they sat docile, singing and praying in wait of their shareholders to have a change of heart and grant them freedom paper. Or history paints a picture of the savage Africans who plotted and executed the murders of their innocent God-fearing Masters who supposedly gave their slaves a better life than they knew in Africa.

Becoming Free, Becoming Black was a bit challenging to read both emotionally and academically, but at times it can read like a novel. Each page gives a detailed account of those who used the law to their advantage. There are copies of hist documents listed throughout the book that contain the names of lives whose efforts paved the way to abolish slavery. It gives a comprehensive account of history as it relates to slavery, the law and freedom in Cuba, Virginia, and Louisiana and how numerous enslaved people were able to utilize the loopholes in the laws to fight for their freedom.

Reading this expanded my understanding of my family’s history here in New Orleans. I used to think my grandmother was sparing me the pain of knowing that she and my great grandmother were slaves, but after reading this book, I now realize that she was sincere. New Orleans had a considerable population of free people of color due to Spanish law, and some were able to lay claim on Indian ancestry which my grandmother told me. Not all African Americans in the South before the Civil War were slaves. More than a quarter-million “free persons of color” were concentrated in the states, and one was New Orleans.

It shines the light on how much politics came to play in white liberty and black slavery and how those were having political and economic power despised emancipation and their desire to make blackness synonymous gifted with slavery. The books speak of racial inferiority and the removal of free people of color to Liberia. In the history books I read in the past spoke of slaves demanding to be returned to Africa, always quoting of Frederick Douglass, but Becoming Free, Becoming Black opens Pandora’s box of The American Colonization Society (ACS). The ACS, with the help of the Us government, sent about 12,000 black Americans to Liberia between the 1820s and 1860s.

Sadly, the thoughts of blacks being inferior to white exist today.

I appreciate the authors for creating this book complete of a wealth of information. I’m sure their goal was not to invoke the feeling of one being proud and amazed by a culture of people, my people, but they did. In the pages of the book, you will discover the anecdotal stories of the intelligent souls of long ago who survived horrible circumstances to reclaim their freedom using bringing lawsuits against their slaveholders. I’m fascinated by all that I learned in this book, and it has refueled my desire to seek more knowledge on this topic.

I recommend this book to anyone who seeks the truth about the road of slavery to freedom. It gives you a greater appreciation for those who made it possible for us to have equal liberties as we do.

A remarkable read, expertly written and worthy of the effort to get through it.

It was an emotional read for me, especially growing up in the New Orleans public school system and now knowing how much of our history was left out. I hated history because of all the important faces in my history book did not bare my skin tone. I was suspended for defacing, aka coloring the faces of people brown in my 7th-grade history book. For years I was taught that the Spanish and British fought for our freedom while my ancestors worked the fields. If it weren’t for my grandmother and mother telling us stories, TV movies like Roots and attending college, I wouldn’t have known the truth about my ancestors. Reading Becoming Free, Becoming Black proves that the enslaved were not enslaved in mind, nor did they accept being enslaved.
Thank you for including me in the reading of the advance copy; reading it was life-changing

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