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

A native of New Orleans, who left her beloved New Orleans to spend twenty years of living in the land of Minnesota Not So Nice. Minnesota was full of opportunities but would learn that the soul of the state and the people who made it was just as icy cold as the temperatures. After the years and my 40th birthday flew by, I decided it was time to pack up my youngest child and come back to my roots, my birthplace the city that not only birthed me but gave me life. I would not be who I am without my New Orleans beginnings. I am all things that would challenge the belief of growing up in New Orleans. I was a 16yr old teen mother of a premature baby born with a severe medical disability. And only With the help of my mother, was it possible for me to BE! I was able to endure and survive the obstacles laid before my child and me. In a city that was built by my family, but did not allow for us to reap the benefits I overcame. Charity Hospital was my second home — a building filled with miracle workers who made it possible for my daughter to have life. I have lived a life of rainy days with peeks of sunshine, that are my children, including those not of my womb. I'm the proud mother of three and a grandmother of three. My dream was to live the life of the nursery rhyme of ”The Old Lady Who lived in a shoe,” and for the most part, I did. I cared for several children over the years as a special needs foster parent. I would learn that my love was not enough for some children, but I loved them through their pain. I'm not sure if I ever had a case of true love or came close to what love looks like on television, but I had my share of men and the mirage of love. I survived two abusive marriages. Though I longed to return to New Orleans on a daily bases, I must admit my move was one of the best decisions made for me. I am a college graduate; I was a successful entrepreneur. I coowned a soul food restaurant and catering company in Minnesota for 12 years. I developed the talent of creating custom cakes after the murder of my beloved cousin Melvin Paul. He survived Katrina only to go to Minneapolis six months later to be murdered over a parking spot dispute. But with the challenge of creating a simple wedding cake, I was able to find healing. I created the House of Cakes in honor of him. Minnesota life had me pretty materialistic. I worked to the point I do not remember much, but work and handing my children love money. I thought by having the big house on the hill, a husband, having a family, the ultimate provider and being involved in all things that matter, plus having the funds to match would cure me of what I was told was a generational curse of lack of everything from money, love to even self-love. But for the most part, that life poisoned my heart and soul. I was blinded by visions fed to me by the media. I was told I wasn't anything unless I was better than the Jones's. I lived being ok with a broken, bleeding heart. Life like this did not exist in my family while living in New Orleans from what I viewed with my eyes and soul. We may not have had all the things I acquired over the years, but we were happy, we were together. Family outside of New Orleans wasn't family anymore. We lived separate lives and had awkward moments when we bumped into each other in public. I hated living in Minnesota even though life their helped me in so many ways. I felt deep down the only way to repair it was to get back to my roots, my soul, my home, myself, my New Orleans. I'm here, and I love it. Even being in the so-called Blighted Area of New Orleans and not having all the financial and material security, I'm happy. I am determined that She, yes, New Orleans is a woman is just like me; together, we will overcome and will rise from all that tried to kill our spirit. Nothing like starting from the bottom and making your way back up!. I just know in my heart that New Orleans will provide for me. There's a bank account with funds in it owed to me by way of back pay for my ancestors. And I will receive my inheritance, and I will continue the traditions and customs of the old to keep the heartbeat of New Orleans beating. I'm down in the boot, living the life that feels right to me awaiting my destiny...

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