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Professor Ariela J. Gross Book Event – Becoming Free, Becoming Black: Race, Freedom, and Law in Cuba, Virginia, and Louisiana

February 27 @ 3:30 pm - 4:30 pm

Please join us for a conversation with Professor Gross and Professor Dylan Penningroth regarding Professor Gross’ book Becoming Free, Becoming Black: Race, Freedom, and Law in Cuba, Virginia and Louisiana

How did Africans become ‘blacks’ in the Americas? Becoming Free, Becoming Black 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.


Professor Ariela Gross

Ariela J. Gross is the John B. & Alice R. Sharp Professor of Law & History at the University of Southern California, and co-director of the USC Center for Law, History, and Culture. She is the author of Double Character: Slavery and Mastery in the Antebellum Southern Courtroom (Princeton 2000) and the award-winning What Blood Won’t Tell: A History of Race on Trial in America (Harvard 2008). In addition to writing about law, race and slavery in the past, she writes on race, law and the memory of slavery in contemporary law and politics, including a 2017 symposium in Law and History Review, “A Crime Against Humanity”: Slavery and The Boundaries of Legality, Past and Present.

Professor Dylan Penningroth

Dylan C. Penningroth is a Professor of Law and History at the University of California, Berkeley. Penningroth specializes in African American history and in U.S. socio-legal history.  His work examines shifting concepts of property ownership and kinship in order to shed light on long-obscured aspects of African American life under slavery and in the half-century following slavery’s abolition. In his award-winning book The Claims of Kinfolk, he elucidates the informal customs that slaves in the antebellum South used to recognize ownership of property, even while they were themselves considered by law to be property at the time.



February 27
3:30 pm - 4:30 pm
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Alumni Reception Center
United States


Roslyn Foy

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