"A Deep Interest in Your Cause": The Inter-American Sphere of Black Abolitionism and Civil Rights

Saturday, January 8, 2022: 8:50 AM
Grand Ballroom D (Sheraton New Orleans)
Lloyd Belton, University of Leeds
Most scholarship on transnational and Atlantic abolitionism has focused on collaboration between US and British activists. Similarly, black agency in institutional abolitionist and racial equality societies is primarily associated with prominent African American activists. On the other hand, Latin American and Caribbean contributions to transnational institutional abolitionism have been largely overlooked. To address this oversight, my research focuses on several previously unstudied free men and women of colour from Haiti, Jamaica, Cuba and Brazil who were prominent members of US-based racial equality and abolitionist groups such as the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS) in the mid-nineteenth century. Fighting against the expansion of slavery and segregation of public transport and schools, among other causes, their unique perspectives on slavery and racial discrimination brought from their own societies were used as points of comparison and orientation in US abolitionist debates. Activism in the United States and their experiences with harsh racial segregation there also informed and shaped their abolitionist activities and identities back home as they travelled between the United States, the Caribbean and the South Atlantic.

This paper focuses on two of these case studies involving Boston-based individuals: Emiliano Mundrucu, a black abolitionist from Brazil who led one of the earliest court cases against segregation in the United States; and the Haitian female abolitionist Martha Pero, who cast a decisive vote to try and save one of the country’s most radical women’s anti-slavery societies. Drawing on archival materials in Spanish, Portuguese, French and English, I highlight how Mundrucu and Pero influenced Atlantic-wide debates on abolitionism, anti-segregation, and inherently connected questions on race, gender and identity.