Challenging Slavery in the 19th-Century Americas

AHA Session 159
Conference on Latin American History 40
Saturday, January 8, 2022: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Grand Ballroom D (Sheraton New Orleans, 5th Floor)
Camillia Cowling, Warwick University
Laura Rosanne Adderley, Tulane University

Session Abstract

This panel examines the multiple ways through which people questioned and challenged slavery in the Americas. With papers focusing on Boston, Mexico City, Colombia and Venezuela, and Rio de Janeiro, this panel spans the Americas and seeks to examine both connections among anti-slavery actors and local peculiarities. It includes participants from six universities in three countries, ranging from graduate students to full professors.

Marcela Echeverri (Yale University) focuses on the first decade of the independence wars in northern South America, where colonial Spanish administrative units fragmented into smaller autonomous entities, each of which passed legislation to abolish slavery and the slave trade by 1815. Debates about republican notions of citizenship and about slaves’ participation in the independence struggle shaped this legislation, which in turn laid the foundation for the gradual abolition policies of the centralized state of Gran Colombia established in 1821.

Lloyd Belton (University of Leeds) analyzes connections among black Latin American and African American advocates of abolitionism and racial equality by focusing on a black Brazilian man and a Haitian woman of color who were active in Boston in the 1830s and 1840s. Emiliano Mundrucu launched one of the first court cases against segregation in the United States, while Martha Pero played a key role in a radical women’s anti-slavery society. Their actions underscore that Atlantic-wide perspectives are necessary to understanding debates about abolitionism and segregation.

Celso Thomas Castilho (Vanderbilt University) likewise examines Atlantic-world connections by analyzing the anti-slavery serial literature published in Latin American newspapers in the 1840s and 1850s, with examples from São Luiz (Brazil), Mexico City, Lima, and Buenos Aires. Focusing on literary culture furnishes new insights into Latin American abolitionism and on the region’s place in the production and circulation of Atlantic antislavery thought.

Hendrik Kraay (University of Calgary) examines efforts to repress slaves’ participation in the rowdy pre-Lenten celebrations of entrudo and sets them in the broader context of efforts to “civilize” and “modernize” Brazilian cities and their popular street culture. These came in a mid-nineteenth-century context when slavery increasingly came into question. The first measures against the slave trade coincided with the proliferation of anti-entrudo bylaws, and what some scholars have identified as a major crackdown on entrudo (and other aspects of urban popular culture) came in the aftermath of the slave trade’s effective end in 1850. Debates about popular culture reflected larger concerns about slavery and its looming end.

Together, these papers provide new perspectives on the connections among anti-slavery actors and the complex processes by which people came to challenge slavery, drawing on local, national, and international influences. They underscore the importance of both local contexts and Atlantic-World connections. Local interpretations of republicanism, anti-slavery, anti-racism, and “civilization” were shaped by Atlantic-world ideas, processes, and trends.

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