Becoming Free, Becoming Black


Outstanding publication that evidences creative talent of the highest order

Best monograph by a mid-career or senior scholar

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. 


¿Cómo se convirtieron en “negros” los africanos que llegaron a las Américas? Esta obra cuenta la historia de la esclavización y la libertad de las personas africanas y afrodescendientes que se sirvieron de la ley para reclamar la libertad y la ciudadanía para ellos y los suyos. Sus comunidades desafiaron los esfuerzos de los esclavistas por hacer que la negritud se convirtiera en sinónimo de esclavitud. A través de la atenta mirada a tres sociedades esclavistas ―Cuba, Virginia y Luisiana―, Alejandro de la Fuente y Ariela J. Gross demuestran que la ley sobre la libertad, y no sobre la esclavitud, establecía en el derecho el significado de “negritud”.

What Blood Won't Tell


Unearthing the legal history of racial identity, Ariela Gross's book examines the paradoxical and often circular relationship of race and the perceived capacity for citizenship in American society. This book reminds us that the imaginary connection between racial identity and fitness for citizenship remains potent today and continues to impede racial justice and equality.


In a groundbreaking study of the day-to-day law and culture of slavery, Ariela Gross investigates the local courtrooms of the Deep South where ordinary people settled their disputes over slaves. Buyers sued sellers for breach of warranty when they considered slaves to be physically or morally defective; owners sued supervisors who whipped or neglected slaves under their care. Double Character seeks to explain how communities dealt with an important dilemma raised by these trials: how could slaves who acted as moral agents be treated as commodities? She not only reveals the role of law in constructing “race” but also offers a portrait of the culture of slavery, one that addresses historical debates about law, honor, and commerce in the American South.