AfriGeneas Free Persons of Color Forum
Becoming Free, Remaining Free...
Becoming Free, Remaining Free: Manumission and Enslavement in New Orleans, 1846-1862 By Judith Kelleher Schafer
For more than 150 years, the tales of hundreds of slaves and free people of color who used the judicial system to negotiate their freedom lay buried deep within the dusty records of the New Orleans district courts. Then Judith Kelleher Schafer spent fourteen years poring over Minute Books and trial transcripts, uncovering for the first time the details of these fascinating cases. In Becoming Free, Remaining Free, Schafer presents her findings and offers a profound analysis of slavery and manumission in the Crescent City.Louisiana state law was unique in allowing slaves to contract for their freedom and to initiate a lawsuit for liberty. Schafer describes the ingenious and remarkably sophisticated ways slaves used the legal system to gain their independence and find a voice in a society that ordinarily gave them none.
Showing that remaining free was often as challenging as becoming free, she also recounts numerous cases in which free people of color were forced to use the courts to prove their status. She further documents seventeen free blacks who, when faced with deportation, amazingly sued to enslave themselves.Schafer's impressive detective work achieves a rare feat in the historical profession -- the unveiling of an entirely new facet of the slave experience in the American South. With a rich bibliography sure to ease future research, Becoming Free, Remaining Free is a milestone in the historiography of slavery.