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The Work of Recognition

Caribbean Colombia and the Postemancipation Struggle for Citizenship

Jason McGraw

Publication Year: 2014

This book tells the compelling story of postemancipation Colombia, from the liberation of the slaves in the 1850s through the country's first general labor strikes in the 1910s. As McGraw demonstrates, ending slavery fostered a new sense of citizenship, one shaped both by a model of universal rights and by the particular freedom struggles of African-descended people. Colombia's Caribbean coast was at the center of these transformations, in which women and men of color, the region's majority population, increasingly asserted the freedom to control their working conditions, fight in civil wars, and express their religious beliefs.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-x

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pp. xi-xvi

The Colombian expression no dar papaya means “Don’t let anyone take advantage of you.” Yet if the following institutions and individuals had not let me take advantage of them, repeatedly and over many years, this book would not exist today....

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pp. 1-19

This is a historical study inspired by the work of a poet. Candelario Obeso was born free in 1849, on the eve of New Granada’s slave emancipation, in the Magdalena River town of Mompós, in what would become the Caribbean region of Colombia. Raised and initially educated on the coast, Obeso eventually made his way to Bogotá, which afforded him access to higher learning, a flourishing print culture, and the political patronage...

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1 The Emancipatory Moment

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pp. 20-50

The middle years of the nineteenth century brought to New Granada disease and death, turmoil and renewal. This much was known to the people “from the poorest class” of the Caribbean town of Sitionuevo, where they forced their mayor into flight one August day in 1849. The townsfolk, wracked by cholera, had demanded medicine to alleviate the distress of their families, and when they were met with official indifference, they...

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2 Revolution of the People, War of the Races

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pp. 51-72

The movements around emancipation carried the promise of a flourishing democratic culture and the perils of inflamed hatreds. A consensus to end slavery and advance liberty and equality as universal ideals of the republic had not curtailed political ambitions or the recourse to arms in the pursuit of power. This tension was borne out by events subsequent to the Conservative victory in the 1856 presidential elections. The popular vote,...

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3 The Freedom of Industry and Labor

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pp. 73-98

Aquileo Parra, petty merchant from Santander and president of Colombia after the civil war, endured many trials in his public life, but by his own account nothing approached the ignominies of his 1845 journey on the Magdalena River to conduct trade at the Magangué fair. In Mompós, Parra hired a champán (a large covered dugout) and its crew, which entailed ...

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4 The Lettered Republic

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pp. 99-131

The bogas’ absence from the crafting of policies that impinged on their lives reflected their physical and above all social distance from the world of men who monopolized the writing of law and the written word itself. While illiteracy denied most plebeian citizens firsthand knowledge of legal codes, the learned minority cultivated intellectual and cultural distinctions to explain the existence of a republic with a vast unlearned majority....

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5 The Rise and Fall of Popular Politics

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pp. 132-163

After a day out drinking in late October 1874, Étienne Cassez arrived at his home in the coastal tobacco province of El Carmen only to be arrested by the district alcalde, taken to the municipal jail, and placed in the stocks. Upon his release Cassez fled to Barranquilla, where he reported the incident to the French consul, whose formal complaint to national and Bolívar state officials prompted Alcalde Ignacio Mendoza’s summary removal from office...

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6 A Hungry People Struggles

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pp. 164-194

What did it look like to demand recognition after disenfranchisement and in the face of encroaching hunger? The destruction of formal rights and an authoritarian ethos, fundaments of the post–1885 order known as the Regeneration, altered the political position of Caribbean citizens in the rechristened Republic of Colombia. Literacy and property restrictions on suffrage took away the vote from three out of four men in all but the most...

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7 Class War of a Thousand Days

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pp. 195-219

Two lethal years had already passed when the police inspector for Pié de la Popa informed the prefect about the troubles in his district caused by the armed conflict. The inspector complained that every Sunday hundreds of men and women, “among them army deserters, convicted criminals, and other bad elements who, due to the state of war, do not pass through the public streets or live in this place, but who on the days of fiesta gather in...

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pp. 220-232

In February 1910, more than 1,000 stevedores, steamboat crew members, and railroad workers walked off their jobs in Barranquilla after their employers cut wages by 25 percent. Canal diggers, female and male factory workers, and shop laborers soon joined them, and after a week of escalating conflict across the coastal city, the shipping consortium conceded, restoring the original wages and ending Colombia’s first general strike....


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pp. 233-282


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pp. 283-312


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pp. 313-328

E-ISBN-13: 9781469617886
E-ISBN-10: 1469617889
Print-ISBN-13: 9781469617862
Print-ISBN-10: 1469617862

Page Count: 344
Illustrations: 6 halftones, 1 map, 4 tables
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 883571072
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Work of Recognition

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Blacks -- Colombia -- History.
  • Blacks -- Colombia -- Atlantic Coast -- History.
  • Slaves -- Emancipation -- Colombia -- History.
  • Freedmen -- Colombia -- History.
  • Working class -- Colombia -- History.
  • Labor -- Colombia -- History.
  • Citizenship -- Colombia -- History.
  • Recognition (Philosophy) -- Political aspects -- Colombia -- History.
  • Colombia -- Race relations -- History.
  • Colombia -- Politics and government -- 1810-.
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