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Reviewed by:
  • Race and Nation in the Age of Emancipations ed. by Whitney Nell Stewart and John Garrison Marks
  • Kay Wright Lewis (bio)
Race and Nation in the Age of Emancipations. Edited by Whitney Nell Stewart and John Garrison Marks. (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2018. Pp. 224. Cloth, $86.95; paper, $29.95.)

In this compelling and easy-to-read book, Whitney Nell Stewart and John Garrison Marks make an important contribution to Atlantic world scholarship. Using the themes of mobility, law, labor, and the public sphere, the authors of the edited volume explore how enslaved and free people across the Atlantic world inserted themselves into the discourse over freedom and citizenship in multifaceted ways that were significant at the local level as well as on an Atlantic scale. For Africans across the diaspora knew that the natural laws of European liberty and freedom applied to them. Race and Nation demonstrates convincingly that the efforts of these Atlantic world actors must therefore be examined comparatively across time and space and included in discussions about postemancipation public life, race, and citizenship during the “age of emancipations” in the nineteenth century.

The essays are organized around four themes: mobility and migration, law and legal status, labor and freedom, and race and the public sphere. There are ten essays in all, and I will highlight only a few of the many contributions this book has to offer. The three essays in part 1, written by Mathew Spooner, Andrew N. Wegmann, and Ikuko Asaka, respectively, offer compelling evidence of how enslaved and free people used mobility and migration during the Revolutionary War, in Liberia, and in Canada. Spooner offers a rich and necessarily sobering corrective to what happened [End Page 256] to thousands of enslaved people who asserted their rights to freedom during the revolutionary era, beyond the four thousand or so we know got out with the aid of the British government.

In part 2, Philip Kaisary and Martha S. Jones explore the way that laws were made to affirm or contest categories of blackness and constitutional nationhood. This can be seen, Kaisary argues, in the case of Jean-Jacques Dessalines and the formation of the Haitian constitution. Despite its flaws, “the 1805 Constitution articulated a radical anticolonial politics that explicitly renounced racial categorization and inspired enslaved peoples throughout the Americas” (84). Indeed, the Haitian constitution established a racial test for citizenship that turned European notions of citizenship on their head, a model that would be followed in the formation of the Liberian state. Through the lens of a black mariner from Baltimore named George Hackett, Jones gives us an important view of how people of color saw themselves and the world around them that was oppositional to the laws and customs established throughout the South.

In part 3, Gad Heuman and Caree A. Banton look at the ways in which shifting definitions or coded descriptions of labor evolved as a means of exploiting people in the anglophone West Indies after Britain officially ended slavery. Or how labor was used as a means of demonstrating civilization, freedom, and self-reliance, as was the case, for example, with the newly arrived Barbadian immigrants to Liberia and the African recaptives freed in Liberia.

Finally, in part 4, Paul J. Polgar looks at free blacks in northern American states and their use of the public sphere to “fuse ideals of black citizenship with abolitionist reform” (145). James E. Sanders and Celso Thomas Castilho celebrate Spanish America’s understanding of citizenship as representations of modernity in Columbia, Mexico, and northern Brazil. Over time, however, the antislavery actors in these regions became heavily influenced by Western ideas about race and “republican virtues” (147). Castilho points out that although Afro-Brazilians defined their own understanding of the end of enslavement in Brazil through the performative and prescriptive value of their abolition celebrations in the 1880s, that did little to change ideas about race and who was eligible for full citizenship rights (much like in the post–Civil War U.S. South). Indeed, white Brazilian fears of “black authority” were heightened with ideas of an inevitable race war. Even the idea, Castilho notes, of “a black collectivity coexisting as...