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Degrees of Freedom

Degrees of Freedom

Louisiana and Cuba after Slavery

Rebecca J. Scott

ISBN 9780674027596

Publication date: 04/30/2008

As Louisiana and Cuba emerged from slavery in the late nineteenth century, each faced the question of what rights former slaves could claim. Degrees of Freedom compares and contrasts these two societies in which slavery was destroyed by war, and citizenship was redefined through social and political upheaval. Both Louisiana and Cuba were rich in sugar plantations that depended on an enslaved labor force. After abolition, on both sides of the Gulf of Mexico, ordinary people—cane cutters and cigar workers, laundresses and labor organizers—forged alliances to protect and expand the freedoms they had won. But by the beginning of the twentieth century, Louisiana and Cuba diverged sharply in the meanings attributed to race and color in public life, and in the boundaries placed on citizenship.

Louisiana had taken the path of disenfranchisement and state-mandated racial segregation; Cuba had enacted universal manhood suffrage and had seen the emergence of a transracial conception of the nation. What might explain these differences?

Moving through the cane fields, small farms, and cities of Louisiana and Cuba, Rebecca Scott skillfully observes the people, places, legislation, and leadership that shaped how these societies adjusted to the abolition of slavery. The two distinctive worlds also come together, as Cuban exiles take refuge in New Orleans in the 1880s, and black soldiers from Louisiana garrison small towns in eastern Cuba during the 1899 U.S. military occupation.

Crafting her narrative from the words and deeds of the actors themselves, Scott brings to life the historical drama of race and citizenship in postemancipation societies.


  • Scott has given us an epochal work that is the most important comparative analysis of race relations in the Americas since Carl Degler'sNeither Black Nor White. What makes the book so important is its truly unusual method, and the great skill and brio with which that method is carried out. It is a triumph of historical investigation.

    —George Reid Andrews, author of Afro-Latin America, 1800-2000


  • 2006, Winner of the Frederick Douglass Book Prize
  • 2005, Winner of the Kemper and Leila Williams Prize
  • 2006, Winner of the John Hope Franklin Publication Prize


  • Rebecca J. Scott is Charles Gibson Distinguished University Professor of History and Professor of Law at the University of Michigan.

Book Details

  • 384 pages
  • 6 x 9 inches
  • Belknap Press

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