Race to Revolution: The United States and Cuba during Slavery and Jim Crow

Race to Revolution: The United States and Cuba during Slavery and Jim Crow

Race to Revolution: The United States and Cuba during Slavery and Jim Crow

Race to Revolution: The United States and Cuba during Slavery and Jim Crow

Synopsis

The histories of Cuba and the United States are tightly intertwined and have been for at least two centuries. In Race to Revolution, historian Gerald Horne examines a critical relationship between the two countries by tracing out the typically overlooked interconnections among slavery, Jim Crow, and revolution. Slavery was central to the economic and political trajectories of Cuba and the United States, both in terms of each nation's internal political and economic development and in the interactions between the small Caribbean island and the Colossus of the North. Horne draws a direct link between the black experiences in two very different countries and follows that connection through changing periods of resistance and revolutionary upheaval. Black Cubans were crucial to Cuba's initial independence, and the relative freedom they achieved helped bring down Jim Crow in the United States, reinforcing radical politics within the black communities of both nations. This in turn helped to create the conditions that gave rise to the Cuban Revolution which, on New Years' Day in 1959, shook the United States to its core. Based on extensive research in Havana, Madrid, London, and throughout the U.S., Race to Revolution delves deep into the historical record, bringing to life the experiences of slaves and slave traders, abolitionists and sailors, politicians and poor farmers. It illuminates the complex web of interaction and influence that shaped the lives of many generations as they struggled over questions of race, property, and political power in both Cuba and the United States.

Excerpt

The Africans were apprehensive+2014with good reason. It was early in 1862 and the nation in which they resided, the United States, was embroiled in a bloody civil war. As such, the Washington authorities sought to send hundreds of them to Key West to work on fortifications, as this small town was well behind the lines of the so-called Confederate States of America—which dominated most of Florida—and had sought secession precisely on the grounds of continuation of enslavement of Africans. But the Africans asked to take on this important task balked, assuming this might be a prelude to selling them into slavery in Cuba, just across the Florida Straits. Their nervousness was understandable, since, for the longest period, there had been a robust slave trade—licit and otherwise—between the republic and the Spanish colony.

Thus by 1862 the republic, which had countenanced this odious commerce for so long, was now ironically placed in jeopardy because Africans had long memories of being shipped to one of the world’s most significant slave emporia. These were not unreasonable fears given that some Confederate rebels were then in the process of transferring or liquidating their human assets by sending them to or selling them in Cuba. Though in the long run the demise of slavery in the republic spelled doom for its counterparts in Cuba, in Barbados in 1863 sugar planters complained that the increase in slaves delivered to Havana by fleeing rebels and increased traffic from Africa (often captained by comrades of these rebels) was providing “unfair competition.”

In short, given the intense traffic between Havana and the mainland, slaveholders taking their slaves with them to Cuba were not uncommon. Africans resisting their dispatch to Florida may also have heard about the rude reception those like them had received by colonial authorities in Cuba. in 1837, George Davis, a tailor—and U.S. Negro—was traveling in Cuba where he was suspected of being a dreaded abolitionist. He was arrested and almost immediately condemned to death. As an antislavery journal put it, he was “executed . . .

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