The Year of the Lash: Free People of Color in Cuba and the Nineteenth-Century Atlantic World

By Michele Reid-Vazquez | Go to book overview

Conclusion

“Every visitor to Havana notices the variety in appearance, as well as the numbers of the negro population,” noted American writer Samuel Hazard, who traveled to Cuba in late 1860s. Englishman Henry Latham not only reiterated these sentiments but offered a positive appraisal of black residents. After touring American East and Gulf Coast port cities in 1867, he observed, “The condition of the negro population in this city [of Havana] strikes one at the first glance as being better, as far as material comfort goes, than in any part of the United States…. The splendid apparel of some of the nurses, housekeepers, and I suppose, freed women, is quite startling…. These ladies of coulour are well-to-do and shining in the sun.”1 The commentary by these visitors echoed those made by travelers in the 1820s and 1830s. Free black street vendors continued to sell sweets and hawked their wares, laundresses delivered finished orders, and dock workers attended disembarking ships.2 These images, although limited in scope, nevertheless offer evidence suggesting not only that free people of color had recovered from the devastating impact of the Escalera era but also that they had made significant strides in securing avenues for economic stability, despite competition from creoles, Spanish immigrants, and Chinese who had completed their contracts. Above all, at the end of the Escalera era, libres de color persisted in making their presence felt in Cuban society by continuing to carve out spaces for autonomy, community, and freedom.

As an approach to understanding this process, the Year of the Lash has detailed and analyzed the decades between 1844 and 1868 and the

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