Fugitive Blackness: Finding African Diasporic Self-Governance in the Early Circum-Caribbean

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Fugitive Blackness studies forms of self-governance available to African-diaspora communities in the early Spanish colonial circum-Caribbean. Spain insisted that African and African-descent (Black) slaves remained foreigners, not inherently entitled to self-governance and land as were indigenous Americans and Spanish municipalities. Enslaved and free Blacks were expected to lose their cultures, to live in heterogeneous (non-ethnic) groupings, and to assimilate Spanish Christian practices. Nonetheless, Black people were occasionally organized in self-governing corporate units. The church created spaces for them in religious brotherhoods; the crown contemplated schemes to place them in mining zones and coerce their labor while allowing them restricted political liberty; runaway slaves created free, but persecuted, polities; and authorities sometimes offered them the status of free Black towns that paid taxes and pursued future runaways. By examining these political and social structures together, I show how local culture (which could reflect Spanish, African, indigenous, and hybrid antecedents) colored semi-autonomous political institutions in this context of refused liberty.