8 September 2023

Book. The abolition of slavery in the 19th centurye century is often recounted as a moment of great victory, which definitively turns the page on barbarism. Black captives would have enjoyed full freedom, and white slave societies redemption. Caribbean-born historian Kris Manjapra points out, in a short comparative history essay (After abolition. The black ghosts of slaveryOtherwise, 336 pages, 22.90 euros), the inconsistencies and lies of such a story.

Professor of history at Tufts University (Massachusetts), he discusses how emancipation was implemented in different countries, the compensation offered to planters, and the burden that white society imposed on former slaves, in order to break the liberation movement they had built.

The analysis proposed by the historian reveals to what extent the emancipation did not break once and for all the chains retaining the now freed slaves. Rather, oppression has been renewed in new forms. Kris Manjapra comes to this conclusion after studying the process of emancipation in several places, including the northern states of the United States (often only presented as an abolitionist hotbed against the slave South), Haiti, the United Kingdom, the Caribbean and Africa.

Read also the review (2021): Article reserved for our subscribers “The Worlds of Slavery”: the long duration of servitude

The Haitian context is relatively well known in France, even if research still has things to teach us about the way Paris and Washington agreed to ” to punish “ this nation to the point of“mortgaging any future out of slavery”, as the historian writes. His reminder of the conditions imposed on Port-au-Prince in the 1820s, for the reintegration of the island into the concert of nations, is nevertheless useful. The French banks then obtained direct access to the Haitian treasury in order to draw from it the amount of compensation required after the proclamation of independence and to receive, in passing, generous commissions on the transactions carried out. Thus, beyond slavery, white supremacy was perpetuated, making it possible to preserve economic, social and political domination over the world, through new institutions.


Similarly, the northern states of the United States, which stood up to the South to end slavery, nevertheless also took care to preserve anti-Black norms throughout the “progressive abolition”, which was took place there from the XVIIIe century.

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