This “social history of the abolition of the slave trade” from author Beatriz Mamigonian focuses on africanos livres—the illegally enslaved Africans rescued from slave ships by the Mixed Commission and later Brazilian authorities and kept as state wards awaiting an uncertain emancipation. It is a magnificent work. By highlighting the Africans' experiences and the protracted conflicts over their rights in a nation where slavery remained deeply embedded, the author forcefully troubles the history of slavery and freedom in Brazil and the wider Atlantic world.

While nearly 11,000 gained africano livre status between 1821 and 1864, many Brazilians shuddered at their presence and officially endorsed their reexportation to Africa at the government's expense, codified in the 1831 law prohibiting slave imports into Brazil. What happened in practice, however, was compulsory labor that rendered them barely distinguishable from slaves. Mamigonian demonstrates how the...

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