How do people bound by the chains of slavery become free? The students in the Fall 2001 edition of History 300: Caribbean History, investigated that question. The diverse slave plantation colonies of the Caribbean basin all experienced emancipation between the 1790s and the 1880s. Enslaved people overthrew the murderous planter regime of St.-Domingue in the Haitian Revolution. The rise of reform movements helped lead to state-imposed emancipation in British colonies like Jamaica and Barbados during the 1830s. Meanwhile, the search for freedom from Spain, plus changing technologies helped to bring about the gradual freeing of Cuban slaves between the 1860s and the 1880s.

The people of the Caribbean islands, survivors of brutal slave regimes (a previous class created a website [] that dealt with resistance to slavery in the Caribbean,) had to carve out new economic, political, and personal identities for themselves. Often they did so under the hostile eyes of former slaveowners and metropolitan whites ready to see every bump in the road as evidence of black "inferiority." When they sought "too much" freedom, as outsiders or as oppressive internal elites saw it, ex-slaves often faced new limits on their achievements, as in Jamaica during the time of Morant Bay, in Haiti, and elsewhere. By the end of the century, economic troubles, conflicts, and other problems gave already racist outside observers excuses to claim that freedom had failed.

And yet Caribbean people would have disagreed. They were still in the middle of defining what freedom meant. They forged their own cultures, their own communities, and their own ways to survive in a hostile world. Forward in their generations, they moved triumphantly. The student essays and web pages of this site present part of that story.