California, a Slave State (Hardcover)
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The untold history of slavery and resistance in California, from the Spanish missions, indentured Native American ranch hands, Indian boarding schools, Black miners, kidnapped Chinese prostitutes, and convict laborers to victims of modern trafficking
“A searing survey of ‘250 years of human bondage’ in what is now the state of California. . . . Readers will be outraged.”—Publishers Weekly
California owes its origins and sunny prosperity to slavery. Spanish invaders captured Indigenous people to build the chain of Catholic missions. Russian otter hunters shipped Alaska Natives—the first slaves transported into California—and launched a Pacific slave triangle to China. Plantation slaves were marched across the plains for the Gold Rush. San Quentin Prison incubated California’s carceral state. Kidnapped Chinese girls were sold in caged brothels in early San Francisco. Indian boarding schools supplied new farms and hotels with unfree child workers.
By looking west to California, Jean Pfaelzer upends our understanding of slavery as a North-South struggle and reveals how the enslaved in California fought, fled, and resisted human bondage. In unyielding research and vivid interviews, Pfaelzer exposes how California gorged on slavery, an appetite that persists today in a global trade in human beings lured by promises of jobs but who instead are imprisoned in sweatshops and remote marijuana grows, or sold as nannies and sex workers.
Slavery shreds California’s utopian brand, rewrites our understanding of the West, and redefines America’s uneasy paths to freedom.
About the Author
Jean Pfaelzer is a public historian, commentator, and professor of American studies at the University of Delaware. Her books include Driven Out: The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans; Rebecca Harding Davis: Origins of Social Realism; and The Utopian Novel in America. She lives in Washington, DC.
“A searing survey of ‘250 years of human bondage’ in what is now the state of California. . . . Pfaelzer traces the practices of today’s prison system, such as the leasing of convicts to private employers as forced labor, back to the various slave trades that occurred in California, and makes an irrefutable case that unpaid labor was a major engine of the state’s economic growth. Readers will be outraged.”—Publishers Weekly
“A powerful history of California’s varied systems of servitude, this book extends across three centuries, exploring bondage, resistance, and how servitude has shaped life in the golden state.”—Benjamin Madley, author of An American Genocide
“California has long asserted a proud legacy as a ‘free state.’ Jean Pfaelzer exposes huge rifts in that glossy narrative, including contemporary practices. A stunning aggregation of evidence through extraordinary research.”—Franklin Odo, Amherst College
“This capacious book excavates California’s brutal history of multi-racial bondage. After reading it, we will never see the Golden State’s celebrated diversity—or the stories the nation tells itself about its racial past—in the same way.”—P. Gabrielle Foreman, The Colored Conventions Project
“Through prolific storytelling using a range of human characters, Jean Pfaelzer takes us through the long California story of slavery and unfreedom in its many forms, offering a powerful revision of the state’s history.”—Philip Deloria, author of Playing Indian