Freedoms Given, Freedoms Won explores the ways Afro-Brazilians in two major cities adapted to the new conditions of life after the abolition of slavery and how they confronted limitations placed on their new freedom. The book sets forth new ways of understanding why the abolition of slavery did not yield equitable fruits of citizenship, not only in Brazil, but throughout the Americas and the Caribbean.
Afro-Brazilians in Sao Paulo and Salvador lived out their new freedom in ways that raise issues common to the entire Afro-Atlantic diaspora. In Sao Paulo, they initiated a vocal struggle for inclusion in the creation of the nation's first black civil rights organization and political party, and they appropriated a discriminatory identity that isolated blacks. In contrast, African identity prevaled over black identity in Salvador, where social protest was oriented toward protecting the right of cultural pluralism.
Of all the eras and issues studied in Afro-Brazilian history, post-abolition social and political action has been the most neglected. Butler provides many details of this period for the first time in English and supplements published sources with original oral histories, Afro-Brazilian newspapers, and new state archival documents currently being catalogued in Bahia. Freedoms Given, Freedoms Won sets the Afro-Brazilian experience in a national context as well as situating it within the Afro-Atlantic diaspora through a series of explicit parallels, particularly with Cuba and Jamaica.