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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
The dark and buried history of California as a slave state is seldom acknowledged. Yet the state owes its origins 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. Plantation slaves were marched across the plains for the Gold Rush. San Quentin Prison incubated California’s carceral state. Kidnapped Chinese girls, displayed in cages, served in brothels in early San Francisco. Indian boarding schools supplied unfree child workers. In this groundbreaking book, Jean Pfaelzer upends the North-South dichotomy in how we understand American slavery by looking west to California. 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 and trapped in sweatshops and remote marijuana grows, or sold as nannies and sex workers.
Slavery shreds the state’s utopian brand, rewrites our understanding of the West, and redefines America’s uneasy paths to freedom.
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