BBC News Brazil reported on the research of our colleague Bruno Lima

May 31, 2021

In the article, Lima presents a previously unknown 1000-page lawsuit revealing that the former slave and then young lawyer Luiz Gama legally obtained the freedom of 217 slaves. Historians consulted by BBC News Brazil state that Bruno Lima's archival discovery may be the largest freedom suit in the history of Brazil and the Americas, thus making a significant contribution to the rewriting of 19th-century legal history in the Atlantic world.

Initiated in 1870, the freedom suit of the 217 enslaved plaintiffs, represented by Gama, lasted almost ten years and was brought before each and every court within the legal system, eventually receiving a favourable ruling by the Brazilian High Court of Justice. At that time, Brazil had the highest concentration of slaves in the world. More than 1.5 million Africans and descendants of Africans were brutally enslaved.

To attain the freedom of his clients, the newly qualified lawyer Gama had to develop a paradoxically original and traditional argument. Relying on the Portuguese civilist doctrine, Gama first requested the provisional freedom of the defendants so that they could pursue their claims. Once this had been granted, Gama then fought for permanent freedom based on a clause in the will of the former owner of the enslaved plaintiffs.

The normative freedom strategy worked, and Gama won at all judicial instances. This lawsuit would serve as the foundation for dozens of others that would follow until 1882, the year of Gama's death. The PhD researcher Bruno Lima estimates that Gama successfully freed more than 750 enslaved people via the courts.

You can read the complete article in Portuguese here:

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