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Abstract

This dissertation analyzes the end of American slavery in conjunction with the birth of American overseas empire. As the first book-length project to examine the long forgotten state-sponsored plan to colonize over five million African Americans to Hawai‘i and the Philippines, this dissertation takes both a top-down and a bottom-up approach to its topic. What emerges is a transnational history of Emancipation and Reconstruction. Using archival sources in multiple languages from the United States, Hawai‘i, and the Philippines this project blends intellectual, cultural, political, and economic history to engage in number of ongoing debates in African American Studies and American history. It narrates both ideas about black colonization to the Pacific as well as the lives of actual black people who made that journey in search of a better life. By piecing together the stories of black farmers, teachers, chefs, activists, and artists this project paints a vivid picture of black life in the Pacific and how it intersected with Asian and Polynesian anticolonial struggles. What emerges is an empire abroad deeply connected to the empire at home as transnational subjects toggled back and forth between state discipline on the one hand and a ‘serial statelessness’ on the other. The paradox of black colonization to the Pacific proved to be that it promised emancipation through a colonial system of subjugation—a system that could not be easily contained by national boundaries or spatial geographies. In the end, this dissertation argues that black colonization to the Pacific should be understood as both the first, and more importantly, the “Last Reconstruction” in American history. Never again has America attempted to undo the legacy of slavery with the breadth and depth that it requires. While Reconstruction failed to build a truly postemancipation society it unfortunately succeeded in producing the most powerful empire in the world today that is still informed by the global quest for cheap labor and resources that the end of New World slavery accelerated.

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