Robert Chase's compelling book We Are Not Slaves: State Violence, Coerced Labor, and Prisoners’ Rights in Postwar America made me think about the seemingly unlikely pairing of Isabel De Olvera and the incarcerated Texans with whom the book focuses. As a scholar of Black women's history, I made connections between this seventeenth-century woman of African descent and twentieth-century prisoners because they both used the law to fight against those who sought to enslave them.

In 1600, Olvera, a woman of African and Indian heritage, sought protection from the mayor of Querétaro, Mexico, through a petition that would validate her rights as a free woman to join an expedition as a servant, not slave, of a Spanish woman. She knew enough about the power of New World slavery and the legal system to have a petition drawn that she hoped would serve as a defense against those who might see her...

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