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Additionally, some slaves, after gaining their freedom, successfully sued their masters for compensation.

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For blacks and others, California was “a place to come and reinvent themselves,” Shirley Moore said.

“For African-Americans, California represented a place where, at least legally, slavery did not exist.” But many found California a far cry from the land of opportunity they’d envisioned.

For those early black pioneers, the state’s policies appeared promising.

California’s first constitution, adopted in 1849, dictated that: “Neither slavery, nor involuntary servitude, unless for the punishment of crimes, shall ever be tolerated in this State.” A year later, under the Compromise of 1850, California was admitted to the Union as a free state.

To capture the physicality of slavery, Chiwetel Ejiofor, star of 12 Years a Slave, says he asked his fellow actors to hit him during certain scenes.

Despite the violence and psychological torture, Chiwetel describes this movie as a love story.

The executor of the Royall estate ignored further state demands to pay her in 17, after which Belinda disappears from the record.

But the impassioned petition she submitted—which told of her childhood in Africa, her kidnapping, the shock of forced servitude in a foreign land, and the decades of abuse she experienced—lived on, spread by the Quaker anti-slavery network.

Officials were unwilling to challenge slaveholders who brought slaves into the state.

And other laws, such as one allowing people to bring slaves into the state if they stayed only temporarily, undermined the constitution, Shirley Moore said.

Using high-tech tools Thorny issues were often determined individually, through court cases like that of Archy Lee, a slave brought to Sacramento from Mississippi in 1857.

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