The Color of the Land

The Color of the Land: Race, Nation, and the Politics of Landownership in Oklahoma, 1832-1929

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 312
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Color of the Land
    Book Description:

    The Color of the Landbrings the histories of Creek Indians, African Americans, and whites in Oklahoma together into one story that explores the way races and nations were made and remade in conflicts over who would own land, who would farm it, and who would rule it. This story disrupts expected narratives of the American past, revealing how identities--race, nation, and class--took new forms in struggles over the creation of different systems of property.Conflicts were unleashed by a series of sweeping changes: the forced "removal" of the Creeks from their homeland to Oklahoma in the 1830s, the transformation of the Creeks' enslaved black population into landed black Creek citizens after the Civil War, the imposition of statehood and private landownership at the turn of the twentieth century, and the entrenchment of a sharecropping economy and white supremacy in the following decades. In struggles over land, wealth, and power, Oklahomans actively defined and redefined what it meant to be Native American, African American, or white. By telling this story, David Chang contributes to the history of racial construction and nationalism as well as to southern, western, and Native American history.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0439-8
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Oklahoma as America
    (pp. 1-14)

    “Oklahoma” means “red man” in the Choctaw language, is run though by a “Black Belt,” and has been claimed by some as “white man’s country.” It has been termed an Indian homeland, a black promised land, and a white heartland.¹ All these competing racial claims to one place seem extraordinary. This book suggests, however, that Oklahoma is really exceptional only because it encapsulates so much American history within its borders, revealing much about how the struggle over land has given shape to the way Americans—indigenous, black, and white—created and gave meaning to races and nations.

    Phrases like the...

  5. PART I BEFORE ALLOTMENT: Land and the Making of Creek Nationhoods

    • 1 Owning and Being Owned PROPERTY, SLAVERY, AND CREEK NATIONHOOD TO 1865
      (pp. 17-38)

      On January 18, 1802, an American man named Benjamin Hawkins walked through Tuskegee, a Creek town perched on a bluff above the point where the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers meet in present-day Alabama. In his account of the visit, he made particular note of where the people of Tuskegee raised their crops. He remarked on the large fields across the Tallapoosa and admired the “small patches well formed in the fork of the rivers, in the rich flat land below the bluff.”¹ It was January, so no one was working in those fields. But if Hawkins had come back in...

    • 2 An Equal Interest in the Soil SMALL-SCALE FARMING AND THE WORK OF NATIONHOOD, 1866–1889
      (pp. 39-70)

      One day in 1866, the members of the McIntosh family learned that they were free. Prior to that day, Jackson and Hagar McIntosh and their eight children had labored for their owner, Roley McIntosh. He was themiccoof Coweta, one of the leading Lower Creek towns. Roley McIntosh, like many of the wealthiest Creeks, had taken up arms for the Creek faction that had allied itself with the Confederacy. When McIntosh’s side had lost and a treaty of peace with the United States emancipated Creek slaves, he sent word that Jackson and Hagar McIntosh, their children, and his other...

  6. PART II ALLOTMENT: Dividing Lands, Nations, and Races

    • 3 Raw Country and Jeffersonian Dreams THE RACIAL POLITICS OF ALLOTMENT
      (pp. 73-106)

      “At first this was just raw country,” Joe Grayson told his interviewer. In 1937, the elderly white man sat in his rural home northwest of Henryetta, Oklahoma, and recounted a classic pioneer story of which he was the hero. “I came to the Indian Territory when I was fourteen years old with my parents,” in 1887. “We had two wagons with ox teams.” On those wagons they hauled the possessions they needed to make a home. The family, he remembered, crossed into the territory “on the Goodlands in the Kiamichi Mountains. We crossed several rivers, forded the Mountain Fork, crossed...


    • 4 Policy and the Making of Landlords and Tenants ALLOTMENT, LANDLESSNESS, AND CREEK POLITICS, 1906–1920S
      (pp. 109-148)

      In 1912, a frustrated farmer wrote a letter to a left-wing Oklahoma Cotton Belt publication that addressed his fellow farmers. “Ten years ago,” he reminded the readers, “you were eager to unfold your plans of acquiring and fitting in a snug little farm house for the maintenance of yourself and your family.” He went on to ask them, “How did your plans pan out?” He answered the question for them: “The fact that you are still renting is deemed sufficient answer.”¹ Tens of thousands of white and black men like him had come to Oklahoma to become landowners and yet...

      (pp. 149-174)

      On November 16, 1907, Indian Territory and Oklahoma Territory were bound together to make a new state. From the point of view of many of Oklahoma’s black residents, statehood also bound together the fates of two black populations: black Indian citizens and recently arrived African Americans. To J. E. Toombs, editor of theMuskogee Comet, this coming together created both opportunities and perils for black people. In June 1904, he advised the readers of that African American newspaper that once Indian Territory became part of the new state of Oklahoma, they could turn landownership into political power. “There are many...

    • 6 The Battle for Whiteness MAKING WHITES IN A WHITE MAN’S COUNTRY, 1916–1924
      (pp. 175-204)

      What did it mean to be a Klansman? N. Clay Jewett, the Grand Dragon of the Oklahoma Ku Klux Klan, spread the word about what he considered the highest of callings. “Klankraft,” as he put it, meant “the exemplification of the noble ideals of chivalry.” It required the defense of “the chastity of our women” and “the protection of our homes.” It proceeded from a “spirit of pure patriotism” and a “sublime reverence for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” To Jewett, the Klan represented “honor and justice in all things.” Almost needless to say, it called white men to...

    (pp. 205-212)

    By the late 1930s and early 1940s, a visitor to Oklahoma could be forgiven for thinking that the paradoxes and conundrums of the past were as dead and buried as the Indian leaders of the previous century. Wasn’t it obvious what it meant to own land? Wasn’t it clear who was Creek, who was white, and who was black? Didn’t everyone know that there was only one nation here and that was America? All these questions might seem part of the remote past, like the larger-than-life characters who animate the conflicts of late nineteenth-century Creek history. Those figures had been...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 213-256)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 257-276)
  11. Index
    (pp. 277-293)