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African Cherokees in Indian Territory

African Cherokees in Indian Territory: From Chattel to Citizens

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    African Cherokees in Indian Territory
    Book Description:

    Forcibly removed from their homes in the late 1830s, Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, and Chickasaw Indians brought their African-descended slaves with them along the Trail of Tears and resettled in Indian Territory, present-day Oklahoma. Celia E. Naylor vividly charts the experiences of enslaved and free African Cherokees from the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma's entry into the Union in 1907. Carefully extracting the voices of former slaves from interviews and mining a range of sources in Oklahoma, she creates an engaging narrative of the composite lives of African Cherokees. Naylor explores how slaves connected with Indian communities not only through Indian customs--language, clothing, and food--but also through bonds of kinship.Examining this intricate and emotionally charged history, Naylor demonstrates that the "red over black" relationship was no more benign than "white over black." She presents new angles to traditional understandings of slave resistance and counters previous romanticized ideas of slavery in the Cherokee Nation. She also challenges contemporary racial and cultural conceptions of African-descended people in the United States. Naylor reveals how black Cherokee identities evolved reflecting complex notions about race, culture, "blood," kinship, and nationality. Indeed, Cherokee freedpeople's struggle for recognition and equal rights that began in the nineteenth century continues even today in Oklahoma.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0545-6
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-24)

    It was a slow and steady movement of people, animals, and an array of property. Not a journey across the Atlantic Ocean, the route of this middle passage was outlined in the snow by a trail of blood and bodies. The Trail of Tears,nv no hi du na tlo yi lv, signifies the intense suffering experienced by those young and old who traveled in snow and mud, hungry and cold, without ample supplies of food or clothing. The journey by foot, and in some cases by steamboat, proved to be laborious; for a significant number of Cherokees who were...

  5. 1 On the Run in Antebellum Indian Territory
    (pp. 25-50)

    Having survived the Trail of Tears—the long, perilous passage to Indian Territory—enslaved African Cherokees quickly discovered that the chains of bondage that linked them to Cherokee owners and communities remained constant and taut even in the new territory. Many who made this journey had been forced to leave family members and friends behind. They grieved about being separated and wondered if they would ever reconnect with those living in the old country. Some had traveled to Indian Territory with expectations of gradual emancipation in a new land. Collective suffering of African Cherokees and Cherokees along the trail, however,...

  6. 2 Day-to-Day Resistance to the Peculiar Institution and the Struggle to Remain Free in the Antebellum Cherokee Nation
    (pp. 51-74)

    Slave resistance. The phrase has historically conjured up particular icons: Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman. It has also invoked certain spaces and images: the hold and deck of slave ships during the Middle Passage; the auction block; slave cabins; rice, sugarcane, cotton, and tobacco plantations throughout the South; the Big House; women, men, and children on the run; the very bodies of enslaved people engraved with marks of the whip and other instruments of torture. In the last half of the twentieth century, scholars have complicated and interrogated our understanding(s) of slave resistance—of the resisters and...

  7. 3 Conceptualizing and Constructing African Indian Racial and Cultural Identities in Antebellum Indian Territory
    (pp. 75-110)

    Even as Shoe Boots’s free African Cherokee kin grappled with notions concerning their Cherokee blood ties, sense of belonging, and meanings of birthright, especially during particularly perilous moments in the antebellum era, enslaved African Indians in the Five Tribes also developed a keen understanding of their rootedness to these Indian nations after removal to Indian Territory. The links between “blood,” belonging, and racial identity—and, by extension, innate group characteristics—not only became entrenched within European American life beginning in the colonial period but also encroached on the worldviews of African Indians and Indians residing in nineteenthcentury southern Indian communities...

  8. [Illustrations]
    (pp. 111-124)
  9. 4 Trapped in the Turmoil A Divided Cherokee Nation and the Plight of Enslaved African Cherokees during the Civil War Era
    (pp. 125-154)

    Although multiple processes of acculturation and acts of resistance had not resulted in mass emancipation, enslaved African Cherokees in the antebellum Cherokee Nation had, by the late 1850s, become seasoned residents grounded in Cherokee communities. Rumors of an impending war between the North and South triggered fresh hopes of life beyond bondage. The Civil War served as a monumental opportunity for those enslaved in the Cherokee Nation to grasp the seemingly unattainable prospect of freedom. Discussions about the existence and maintenance of slavery in the United States and international movements to abolish slavery also permeated the consciousness of free Cherokee...

  10. 5 Cherokee Freedpeople’s Struggle for Recognition and Rights during Reconstruction
    (pp. 155-178)

    Although, during the war, many enslaved African Cherokees left their enslavers’ farms and plantations, either of their own volition or as a result of their enslavers’ orders, once the war ended many formerly enslaved people in the Cherokee Nation were intent on returning to their homes in Indian Territory. Like freedpeople throughout the United States, formerly enslaved people of the Cherokees began searching for close kin after the Civil War. The separation of family members during slavery continued throughout the Reconstruction era. With few records of where anyone had moved during the war, families had to pursue any slim clues...

  11. 6 Contested Common Ground: Landownership, Race Politics, and Segregation on the Eve of Statehood
    (pp. 179-200)

    While attention was directed toward the Wallace and Kern-Clifton rolls and the resulting consequences to the Cherokee Nation, legislation passed concurrently by the U.S. government would prove to be even more devastating to the integrity of the Cherokee Nation, as well as to the other nations of the Five Tribes. Following the Civil War, the federal government attempted to dismantle the Indian nations in Indian Territory, and thus to open the land in Indian Territory for white settlement. The General Allotment Act of 8 February 1887, also known as the Dawes Act, provided the president of the United States with...

  12. Afterword
    (pp. 201-220)

    The peculiar institution of slavery permeates the historical narrative of people of African descent in the Americas; bondage configured the everyday experiences of enslaved people and often directed their thoughts, words, and actions. Enslaved people of African descent of the Cherokee Nation in Indian Territory constructed their lives not only as enslaved human beings but also as people with evolving sociocultural identities about what and who they were in relation to Cherokees. Their story is neither static nor lifeless. Like many African American family sagas, theirs does not have a definite, concrete, and carefully documented beginning. Instead, the experiences of...

  13. Appendix: Treaty with the Cherokee Nation, 1866
    (pp. 221-238)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 239-312)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 313-342)
  16. Index
    (pp. 343-360)