Tuesday, October 22, 2013

African-Americans, Many Rivers to Cross

In the lead up to the airing of the PBS airing of “African-Americans, Many Rivers to Cross” presented by Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., there has been a lot of publicity generated for the show. In an article published October 21, 2013 the views concerning the reason for the show are given by professor Gates.


As someone who mainly researches the history and genealogy of African-Americans who were enslaved by Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole Indians I’m always sensitive to programs like this and whether the history I research will ever be a part of the discussion. It is with great anticipation I await the first show with hopes there be more than a passing reference to the extensive history of Indian Territory slaves and their contributions to the African-American history.

In the article Dr. Gates is quoted as saying “Slavery-the supreme hypocrisy” was always an essential ingredient of the American experiment. White America always drew heavily on the labor, culture and traditions of blacks while denying them due credit in exchange, not to mention their human rights.”

There is merit in this statement but it like so much African-American history fails to include the hypocrisy of Native Americans, specifically the “Five Slave Holding Tribes.” The article in the first sentence declares how the wounds of slavery “still afflict the country today” I would argue this should include the wounds inflicted on the descendants of Indian Territory Freedmen.

The horrific “profitable practice of slavery and the brutal inhumanity of Jim Crow” did not stop at the borders of Indian Territory. The slaves of the Five Slave Holding Tribes that were emancipated in 1866 also suffered from Jim Crow, race wars and lynching’s yet very little of this history seems to be included in “African-American” history. The contributions to the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole especially seems to be lost to history when programs of this nature are produced and it is about time the history of Indian Territory Freedmen be included.


As I watch this series it is my greatest hope that the story of slavery among the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole Nations is incorporated in the story.  The “amnesia about slavery” that Dr. Gates discusses I would argue should also include the amnesia in Indian Country.  If Dr. Gates and the producers of African-Americans-Many Rivers to Cross are “interested in recognizing and discovering oft-neglected pieces of the American puzzle” I humbly submit he need look no further than Indian Territory or what is now the state of Oklahoma.

As a member of the African-American Genealogy & History Blogging Circle I will be writing more about my opinions and observations of Dr. Gates' program with hopes of providing an insight that may not be presented in the program. 

1 comment:

  1. I just watched the first episode and there was no mention. Perhaps it will come up in the second one as he moves forward in time. So far I don't feel that I got any new information from the first episode. The scenery was beautiful, though.

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