Sunday, April 25, 2010

Exploring the Concept of Race in the Five Slave Holding Tribes

It has always been a curious argument heard over the years that “race” was not a part of citizenship among the so called Five Civilized Tribes of Southeastern Indians known as the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek (Muscogee) and Seminole nations. It is curious because most of the documentation flies in the face of that argument.

The citizens in the nation will speak of their history of adopting people into the nation and will give some isolated example of how an individual was embraced by their tribe to demonstrate they were adhering to some ancient practice that is a part of their culture. The practice appears to be rare for black folk when you look at the record of the five slave holding tribes. Understandably, being southern, plantation slave owning tribes, race was every bit of their makeup.

Take for example the 1896 Applications for citizenship in the four “mother tribes” Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Creek. This little used record set also known as M1650 at the National Archives contains many applications of people attempting to become citizens in the nation of their birth but as one should expect, race was a factor when the Department of the Interior and its employee’s began the process of “racial” categorization at least in the Chickasaw and Choctaw tribes. Their attorneys included language that spoke emphatically on the subject of racial prejudice in each file where someone with mixed African-Native ancestry applied for citizenship.

The records were separated into distinct categories of citizenship; intermarried white, freedmen and “by blood.” Even the applications that were submitted for “by blood” citizenship would receive a notation on them that ensured the applicant would be classified by race and in the case of the Chickasaw nation, not entitled to citizenship if the individual had a mother who was of “African” descent.

During the Dawes enrollment and land allotment process in which the Dawes Commission was mandated to construct rolls of individuals in distinct categories according to their “racial classification” a sordid and convoluted process was utilized in my opinion to minimize the amount of land that would be granted to anyone of “discernable” African dissent.

As genealogist we recognize the fact that a child is the product of both parents and two sets of grandparents and so on… What is so unarguably ridiculous is the method the Dawes Commission and the Five Slave Holding Tribes contrived to establish that a person is considered the race of their mother and their father’s contribution should not be used to determine whether an individuals possessed “Indian blood.”

In my next installment I will illustrate my point with additional documenatation too illustrate how the science of genealogy was corrupted to prevent thousands of people from being "correctly and legally" described as possessing "Indian blood."

1 comment:

  1. Hello Terry

    You have used an excellent example, keeping in mind that this concept of race and color was also prevalent as early as the 1840s in the Territory and the concept influenced many of the laws passed in some of the tribes.

    In 1841, a full year before the major slave uprising in the Cherokee Nation, some strict rules were put into place regarding the movement and freedom of "negroes" in the nation, including giving others the power to inflict lashes as they saw fit, should a negro violate a weaspons restriction. (Interestingly the owners were to be fined cash whereas the offending negro was to receive lashes.)

    From the National Council of the Cherokee Nation, 1841:

    "Be it Further Enacted: That master or owners of slaves, who may suffer or allow their negro or negroes to carry of own firearms of any description, Bowie or butcher knives, dirks or any unlawful instrument shall be subject to be fined in a sum not less than twenty-five dollars."

    "Be it Further Enacted: That any negro whether free or slave, that may be found or seen carrying weapons of any kind in violation of the section of this act such patrol company or companies may take up and inflict as many stripes on the bare back as they think proper."

    * * * * *

    After the attempted Flight for Freedom, referred to as "The Great Runaway", more restrictions were placed on slaves as well as on the small number of free blacks known to live in the area.

    To avoid future insurrections the Cherokees place further addressed those free blacks who were not seen a brothers, compatriots or fellow Cherokees as one might hear was the norm---but they were in fact seen as negroes, who caused the discontent among their slaves.

    In December 1842 the National Council of the Cherokee Nation enacted the following:

    "Be it further enacted, That should any free Negro or Negroes be found guilty of abiding, abetting or decoying any slave or slaves, to leave his or their owner, or employer, such free Negro or Negroes, shall receive for each and every offense 100 lashes on the bare back and be immediately removed from the Nation."

    It is clear that all "negroes" clearly people identified by their race. The concept of race and the distinctions among races were indeed very clear.

    In recent years, part of Tahlequah occupied by Cherokee Freedmen were and still are, referred to my many as (N-word) Hill. The concept of race and race-ism is indeed a part of the culture in 19th, 20th and 21st century Oklahoma, and in many communities of the Five Slave-holding Tribes.

    That also is in agreement with your examples of how it was always said that a child followed the race of the mother. Yet, persons who are not black who obtained their hallowed Cherokee blood from their fathers, are allowed citizenship. It is not a matrileneal issue, unless it is convenient.

    This indeed illustrates the need to study history even more.

    Keep up the good work on your blog to bring more history to light.