Untangling a Red, White, and Black Heritage, A Personal History of the Allotment Era by Darnella Davis, Ed.D., contrasts the fates of two families—one of Cherokee Freedman descent and the other of Muscogee Creek heritage. Their histories, along with the starkly different federal policies that molded their destinies, offer a powerful corrective to the history of racial mixing on the frontier. From the Allotment Period to the present, their claims of racial identity and land in Oklahoma reveal inequalities that still fester 100 years on. The details of their quest for prosperity, and dignity, provide a trove of fact-based evidence that is sorely lacking in current racial discourse. Placing their legacy in the present invites a fresh perspective on just who we think we are.
Part historical narrative, part memoire, this book (University of New Mexico Press, 2018) draws data from the National Archives, Okmulgee Country Courthouse, Oklahoma Historical Society, lively oral histories and family memorabilia. Like Douglas Blackmon’s Slavery by Another Name, the re-enslavement of Black Americans between the Civil War and World War II and Hannibal Johnson’s Apartheid in Indian Country, the project reinterprets the events of a pivotal period, in this instance, exposing the biases of federal policies that tied a double standard for Blacks and Indians to the allocation of land.
Students of American history and policy; American, African-American, and Native American studies; as well as interdisciplinary scholars interested in unpacking contemporary racial discourse, especially as regards who is Indian (see Vann et al. v. Salazar) will find ample original research and content for stimulating discussion. The book offers the myriad litigants engaged in the tribal citizenship debate a view of the historical context underpinning their deliberations. General readers will discover a colorful chapter missing from our history books. Peppered with truth that is stranger than fiction, the narrative gives voice to those long silenced in the annuals of the frontier. The work offers a primer for those struggling to understand the complexities of racial divides in American, spelling out the discriminatory practices that cobbled the Five Tribes and their Freedman citizens but failed to destroy them.
The author’s search for a more authentic America informs her work, from her doctoral thesis examining federal Indian education policies to her research, publications, and editing. Through a growing network of professional and scholarly groups interested in documenting the voices of mixed-race Americans, Dr. Davis has presented elements of the project at conferences both here and abroad, and been interviewed in three publications. She made related presentations at the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA) in 2016, 2017, and 2018; at the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History (ASALH) in 2018; and at the American Historical Association in 2019.
Untangling a Red, White, and Black Heritage, provides a rationale for her original inquiry to establish tribal membership and a brief introduction to the Allotment era. Chapters 2 and 3 lay out the 100-year histories of a Cherokee Freedman and a Muscogee Creek family respectively. Beginning with a brief outline of tribal origins in the eastern woodlands, these middle sections ground the narrative in the context of federal land allotment as one family prospers and the other struggles to remain afloat. Profiles of key family members, introduced chronologically, weave a tapestry of race, opportunity, land ownership, and endurance. The narrative traces their multicolored threads to the present. Chapter 4 examines the legacy of these two families within a broader racial discourse. It assesses the impact of Allotment era assimilationist policies on racial categories and stereotypes, looking to other countries for alternate social and political scenarios, and fresh perspectives on people of color in the U.S.
The text is about just over 83,500 words, including appendices comprised of Cherokee citizenship application hearing transcriptions, a chronology, a list of original documents from the National Archives in Fort Worth, and a table of land allotments to Thomas Jefferson Adam.
Illuminating the text are graphic images including reproductions of archival materials such as census cards, allotment land applications, newspaper clippings as well as a family tree and 17 photographs.