January 10, 2012

OURstory: Black Indians in America

I will continue to use this blog to educate myself and other villagers on some aspect of African American history.  One of the least known aspects of American history is the existence of Black Indians. Most consider that the initial joining of Africans and Native Americans began in April 1502, when the first Africans kidnapped were brought to Hispanola to serve as slaves. Some escaped and somewhere inland on Santo Dominico life birthed the first circle of Black Indians.

Some Black Indians have a dual ancestry of African and Native American bloodlines. Others are Black people who have lived with Native Americans and maintain their cultural-ceremonial traditions. The seizure and mistreatment of Native Americans and their land, and the enslavement of Native Americans and Africans, were the two parallel institutions that resulted in the Black Indian culture.

Though neither white, Christian, nor European, together they created communities of permanence, that included people from overseas. The early history of these communities provides examples of two diverse people living together in peace. Exclusion from most written historical texts does not erase or deny the facts. Only the absence of true understanding of the relationships red and Black peoples had, leaves unanswered questions for those groping to understand their family's past. You can learn more here and here.

Many people believe racial and ethnic groups in North America have always lived as separately as they do now. However, segregation was neither practical nor preferable when people who were not native to this continent began arriving here. Europeans needed Indians as guides, trade partners and military allies. They needed Africans to tend their crops and to build an infrastructure.

Africans arrived on 'New World' shores with valuable assets for both European and Native Americans. They were used to agricultural labor and working in field gangs, something unknown to most Indians. As experts in tropical agriculture, Africans found much to share with Native Americans, and the two groups shared and combined knowledge about indigenous farming.

Americans found that Africans had 'Great Medicine' in their bodies. They were virtually immune to European diseases that decimated most native populations. This was also an encouragement for joining together, to create stronger, healthier children from the unions.

Their slave experience also qualified Africans as experts on whites - their motives, diplomacy, armaments, strengths, weaknesses, languages, defenses and plans. From a common foe, Africans and Native Americans found the first link of friendship and earliest motivation for an alliance.

They discovered they shared some vital life views. Family was of basic importance to both, with children and the elderly treasured. Religion, a love and respect for 'Mother Life', and the sacred mystery behind life, was a daily part of cultural life.

Both Africans and Native Americans found they shared a belief in cooperation, rather than competition and rivalry. Beyond individual human differences in personality, generally speaking, each race was proud, but neither was weighed down by prejudice. Skill, friendship and trust, not skin color or race was important.

That Native Americans and Africans merged by choice, invitation, and bonds of trust and friendship, cannot be understated. It explains why families who share this biracial inheritance have never forgotten these family ties.

Since 1502, Black Indians have been reported, documented, painted, and photographed coast to coast from Hudson's Bay to Tierra del Fuego. In the decades between the 1619 Jamestown settlement and the 'Great Treaty Signings' of the 1880's, Black Indian Societies were reported in more than 15 states from New York to South Carolina as well as the thirty Caribbean Islands 'blessed' by European colonization.

It was around the 1740's that British colonists in the southern colonies, introduced the practice of slavery among neighboring Native Americans. When more than 60,000 Native Americans were removed from their homes during the 1830s by U.S. Federal troops from the southeastern states of the United States - they were forced Westward to Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska. This was called the "Trail of Tears".

Many of these Native American tribes had previously embraced and either helped or kept numerous African Americans as slaves. African Americans and Native Americans created a mixed cultural blend depending upon the specific tribal group.

Later, as the new American government began to thrive, laws were drafted to protect the land and property the colonists had acquired. These laws strengthened the powers of slave owners, limited the rights of free Africans and barred most Indian rights altogether. Today, Black, white and red Americans still feel the aftershock of those laws.

In order to enforce the new laws, Indians and Africans had to be distinguished from Europeans. Government census takers began visiting Indian communities east of the Mississippi River in the late 1700s and continued their task of identifying, categorizing, and counting individuals and "tribes" well into the 20th century. In the earlier days of this process, Native American communities that were found to be harboring escaped African slaves were threatened with loss of their tribal status, thereby nullifying their treaties with the U.S. government and relinquishing all claims to their land.

Despite the restrictions imposed by the U.S. government, Indians and Africans still managed to form close bonds. Some Native American communities ignored the laws and continued to aid fleeing African slaves. Some free Africans aided displaced Indians. Sometimes the two groups came together in "prayer towns" -- European communities that welcomed and protected converts to Christianity, regardless of race. Sometimes, Indian women married African men when the number of men in their own communities was decimated by war or natural disaster.

Some Native Americans listed themselves as "Negro" or "mixed" in order to retain ownership of their land.

Some Native Americans refused to sign the census rolls during the 18th and 19th centuries, some refused to register with the Bureau of Indian Affairs or to allow themselves to be "removed" to "Indian Territory" in Oklahoma during the 1800s. As a result, many of their descendants grew up in urban environments instead of on reservations. Others, such as the Seminole-Negro Indian Scouts formed some of the toughest units in the United States Army. This isn't the image of Native American experience most people carry in their heads but, in this part of the country, it is quite prevalent.

There are some who hold the mistaken belief that one must look, act and speak in particular ways, to be recognized as being part of a particular cultural heritage. During the past 400 years, slavery, oppression and racism have served African American Indians like wind upon the desert corn, they have caused the roots of our culture to grow deeper, in places where experts would say it is impossible for plants to grow.

Here are three books about Black Indians that you may find interesting:

I hope that you have enjoyed my take on this unique segment of our Black History! I look forward to your thoughts, comments and village voices!

39 comments:

Becky McCray said...

Here in Oklahoma, Black Indians have been much in the news lately. The Cherokee tribe has been addressing citizenship issues for Black Cherokees, with a series of controversial votes. It is a highly complex issue, but little known in the country at large. Thanks for a great article on this subject!

Villager said...

Becky - Yes, I've heard of the recent controversy surrounding distribution of tribal wealth from the casino funding and such. Anyhow, I am glad that you were able to visit our village today. Happy Memorial Day! Villager

Rethabile said...

I "enjoyed" that, and learned a lot. Asante.

Villager said...

Rethabile - Asante sana! Have you considered participating in the Manic Monday meme yourself?

peace, Villager

Shaz said...

Your posts have an excellent educational element. Happy Manic Monday & thank you x x x

tegdirb92 said...

I learned a lot from this post! Great take on the theme.

Villager said...

Shaz & Tegdirb92 - Asante sana! I learn as much from this weekly MM postings as anyone else. I have to admit that I wasn't sure what to do with Red as the word! Anyhow, I'm glad it worked out. peace, Villager

Empress Bee (of the High Sea) said...

wow, i did not know any of that! thanks for the lesson!

smiles, bee

Shaz said...

Peace to you too x x

Sarge Charlie said...

Hi, I love it when I learn new stuff, thanks for stopping by my place

Crazy Working Mom said...

Yes, you are always a great MM read b/c I know that I will leave here with knowledge that I did not have when I arrived. Thank you for that. Hope you have a GREAT Monday.

Jamie said...

This is a particularly poignant post since HBO is premiering their production of "Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee". The tragedy of the Indian Rolls is something most people are not aware of.

There are also many of Caucasian ancestry who are related to Melungeons and don't realize the black component in their Indian heritage.

Gattina said...

This was perfect and so interesting to read with my first cup of coffee this morning ! Thank you, I knew already quite a lot but now even more. I have always been very interested in American Natives and black people. I read the book "the roots" which is so interesting. I have a senegalese friend who told me that there is still the place to be visited (in Senegal) where captured blacks had been examinated (like horses) before being sold for slavery.

mousey said...

i love returning here i learned many things in your posts. thanks again!

Martin Lindsey. said...

I've had "Black Indians" by Katz on my bookshelf for years. I second your recommendation of that one as a great read on the subject. For instance it was the first time I had heard about Black Seminoles.

Great history to start off the week. Thanks Wayne.

Sanni said...

I´m with Gattina - your very interesting post was my first read (with a cup of coffee and pancakes) this morning. I enjoyed it a lot - thank you!

Villager said...

Empress & Sarge - I appreciate your time. Thanx for visiting my village this morning!

Mom, Mousey & Sanni - Thanx for the kind wishes. I love the idea of pancakes ... I think that will be breakfast here at my home as well!

Jamie - We are all of the human race ... but, it is nice to learn more about our history. I think you will enjoy the HBO film.

Gattina - I know that you dislike war. I'm glad that I was able to provide you with an alternative view of red for today's MM theme.

Villager said...

Martin - Have you considered joining the Manic Monday meme?

peace, Villager

Martin Lindsey. said...

Sure. I didn't know it was a meme. How do I join up?

Lizza said...

History is such a fascinating subject, and you told this piece of the past so well indeed. I learned something new today, thank you!

Have a great week.

Turnbaby said...

A very interesting read--I am quite lucky in that I have been exposed to a lot of history that is not widely known. It's good to revisit it though espcially when so nicely written.

Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

Villager said...

Martin - Click here to get info you need to join this weekly meme.

Lizza and Turnbaby - Asante sana!

Stine said...

Learned something again. Thanks.

the108 said...

You are so extremely enlightening... happy MM!

Villager said...

Stine & The 108 - Asante sana! I appreciate your visit to our village today. Hope that your Memorial Day holiday is a blessed one. peace, Villager

Travis said...

Thanks for stopping by my place.

As always, you have write a piece that moves my thoughts. I appreciate that you write without bias. It is writings such as these that encourage the reader to think beyond what he "knows" and consider that there is more to understand.

Happy MM.

Villager said...

Travis - Thanks for the kind words. I enjoy the Manic Monday meme. I have learned as much as anyone else! peace, Villager

Comedy + said...

Great post. I had no idea. Have a happy MM and Memorial Day. :)

Imma ( Alice) said...

I confess that I've only read part of your post at this time. I find it very interesting and want to give it all the attention it deserves. Due to its length I am not able to do so at this moment, but am coming back to read it in great detail. Thanks for sharing this with us and for helping many to learn more. This is a subject close to my heart.

I invite everyone to drop by my blog and check out my MM post...

Villager said...

Comedy + - I enjoyed the video on your blog with the nudist magician (smile)!

Imma - Feel free to print the full post and read it at your leisure. I didn't realize that I wrote so much until much later in the afternoon. Ah well. I'll be over to visit your MM post shortly.

peace, Villager

Claire said...

Wow another post that blows my hair dying out the water! I am really glad that you took the time to educate yourself and me for this post. I leave more informed :)

I think i may do a deep post once my counselling portfolios are handed in, then i will have more space in my brain.

Villager said...

Claire - It is good to have you visit our village. If we can entice u with some research on our Manic Monday meme ... well if that is what it takes ... we'll keep trying harder each week to earn your visit! Happy MM & Memorial Day!

peace, Villager

Anna said...

As alway's wayne, you're posts are very educational. I can see this blog being used as a classroom resource.

Take care;
Anna

Professor Zero said...

Great post! I got here via Rethabile.

Natalie said...

It always surprises me when people don't know about this dual history. Most African-Americans I know "have Indian in them" and know about it. In my family it comes from my paternal great great grandmother and you could really see it in the thick braids my great grandmother always wore. The Cherokee votes have truly been hurting my heart.

Villager said...

Anna & Professor Zero - Thank you for your kind words. More importantly, thank you for visiting our village. I hope you come back often!

Natalie - I hope you consider doing the Manic Monday meme. You would be good at it. Your comments are well-taken. I think that many African Americans don't know of thier Indian heritage for the same reasons that we know little about our roots before the era of enslavement. The records simply don't exist unless someone in our families maintained a strong oral history.

peace, Villager

Danielle said...

You know these weekly memes are excellent ways to educate and expand our perspectives. I digress but after marrying an INDIAN I have stopped continuing Columbus's ignorance regarding the many tribes of Native Americans. Only after Columbus did people refer to indigenous persons by the umbrella term of Indian. I even struggle with the term Native American since by definition I am a Native of America myself. Many indigenous American tribals prefer the name First Peoples. Now I guess my kids could be considered true American Indians however. My digression is not about being p.c. just trying to adjust my own labeling and perceptions regarding race and ethnicity.
Great post, Wayne, enlightenment is always a possibility over at the village.

As always be well and enjoy the day, sweets.

Villager said...

Danielle - It is never politically correct to educate. Honestly, I hadn't heard of the First People terminology before. Thanx for sharing!

peace, Villager

Rosemarie said...

Shout #2

This post linked!