African American and Native American Diasporas: Discussions of Race, Nation, and Citizenship

AHA Session 107
Friday, January 3, 2014: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Columbia Hall 5 (Washington Hilton)
Celia Naylor, Barnard College, Columbia University
"No Right of Citizenship": The 1863 Emancipation Acts of the Loyal Cherokee Council
Melinda Miller, U.S. Naval Academy; Rachel Smith Purvis, Yale University
Residency and Enrollment: Tribal Citizenship and the Catawba Indian Nation
Mikaela Morgane Adams, University of Mississippi
The Audience

Session Abstract

Recent scholarship in Native American history has generated a great deal of discussion, debate, and disagreement while opening new avenues of inquiry for historical research. Many new works have explored themes or issues of race, citizenship, ethnicity, sovereignty, slavery, inclusion, assimilation, resistance, and US-Indian relations, to name just a few. In attempts to move beyond narratives of victimization, scholars have looked at ways native peoples exercised control over their place in or apart from American society. In this effort, it also becomes clear that Native history has much to contribute to the larger narrative of American history. This session will explore new topics of discussion in Indigenous studies with a focus on various groups of the southeastern United States.

The paper presented by Melinda Miller and Rachel Purvis will look at the process and consequences of emancipation in the Cherokee Nation. The abolition of slavery by the Cherokee had a major impact on issues of inclusion, belonging, and citizenship, and also offers another way to view the origins of the recent controversy over Cherokee Freedmen citizenship. By emphasizing the parallels of experience of emancipation in Indian Territory and the American South, the paper purposes a different way to view a topic of historical debate.

Presenter Mikaëla M. Adams examines a controversy of inclusion among the Catawba. This paper discusses how tribal decisions concerning membership can generate controversy when groups or individuals seeking inclusion feel they are unfairly excluded from enlistment rolls. The Catawba offer a way to view how native societies debated and discussed who belonged to the group and who did not. While ethnicity was a factor in citizenship, this paper shows it was not the only factor that native peoples considered.

Arika Easley-Houser’s paper explores a new approach for research that examines racial ideas about Native Americans through an investigation of free black abolitionist rhetoric. Recent debates over the citizenship rights of the descendants of enslaved peoples, particularly in the Cherokee and Seminole tribes, have sparked scholarly research into the origins of these disagreements. Easley-Houser examines sources produced by African Americans in the antebellum era, including newspaper articles, pamphlets, sermons, and speeches, in her exploration of racial ideas and representations of Native Americans, which complicates our thinking about race in the early American republic.

Arica Coleman’s paper challenges the myth that indigenous peoples were no longer a part of the American South in the late nineteenth century by examining the effect of the politics of racial identity and Jim Crow laws on African American and American Indian relations. Coleman finds natives struggled to maintain a separate identity, and while some tribal communities chose to mimic southern segregation policies other groups rejected anti-black racism as a prerequisite to maintain native identity. This paper will highlight the ways African Americans and Native Americans struggled to maintain their own communities through the complex realities of intermarriage, conflict and shared histories simultaneously fostered animosities and alliances between the two groups.

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