Black, White, and Indian: Race and the Unmaking of an American Family

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9780195176315: Black, White, and Indian: Race and the Unmaking of an American Family

Deceit, compromise, and betrayal were the painful costs of becoming American for many families. For people of Indian, African, and European descent living in the newly formed United States, the most personal and emotional choices--to honor a friendship or pursue an intimate relationship--were often necessarily guided by the harsh economic realities imposed by the country's racial hierarchy. Few families in American history embody this struggle to survive the pervasive onslaught of racism more than the Graysons.
Like many other residents of the eighteenth-century Native American South, where Black-Indian relations bore little social stigma, Katy Grayson and her brother William--both Creek Indians--had children with partners of African descent. As the plantation economy began to spread across their native land soon after the birth of the American republic, however, Katy abandoned her black partner and children to marry a Scottish-Creek man. She herself became a slaveholder, embracing slavery as a public display of her elevated place in America's racial hierarchy. William, by contrast, refused to leave his black wife and their several children and even legally emancipated them.
Traveling separate paths, the Graysons survived the invasion of the Creek Nation by U.S. troops in 1813 and again in 1836 and endured the Trail of Tears, only to confront each other on the battlefield during the Civil War. Afterwards, they refused to recognize each other's existence. In 1907, when Creek Indians became U.S. citizens, Oklahoma gave force of law to the family schism by defining some Graysons as white, others as black. Tracking a full five generations of the Grayson family and basing his account in part on unprecedented access to the forty-four volume diary of G. W. Grayson, the one-time principal chief of the Creek Nation, Claudio Saunt tells not only of America's past, but of its present, shedding light on one of the most contentious issues in Indian politics, the role of "blood" in the construction of identity.
Overwhelmed by the racial hierarchy in the United States and compelled to adopt the very ideology that oppressed them, the Graysons denied their kin, enslaved their relatives, married their masters, and went to war against each other. Claudio Saunt gives us not only a remarkable saga in its own right but one that illustrates the centrality of race in the American experience.

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From the Back Cover:

"All histories, especially family histories, harbor silences wherein uneasy truths reside. But few such histories--once those silences grow full with stories--speak so directly to the central sorrows in American society, past and present, as that of the Grayson family. Claudio Saunt's sensitive and daring recovery of the Grayson's centuries-long struggle to navigate the perilous racial triangle of Black, white, and Indian is at once irresistible and heartbreaking. It is a work for the ages."--James F. Brooks, author of Confounding the Color Line: The Indian-Black Experience in North America

"Meticulously researched, eloquently written, and full of the pain of slavery, dispossession, racism, and history itself, Black, White, and Indian sits at the leading edge of the exciting body of new work on African/American/Indian relations."-- Philip J. Deloria, University of Michigan

"The intersections between Native American history and the history of race in America are not always clear. Too often fear and fantasy obscure our memory and our vision. This compelling story of human beings struggling to survive and make lives for themselves and their families shines a fascinating light on the many places where red and black and white overlapped, blurred, and made history. This is a very important book."--Frederick E. Hoxie, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

About the Author:

Claudio Saunt is at University of Georgia.

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