Black, White, and Indian: Race and the Unmaking of an American Family / Edition 1

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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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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The strength of Saunt's narrative is the juxtaposition of social constructions of race skewed by emotions and convictions.... Enriching the mosaic of American race far beyond the duality of white and black, Saunt illuminates a racial picture that blends black, Indian, white, and class beyond simple description."—William L. Hewitt, The Journal of American History

"Black, White, and Indian is an enormously valuable book, one that any scholar interested in Native or American history could profit from and one that could be taught in undergraduate and graduate classes. A wonderful example of what can happen when a talented historian tells an important story about which he cares deeply. The results are likely to stay with you for a long, long time.—Joshua Piker, American Indian Culture and Research Journal

"Southern Indians, Saunt's book makes clear (better than any other work presently available), participated in and were victimized by the entrenchment of racism and racial understandings of human abilities by southerners and Americans generally. That dichotomy between Indians as enablers of racism and Indians as victims of racism guides Saunt's book and exposes sometimes discomforting realities of life for southern Indians since the United States arrived in their world.... Black, White, and Indian is enlightening, disturbing, and a welcome addition to Americna Indian and Southern history."—Greg O'Brien, H-Net Reviews

"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

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195313109
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 7/27/2006
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 312
  • Sales rank: 685,081
  • Product dimensions: 9.20 (w) x 6.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Claudio Saunt is Associate Professor of History at the University of Georgia.

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Table of Contents

Profile : a symposium at Dartmouth College 6
1 The Griersons 10
2 "My negro woman Judah" : William's decision 30
3 Race and removal : Katy's compromise 49
4 Separate paths : Katy and William in the antebellum Creek Nation 66
5 "It is negroes that we are killing now" : the Graysons' civil war 88
6 Northern Indians and negro slaves : Wash and the politics of reconstruction 111
7 Hardship and opportunity : the fortunes of Emma, Vicey, and Wash 132
8 Divided by blood : the Graysons and the end of the Creek Nation 151
9 Wash in the age of progress 173
10 The Graysons in a black and white world 194
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