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

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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 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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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 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.

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

  1. 5 out of 5

    A

    Really fascinating history; could have done without some of the writer’s inane editorial comments but aside from that incredibly engaging & compelling. The chapter about the late-19th-century Age of Progress may or may not have made me curl up into a little ball like a pillbug but as you all know I am very cool and I never get emotionally involved in anything I’m reading for school so the former will be extremely hard to prove!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Viqtari

    Had to read this for my historiography class. It's an interesting destruction of racial categorization using the Grayson family as it's base. Had to read this for my historiography class. It's an interesting destruction of racial categorization using the Grayson family as it's base.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn Fagan

    Although it tended to be dense at times, it is definitely worth the read. Learned so many new things about the history of the Indian territory of Oklahoma.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Rick

    I read this along with several other works, mostly recent, on related subjects. We are in the habit of thinking of Native Americans as "people of color." This Creek Indian family shows how, in Oklahoma at least, divisions of Black and White never stop intruding. I read this along with several other works, mostly recent, on related subjects. We are in the habit of thinking of Native Americans as "people of color." This Creek Indian family shows how, in Oklahoma at least, divisions of Black and White never stop intruding.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Bob

    Awesome book written by a UGA History Prof, about a family in Oklahoma manipulating race and image throughout history

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jamie

  8. 5 out of 5

    Angela Guerrero

  9. 5 out of 5

    Mitchell

  10. 5 out of 5

    Melody

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ari Weinberg

  12. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Berry

  13. 5 out of 5

    Marian

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kimberly

  15. 4 out of 5

    Joe

  16. 4 out of 5

    Cori

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jean Marie

  18. 5 out of 5

    Coyote Longfall

  19. 4 out of 5

    Orry

  20. 5 out of 5

    calvin gillett

  21. 4 out of 5

    Ruby

  22. 5 out of 5

    Suzie Diver

  23. 5 out of 5

    Dana

  24. 5 out of 5

    Abby

  25. 4 out of 5

    Madison Ogletree

  26. 5 out of 5

    Cathron Cole O'Connor

  27. 5 out of 5

    KT

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sheila Menendez

  29. 5 out of 5

    Leo

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

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