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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. 4 out of 5

    Richard

    Saunt based this history of the racial split within this one Creek family on a review of dozens of primary and secondary sources. All of this information was skillfully woven into a comprehensive and textured description of how the White and Black Graysons each experienced their lives in different ways because of the race attributed to them. Such issues in Native American history as the forced Removal to Indian Territory in the 1830’s, the violent years leading up to and through the Civil War, R Saunt based this history of the racial split within this one Creek family on a review of dozens of primary and secondary sources. All of this information was skillfully woven into a comprehensive and textured description of how the White and Black Graysons each experienced their lives in different ways because of the race attributed to them. Such issues in Native American history as the forced Removal to Indian Territory in the 1830’s, the violent years leading up to and through the Civil War, Reconstruction, and segregation/Jim Crow were portrayed. The different ways in which the allotment of their lands affected them in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were the final chapters of the book. Three other aspects of B, W, and I made it informative. First, the author interspersed a Profile of 2-3 pages in length in between many of the chapters. These described the interactions he had with descendants of the Grayson family in the course of doing his research for the book. They provided a clear way to depict how the racial divide in this family is still felt in the early years of the 21st century. Second, in an Afterword he noted how racism continued to put the Black Graysons at a disadvantage through the 20th century and up into the 1970’s when they were disenfranchised. Third, a five page Note on Sources and Historiography provided a wealth of book recommendations related to various aspects covered in the text. I came away with 4-5 other books related to race in Native American history I can read. As with any solid piece of academic writing there are 60 pages of notes. Some of these are annotated as well. some photos and a few maps enhanced its readability as well. B, W, and I had some deficits, too.. Its prose was sometimes marked by complex, compound sentences. And its thoroughness meant there were a lot of names and detailed interactions to try to keep track of. Thus, at times it was slow going. Overall, I would recommend it for anyone with an interest in the Creek Nation and/or Native American-Black relations. IMHO, Saunt merits high praise for such a solid piece of history.

  2. 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!

  3. 4 out of 5

    WILLIAM DONALDSON

    Disclosure: Wren Grayson Sr, one of the progenitors of the Grayson family, was my great grandfather back six generations, thus my personal interest in Saunt's book. Wren Greyson was one of the first white settlers in Indiana. This is a fascinating story first of the Grayson family and the frontier where pragmatic folks weren't all that concerned about race and ancestry. It was common practice for a pioneer man to take a Native bride if only to keep peace with locals. It was also fairly common (se Disclosure: Wren Grayson Sr, one of the progenitors of the Grayson family, was my great grandfather back six generations, thus my personal interest in Saunt's book. Wren Greyson was one of the first white settlers in Indiana. This is a fascinating story first of the Grayson family and the frontier where pragmatic folks weren't all that concerned about race and ancestry. It was common practice for a pioneer man to take a Native bride if only to keep peace with locals. It was also fairly common (see Thomas Jefferson) for a white man to have children by one or more of their slaves. The Graysons had all of that. This book is also an excellent treatise, often told by folks who lived it, of the infamous Trail of Tears which only gets cursory coverage in most history classes. It's well worth the read.

  4. 4 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.

  5. 5 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Bob

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

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jamie

  10. 5 out of 5

    Angela Guerrero

  11. 4 out of 5

    Mitchell

  12. 4 out of 5

    Melody

  13. 4 out of 5

    Ari Weinberg

  14. 4 out of 5

    Marian

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kimberly

  16. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

  17. 4 out of 5

    Joe

  18. 4 out of 5

    Cori

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jean Marie

  20. 4 out of 5

    Coyote Longfall

  21. 4 out of 5

    Orry

  22. 4 out of 5

    calvin gillett

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ruby

  24. 4 out of 5

    Suzie Diver

  25. 4 out of 5

    Dana

  26. 4 out of 5

    Abby

  27. 4 out of 5

    Madison Ogletree

  28. 4 out of 5

    Cathron Cole O'Connor

  29. 5 out of 5

    KT

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sheila

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