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October 19, 2003

The red and the black
Posted by Teresa at 09:40 PM *

In a discussion that developed in the comments thread of Cri de coeur—a discussion which may have been influenced by John Scalzi’s recent inspired thrashing of post-Confederate recidivists—adamsj remarked:

A dear friend of mine, someone who has always been most generous to me, both personally and politically, is heavily involved with indigenous people’s issues, both in the US and elsewhere. We were talking one day about the Confederate flag and southern heritage—a subject on which I was surprised not to find us in agreement—when he popped up with the remarkable statement that the Confederacy was okay by him. Why? Well, they’d made alliances with some of the tribes and, unlike the United States, they’d kept their word, didn’t break treaties, and so on. What to say to that?
Tom Whitmore and Matt Irvin both beat me to the obvious response: The Confederacy didn’t have time to break its treaties with the Indians.

My second thought was that while the Confederacy only lasted a few years, the population that created the Confederacy was there long before and long after the Civil War; and you couldn’t say those guys were friends of the Native American populations.

Let’s arbitrarily start with the 1838-1839 deportation of the Five Civilized Tribes from their ancestral homelands (taking it as read that there’d already been a real effort on the part of white settlers to exterminate the tribes of the Upper South). These tribal homelands included big chunks of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, the easternmost and westernmost parts of southern Tennessee, and bits of Maryland and South Carolina. This was arguably the single evillest thing done to the Amerinds, and it was the Southern states that did it. The United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Five Civilized Tribes, saying they had the right to keep their lands. The state governments in the South ignored this and dispossessed the FCTs anyway. Nothing was done about it, thus storing up much trouble for the future.

Everything matters.

When you think about the Southerners who started the Civil War, recollect that many of them were living on land from which the FCTs had been evicted just a generation earlier, and that they’d taken possession of that land in defiance of all law and justice. These were the same guys who made such a fuss about the Northerners not respecting “Southern honor” and states’ rights. This circumstance makes it hard to justify the idea that a victorious South would have treated Indians with respect and consideration.

(A footnote for the “change is bound to happen” crew: We’re not talking about shy aboriginal creatures of the forest. In terms of social organization and material culture, some areas of the Five Civilized Tribes weren’t any more primitive than some of the white settlers. Some members of the FCTs had even bought black slaves and set up plantations. They got turfed out right along with everybody else.)

Then there’s the whole race thing. The plantation owners would have enslaved the Indians wholesale if they could, but it was too hard to hold on to them, or to enslave enough of them, so they also imported blacks from Africa. But not enslaving Indians was always a matter of practicability, not philosophy. When whites went on raids down into Florida to recapture runaway slaves living with the Seminoles, they’d scoop up Indians and free blacks and take them too.

(A further footnote: I’ve seen one account of a couple of dark-haired little German girls whose immigrant parents got as far as New Orleans, where they died of cholera. It was a couple of years before one of the family’s German relatives managed to track down one of the girls and rescue her. Both children had been sold into slavery. The other girl was never found. Southern racial theories were wonderfully flexible.)

Another one of the reasons the Southern states dispossessed the large settled Indian tribes was that Indian and mixed-race groups would often take in runaway slaves. It’s been suggested that Andrew Jackson’s invasion of Florida had less to do with the British or Spanish presence there than it did with the Seminoles being a mix of Creeks who’d dodged relocation, and blacks who’d run off from their owners.

And on the subject of mixed-race groups, consider the odd histories of the various tri-racial isolates (the catch-all term for these groups) that grew up in marginal areas of the South. There’s an entire short book about it online, Melungeons and Other Mestee Groups, if you’re interested:
Large numbers of Indians were enslaved and kept with black slaves, eventually merging into the black population, especially in the Carolinas. Indian women were forced by the whites to live with black slave men in Virginia so their babies would be part black and easier to keep as slaves. Part Indian slaves were imported from the Caribbean and Brazil. Black and part black people incorporated into Indian tribes were frequently enslaved by white raiders. Free blacks and mulattos frequently married Indians. The remnants of decimated Indian groups sometimes joined black communities, especially when the Indians already had some black in them. In such ways, the contribution to the gene pool of black Americans by Indians has been large. 85

Free blacks and mulattos and escaped slaves frequently joined Indian groups. Indian raiders took black prisoners and made them slaves or incorporated them into their communities. Some Indians, particularly the Cherokee, bought black slaves from the whites. Black-Indian marriages sometimes joined the Indians instead of the black community. Some Indian groups absorbed so many blacks that some of them became a separate entity, like the black Seminoles. All Indian groups from Oklahoma east and south of New York have much black in them.

Southern slaveowners didn’t even like living too close to non-slaveholding whites, because their presence made it too easy for slaves to run away. The idea that the slaveholding South would have tolerated, much less respected, the presence of a dark-skinned free population, with a significant admixture of black ancestry and a history of sheltering runaway slaves, appears to me to be wishful thinking.

Mixed-race groups were particularly hard-hit by the South’s increasingly segregationist policies in the post-Civil War era, which said that any amount of black ancestry made you entirely black. There are Indian tribes that to this day aren’t officially classified as such (and don’t get the benefits pertaining thereto) because, in the Jim Crow era, they were seen as blacks who were trying to get out of being black by claiming to be Indians. This group includes the Lumbee, who are the largest Indian tribe east of the Mississippi and the ninth-largest tribe in the United States.

It’s all pretty weird and interesting. Have a look at the histories of the Redbones and Melungeons. If you want to go on after that, see also the Lumbees, Mestees, Mustees, Brass Ankles, Free Moors, Ramapo (aka Jackson Whites), Black Seminoles, Cajans, Smilings, Guineas, Haliwas, and Turks.

Regarding that last group, M&OMG says:
The Turks of Sumter County, South Carolina, have been accepted as entitled to the rights of white people longer than any other Mestee group. This does not stem from their physical appearance, as they are less white than Brass Ankles or Melungeons, but from the connivance of one influential white man. General Sumter hired some of the Turks who had served under him in the Revolutionary War to work on his plantation, and apparently found them more productive than slaves. Fearful of losing them, as they were unhappy with their treatment by neighboring whites, he took action to have their status as whites recognized. He presented an affidavit to the authorities that they were indeed Turks which he had personally imported from the Ottoman Empire as contract labor. Never mind that Turks were the ruling people of that Empire and not likely to contract out as hired hands, or that the Turks of South Carolina knew no Turkish and were not Muslim.
Last I heard, local custom still allowed Turks to list the parentage of their children as “white” on birth certificates.


1. American Indians would have done better if the Confederacy had won? Don’t kid yourself.

2. Historically, Southern leaders have had a remarkable tendency to be shameless, grandiose, and inventive liars.

3. I love my country, but it’s a weird place.

Comments on The red and the black:
#1 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2003, 10:27 PM:

I'll cop to some slight influence from Scalzi, but I only read his materials yesterday afternoon -- earlier comments were based on my own experience.

Especially the "didn't have time" comment.


#2 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2003, 10:51 PM:

This whole topic has a great deal of interest ot me. (take this in the light that all three of us kids are adopted from unknown backgrounds, they thought that was better in the 50s for some strange reason). In his later years my father was a terminal bigot against blacks and never said anything at all about Amerindians. I wanted to smack hiim but I would just tell him to stop or he'd make me really mad. Since I was always the 'quiet one', he'd stop. While he was dying (at home) mom asked me to go through his files to make sure everything was where we could find it. HIS birth certificate says his father was white, there was no statement about his mother. My mother's birth certificate listed both her parents as Indian. My birth certificate says she's White. Which is really wierd because in the 50s, KC was still rather Jim Crow. uck.... She looks dark Italian so much so that when we did a boutique tour of Europe in the late 70s, no one messed with her, which is good.l

#3 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2003, 09:01 AM:

Tom, pure reason was enough, and you have an ample supply of it.

Paula, that is indeed interesting, and very American. Where were your parents born? Do you know any of their family surnames?

#4 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2003, 10:54 AM:

I've heard just a little about the Confederacy's plans for non-elite whites. They weren't pretty, and should probably be better publicized.

#5 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2003, 11:28 AM:

Go on. What did you hear?

#6 ::: Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2003, 12:13 PM:

TNH: The plantation owners would have enslaved the Indians wholesale if they could, but it was too hard to hold on to them, or to enslave enough of them, so they also imported blacks from Africa.

You seem to be saying here that the importation of Africans was a solution to a pre-existing problem: "Where are we going to find slaves to work our land?"

In fact, well before the English began to settle North America, the slave trade was already running vigorously. The enslavement of Africans by Europeans got its serious start when the Portuguese developed Madeira and the Azores for sugar production early in the fifteenth century. These islands were uninhabited, and the Portuguese imported slaves from the markets of West Africa to do the brutal (and generally fatal) work in the canefields.

When the Spanish opened the New World for exploitation (and the Portuguese followed), African slave-labor in the sugar fields was an essential part of the business model. When the English came to America, they brought the model with them.

Naturally, Spanish, Portuguese, and English occupiers attempted to enslave the Indians that they found in the new lands 96 slaves would be much cheaper if you did't have to pay for their shipping. But the real issue was that sugar slavery was deadly: a sugar slave's life expectancy under the lash was only a year or two; and would need to be replaced. There simply weren't enough Indians to do the job.

(Source: Hugh Thomas, The Slave Trade, Simon & Schuster, 1997)

My sense is that American racism is inextricably linked with the historic institution of slavery, that it is a product of the institution, not a cause. The values and ideology of the slave states and the Confederacy are also products.

#7 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2003, 12:49 PM:

Everything you say may be true, but the fact remains that a considerable number of Indians fought for the Confederacy, for example at the battle of Pea Ridge. There was even an Indian Confederate general, Stand Waitie. A lot of the Indians' thinking may have been along the lines of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," and though how a victorious Confederacy would have dealt with the Western Indians is sheer speculation, I have no doubt they wouldn't always have been fair and equitable. A lot of what you're doing is simply making conventional contemporary arguments against the institution of slavery--e.g., that occasionally dark-haired white people were kidnapped into slavery, as if this somehow makes it worse than if only blacks were enslaved. No argument, of course, about slavery--the Peculiar Institution had to go. But while you can condemn the South for slavery, there was a great deal of opposition to freeing the slaves in the North, too, even though there was no slavery there. Freeing the slaves necessarily meant having black citizens side by side with whites, something that is still a touchy issue for many in the North as well as the South. Which is one reason why it took Lincoln so long to declare emancipation. If I start in on this, it will probably open up a whole Monty Python "the Civil War was only about slavery," "No it wasn't," "Yes it was," "No it wasn't" thing, which I don't want to get into. for now let's just say that the attitudes of the Indians of the time, like that of the whites, were probably a lot more complex than people give them credit for.

#8 ::: Jeff Crook ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2003, 01:18 PM:

As for Native Americans in Mississippi and a fictional/historical perspective, one good example is old Sam Fathers in various Faulkner hunting stories like The Bear and The Old People. Reading the entire Faulkner library, you get a pretty good idea of how the natives were treated pre-Civil War.

I don't know for sure, but I suspect the North didn't break any treaties during the Civil War, either. If they did, I would be somewhat surprised that they had the time or resources to bother.

As an aside, my wife's father likely has Mulengeon blood. We've traced his family back to the 1700s and still haven't got them out of Tennessee yet. Anyway, it's like the Mulngeons strains of his mother and father were condensed into him. He is dark skinned, dark haired, dark eyed, without a single visible body hair. By mid-summer, he is a deep ruddy brown. We suspect his father's family were Melungeon because nowhere in documented or oral family history is there any obvious indication of Native American blood, unlike her mother's side of the family, where a great-great-grandmother was kidnapped and married into an Illinois tribe.

#9 ::: Carlos ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2003, 02:38 PM:

There was also (free) Filipino immigration to Spanish Louisiana in the 18th century. I mention this in light of this article (via "John and Belle have a blog"):

"Here was the unexpected and rather unwelcome truth: Joseph was 57 percent Indo-European, 39 percent Native American, 4 percent East Asian 96 and zero percent African. After a lifetime of assuming blackness, he was now being told that he lacked even a single drop of black blood to qualify."

(Though I am skeptical of the precision of the test's claims.)

Then there's the Stono rebellion, led by *Catholic* Kongolese prisoners of war sold into slavery in South Carolina. Contemporary observers feared eeeevil Jesuits sneaking in by boat and stirring things up, the first mention of civil rights "outside agitator" paranoia I have come across in Southern history.


#10 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2003, 05:31 PM:

As stated, I just heard a little, and don't have citations, but I've heard that the Confederacy wouldn't have had anything like equal rights for poor whites, and that there was a popular book which recommended enslaving at least some of them.
I might be able to find a source for the latter.

#11 ::: Carlos ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2003, 06:43 PM:

That's George Fitzhugh's _Cannibals All!_.

The whole damned thing can be found via this link:


#12 ::: Madeline ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2003, 10:55 PM:

I figure any discussion that mentions the expulsion of the FCTs ought to mention President Andrew Jackson's complicity in it, and his famous failure to uphold the constitution:
"John Marshall has made his decision; let him enforce it now if he can."

Not a guy worthy of what might be the most-used bill in the US. Blech.

#13 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2003, 12:52 AM:

> Not a guy worthy of what might
> be the most-used bill in the US. Blech.

Don't lots of twenties get contaminated with cocaine and other drugs, though?!

#14 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2003, 01:29 AM:

Yes, Alan, I'm saying that black slavery was a solution to the pre-existing problem of finding laborers to work the land. The previous existence of the Africa/Caribbean slave trade didn't cause Americans to develop slave-based plantation agriculture. It was hardly the only mechanism for securing cheap labor that couldn't walk off the job. Rather, racially based black slavery was what the colonies eventually settled on; and as they gradually did so, they turned to the existing slave trade as their supplier.

Most general histories give the impression that the American colonists just up and decided to enslave blacks. This isn't true. There was a long weird muddled initial period where they tried all kinds of things. Indian slavery was one of the things they tried, but Indians escaped too readily, and had a high disease rate. The fact that the colonists turned to other sources of labor doesn't mean they didn't enslave large numbers of Indians. It just meant the ones they managed to enslave weren't sufficient to their needs.

Early on, there were far more white slaves than black. I know the arrangement gets referred to as indentured servitude, but that's something of a fiction. First, in many cases the arrangement was indistinguishable from the deal blacks got. In the beginning, the colonists didn't regard their imported blacks as slaves for life. They were indentured servants too, and after their term of service were paid off and set free just like the whites were.

Second, the laws laid down that the penalty for a perfectly phenomenal number of offenses on the part of indentured servants was to have the term of their indenture extended. (These offenses included things like "Being female and having a baby by your master.")

Third, a lot of slaves in the Caribbean -- and these were explicitly slaves, with not even the fiction that they were indentured servants who were going to be given tools and land when their term was up -- were Irish. The only people who appear to have been upset by this were the Irish.

Fourth, IIRC, the death rate among poor white boys bound over as indentured servants in the colonies was something like 50%.

FIfth, many of the indentured white servants had been kidnapped from Europe every bit as ruthlessly and informally as the blacks had been taken from Africa.

Sixth, children of European families who'd taken passage on credit stood a good chance of being sold out of hand on their arrival in the New World.

Here are a couple of early accounts you may find interesting.

When you read early documents, it's startling how colorblind everyone is. The underlying principle of slavery wasn't race. That was a later invention. Early on, the basic principle was more like "Gotcha, sucker."

But indentures were troublesome. They wore out, and after that you had to replace the servant. White indentures were particularly troublesome. They were hard to distinguish from the rest of the European settlers. They were fractious and sullen when the big planters tried to keep them from settling near their big plantations. And their attitude toward runaways was inadequately propertarian. They were getting uppity. A bunch of them burned Jamestown.

That was when the idea that American slavery was racially based really got going. Poor whites were divided from poor blacks, Indians, and Mestees -- their natural allies -- by laws that gave them significantly different legal standing. For instance, as of 1717 in Maryland, no person of color was permitted to testify against a white Christian:

Be it Therefore Enacted, by the right honourable the Lord Proprietary, by and with the advice and consent of his Lordship's Governor, and the Upper and Lower Houses of Assembly, and by the authority of the same, That from and after the end of this present session of assembly, no Negro or mulatto slave, free Negro, or mulatto born of a white woman, during his time of servitude by law, or any Indian slave, or free Indian natives, of this or the neighbouring provinces, be admitted and received as good and valid evidence in law, in any matter or thing whatsoever depending before any court of record, or before any magistrate within this province, wherein any christian white person is concerned.
You can watch it happen. Gradually, through the passage of one law and another, in this state and that, you can see the status of blacks being reduced to slavery for life.

Here's another two sites you might find interesting. There are heaps of them out there. You just have to know the subject exists.


Robert, Nancy, I'll get back to you later.

#15 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2003, 04:00 AM:

In the beginning, the colonists didn't regard their imported blacks as slaves for life. They were indentured servants too, and after their term of service were paid off and set free just like the whites were.

I assume this is very early on you're talking about. By the late 18th century when the slave trade was going strong, many Southern plantations, particularly those that grew rice and indigo, were virtual death camps; they'd ship the live slaves in to replace those that died after a brief period. It was these conditions that led to the Constitution's putting a deadline on the slave trade--a compromise of sorts that on the one hand ended some of the worst abuses (and made rice and indigo less economical as crops), but on the other gave slavery a more institutionalized position in the culture. Just how "slave" came to be virtually equal to "Negro," and vice versa, in the South was, on the other hand, a gradual process that varied considerably from state to state. And since the racial codes of the South generally looked at someone with one ancestor out of eight or sixteen who was African as a "Negro," this of necessity meant that a lot of people who had little African in the way of ancestry were going to end up classified thus. A perfect example of this is bluesman Charley Patton--take a look at the only known photo of him, and you'll see a light-skinned man with straight hair and a great deal of Indian ancestry (this known from oral history) who was classified as "black."

#16 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2003, 05:15 AM:

The sort of non-racial "Gotcha, sucker" slavery that Teresa describes is still going on. _Disposable People_ by Kevin Bales says that modern slavery is almost never ethnically/racially based.

#17 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2003, 08:37 AM:

An eminently reasonable post, and wonderfully informed discussion.

Since much of this was known to the person to whom I was talking--we were living only a hop, a skip, and a jump from Pea Ridge--I suppose my real question is this:

What do you say to someone with a grievance held so dearly that fact and reason don't get through?

I'm reading up on the last (we hope) Balkan War.

It seems to me that the sort of long-dormant grudges (I'm getting convinced the "ancient hatreds" line is a crock) which were fanned into murderousness there have their parallels today.

#18 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2003, 11:36 AM:

"What do you say to someone with a grievance held so dearly that fact and reason don't get through?"

There isn't anything. By definition. You can sometimes maneuver such people into corners, but they seldom thank you for it. Sometimes they have a collision with reality; I was good at arranging those back when I was a software tester.

Many people's epistemology contains large elements of "because I wish it were so."

#19 ::: nEIL rEST ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2003, 11:18 PM:

ISTR in Okla Hannali that Lafferty says that in 1865 there were half as many Indians in the territories of the confederacy as there had been in 1861. . .

#20 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2003, 06:09 PM:

Randolph, that's an excellent description of a software tester's job: arranging collisions with reality for the developers!

Now if you're really good at it, the collisions you arrange are more like sideswiping bushes with your car to slow it down when the brakes fail, in order to avoid running a red light across a busy highway. Though sometimes, that's not enough, and you have to aim the car for a solid wall.

Adamsj, the only suggestion I can think of is prolonged gentle exposure to other points of view. It's really unlikely that any one exposure, even (especially?) if abrupt and intense, will change their mind. But if you can keep exposing them to other aspects of the situation, eventually it may be easier for them to change their mind than to ignore the additional information. The trick is to do so without annoying them to the point that they decide the easiest course is to shut you out.

#21 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2003, 09:15 PM:

Theresa, sorry it took so long, I've had a week in HELL at work. Jim pointed out that you'd asked something about this.

My folks come from Northeastern Oklahoma, dad was born and grew up in Afton, OK and mom was born in Muskogee, but I think her family lived in Miami.

Mom's family is almost certainly Cherokee, the kind that had farmed, tried to blend in and were most traumatized by the forced march to OK. Courtney and Daniel are the most common family names I can recall, grandma remarried after Mr. Daniel absconded to California, living her with four kids...

Dad's family, grandma is an unknown and may at least be part Hispanic, her first name, which I didn't know until I saw the birth certificate, was Reyna, and maiden name Angel. Grandfather was English and German, with one side of the family going back to the Mayflower, and the Helm (formerly Wilhelm) side coming from a guy who enlisted in the German Merchant Marine rather than being impressed in the Prussian army, got to New York and beat feet to as remote a place from authority as possible. Which was a German community in Northeastern Oklahoma.

#22 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2003, 10:56 PM:

In case that's not perfectly clear, Mom grew up in Miami, OKLAHOMA, and it's pronounced M-eye-aah. I had a client who was totally surprised that I could say Talequah (Tal-uh-quaw) Oklahom correctly. I told them that my grandma would spank me from beyond if I said any of those names wrong.

#23 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2003, 11:29 PM:

Wow, Niel Rest, Paula Murray -- the Midwest is taking over the comments...

(Hi, Jim. You never write... ;-) )

Randolph, that's an excellent description of a software tester's job: arranging collisions with reality for the developers!

Wow. That's 100% Florida Orange Truth there. With pulp.

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