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Fri Apr 2, 2021, 01:30 PM

"I've Been Here All the While: Black Freedom on Native Land" by Alaina E. Roberts

Based on archival research and family history, I’ve Been Here All the While builds on a 2020 journal article by Roberts, whose great-great-grandmother Josie Jackson was an Indian freedperson (a term the author uses to describe black people once owned by members of the Five Tribes) and serves as one of the book’s central figures. Though Jackson and other Indian freedpeople could have moved to other parts of the U.S., “where they [w]ould share in the citizenship and political rights African Americans had just won,” most opted to remain in Indian Territory, where they lacked any clear civic status, as Roberts told the Journal of the Civil War Era last year.

“[F]for some people of African descent, the acquisition of land was more important than the realization of political rights,” Roberts added. “... I believe this is a great case study in the diversity of black historical actors’ definitions of freedom and belonging.”

In 1887, President Grover Cleveland signed into law the Dawes Severalty Act, which enabled the United States government to break up tribal lands and redistribute them as individual plots. Native Americans who complied with the directive were allowed to become citizens and gain control of 160 acres of farmland per family; those who refused were stripped of both their land and their way of life. Ultimately, the policy resulted in the seizure of more than 90 million acres, the majority of which were sold to non-Native settlers.


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