with Dr. Alaina Roberts
You’re listening to medicine for the resistance.
Kerry: So excited to be a student today and just kind of listen and drink this in. I’ve been spending all day sort of brushing up and then not wanting to spoil all the wealth of knowledge that we’re going to get today. So I just want to hear all about this and what we are talking about today.
Patty: So … the Tulsa Race Riots. We’re familiar with them to a certain point, right. I mean, when somebody says the phrase we generally know that they happened. I had a really interesting read on it when I read Vicky Osterweil’s book “In Defense of Looting” (@Vicky_ACAB) where she talks about the race riots from that point of view, from the point of view of the armed Black population basically sticking up for themselves.
That this guy had been in custody for some trumped up sexual assault charge was pretty common then and is pretty common now. In terms of white women, accusing Black men. I don’t want to give the impression that I think sexual assault charges are frequently trumped up, but just in terms of white women, accusing Black men, like we saw with Central Park Karen (Amy Cooper) “I’m going to call the police on you, I’m going to call the police on you.” Seeing that kind of pattern and behavior. So she was describing it from that point of view and I kind of went off on a Twitter thread about it because I had never thought about the race riots from that from that perspective.
And then somebody jumped in mentioning your name, because there’s this whole piece, which as soon as they said it made complete sense. Tulsa, Oklahoma, of course, Freedmen. But nobody ever talks about it, because it didn’t come up in Lovecraft Country, it didn’t come up in the Looting book. It doesn’t come up anywhere. And yet … the history of Oklahoma, of course, right, of course, Freedmen. I feel like I should have known better, because we’ve had some really good conversations about the allotment process. And I’ve read some books on it so I really felt like I should have known better, and I didn’t.
Patty: So that’s why we have you here today because then I had to jump all over it. So if you could just kind of introduce yourself and your work and kind of how you how you came to it and just kind of set us up a bit.
Alaina: So I’m Alaina Roberts. I’m assistant Professor of History at the University of Pittsburgh. My work, which is the history and the intersection of Black and Native history, really comes from my own family history.
My ancestors were Black and mixed race people owned by Chickasaw and Choctaw Indians, which I did not know until I was in college. I knew like, well, I’m Black, I probably have a history of enslavement. But I did not know that the owners were native people. So that was kind of a mind blowing thing to learn. And then to learn that my particular family’s history which is Chickasaw and Choctaw Indians is particularly under studied. A lot of the work done on Freedmen is on the Cherokees, sometimes Seminoles so I really wanted to kind of rectify that inequality and the sources.
I really was interested in why land was important to my ancestors and to people in Oklahoma which kind of gets us into Tulsa. The question that has always been, every time I read about the Tulsa massacre, it’s like people act like well, these Black people just kind of like magically appeared in Tulsa. And then they built Black Wall Street. And isn’t this kind of an amazing entrepreneurial success, which it is, of course, but they are there for a reason. They’re there because there is this land and there is this kind of history of Black and Native people and this culture.
Alaina: So let me just back up and give your listeners a background. I know you said you’ve talked a little about this before. From the 1820s to the 1830s Five Tribes – the Chickasaws, Cherokees, Choctaws, Creeks and Seminoles – moved to Indian Territory (which we now know as the state of Oklahoma). Forced removal and they brought along Black and mixed race people who were enslaved in their nations. They were part of really rebuilding these nations in Indian Territory and kind of creating what we know today as these modern nations. The people that settled in what became Tulsa were primarily Creeks, but also some Cherokees. And before this was Creek and Cherokee land, it was land kind of occupied by and occasionally used as, what would it be called, hunting grounds of people like the Katos and the Plains Apache.
So this is not a space that was empty. There were always native people in this space even before the Five Tribes came. But the Cherokees and the Creeks really kind of made this a space that was inhabitable, you could say. There were more people there.
After Oklahoma statehood, or earlier around 1905, there was a huge oil deposit discovered in what is now Tulsa. And this is what really kind of created the city of Tulsa because people started flocking there.
Alaina: But the Black migration really started in the 1870s and 1880s because in the United States, as you probably know if you’re familiar with African American history, the US military is really being pulled out of the South in the late 1870s. So white violence come back comes back with a vengeance. Black people are far less able to exercise their political rights and on the other hand in Native American nations, who have been forced to free their slaves by the US government, forced to make them citizens, and allow them to participate in their society in pretty much every way that tribal citizen could, there is a completely different scenario going on. These people are still able to vote, they’re still able to be on juries, they still have businesses that they’re creating in the 1870s 80s 90s and 1900s.
And so Black people in the south look at this and the Indian Territory looks like a racial paradise. They are spreading this news through newspapers and through word of mouth. “Hey, these people have land. These people have money. Let’s go here and get some of this.”
And so it’s a story that, to me as a historian, doesn’t make sense unless you know kind of that Black native background that creates an active space for Black people to come to Indian Territory and Oklahoma specifically.
Kerry: Like, doesn’t it really just add a complete layer to that story? You are 100% right, Alaina, like, it really opens it up. I was watching just a really quick video and they talk about, you know, one of the founders being J.B. Stratford. He kind of just comes out of nowhere, you know? This dude shows up with some cash and was supposedly the founding father, one of the founding Black fathers, of Tulsa and it’s like, okay, he showed up, and he has all this cash and okay but … where, how, and what?
And now I’m wondering did he have some of these original origins in how he showed up into this realm? And it sets the stage as to why Black folk would have headed there. You know, why would it have been a platform or a beginning place for everybody to build this kind of wealth. And it gives a real good piece of what the landscape really looked like. We have this idea that our Indigenous people kind of just roamed. You know, it’s just they’ve been eliminated from the fabric of how the history would have been even though it’s been built on the backs of this space. And so I love, love, love that you can bring this forward and we can talk about it in very real ways, because that is the truth.
Kerry: There was intermingling there were these mixes, even if, you know, some of the starts may have felt unceremonious, we still had these intermingling and these interactions together. And I think it’s warranted to build on that and how those successes could be. So with this, when we talk about … And it’s so funny, because last week, we were discussing how we were going to really cut it down next, in our next season, or in the new year, talking about this idea of the Reconstruction Era and what was doing, what was bringing this draw over, and I guess we’re in the throes of it now.
What was the draw? Once we got past this stage? What do you think really set this into a unique space and understanding this idea of the Freedmen? Like, what was that? Can we talk a little bit? Or could you kind of maybe expand on that? Because I’m not sure how many people… We talk about slavery, we talk about the Great Depression era but we miss that piece in between, you know, the whole idea of the Freedmen and what happened right after the Civil War and how we move west, like all of that,
Patty: And the consequences of that, right? Because there’s, you know, when we talk about anti Blackness in the Indigenous community, the Freedmen and the rejection or erasure of the Freedmen, like, we don’t hear about them in the story of Tulsa so the erasure, you know, that’s pretty real. So yeah, if you could expand on that a little bit for us, help people understand what happened.
Kerry: That was the word that was exactly the word, I was looking for “erasure” and how that fits. Thank you for that.
Alaina: Well, so the idea that Native American slavery was more benevolent than white slavery that native slave owners were kinder with their slaves was kind of perpetuated in the 19th century by people who are abolitionists and Native American kind of rights organizers. So white people who tried to help native people resist removal, for example, in order to kind of allow themselves to support native people, while knowing that they own slaves, they kind of created this idea, which is based in some truth.
There were native slave owners who like had one slave and lived with that slave and worked alongside that slave in the field. But you can find those kinds of stories anywhere, even in the south. There were slave owners who were, you know “nicer to their slaves”, quote, unquote. But this kind of idea was in Black people’s heads too — the idea that Native people were not as racist as white people, which to a degree is true.
So while Native people subscribe to a racial hierarchy in which Black people were at the bottom, there was not the kind of like hardcore racial violence / racial terrorism that there was in the south. It was different in Indian Territory. Black people did have different kinds of opportunities, they did have different kinds of relationships with native people, some of which were sexual, some of which were friends, you had a lot of communities that were mixed, were not as segregated as it was in the south in some spaces. So it’s really kind of an environment in which Black people are able to see a different possibility, like a different scenario than what’s going on in the United States.
Patty: Mm hmm.
Kerry: My question with that would be was there was it an on mass kind of migration? Or was it more so like a very slow kind of trickle type experience? Like what would it have been like as Black folk moved into this area? And what was the general feel of the Indigenous people that were in this original area and seeing this onslaught? Was there any kind of friction happening in those ways?
Alaina: So through the late 1870s, you have a slow trickle in the late 1880s and early 1890s, is when you have larger groups of Black people coming because they’re kind of driven by white and Black speculators working together to create towns, to draw people there so that they can make money.
And the native people are kind of like very scared when they see this, this huge Black population growing because they’re quickly outnumbered. Especially for tribes like the Chickasaw and Choctaw which were smaller. And so they actually begin to become more aggressive toward their own Freed people. Because they start to see them as like, well “You’re intermarrying with these African Americans. Now, we can’t tell who is who. Are you going to begin to take us over politically? You’re gonna rule the vote.”
So that’s really when racial relations start to change in Indian Territory when you have this kind of mass migration of people seeking this better relationship but it’s actually the migrants who are kind of changing it in effect
Patty: Because that’s right around the same time as the allotment period, right? It’s the tribes that are in Oklahoma. Tribes in other states had reservations where in Oklahoma they had the Allotment Act and that brought in all kinds of fraud and grifting and people pretending, kind of inventing, Cherokee grandmothers in order to lay claim to land.
So they didn’t even have a land base. Not only were the original Indigenous people who were originally Indigenous to that place get pushed out of their land base but the ones who were promised Indian Territory are now were getting the rug pulled out from underneath them.
And now and I guess — part of the problem with racial hierarchies is you have to be able to tell the difference based on how you learn how people look, right?
Patty: And as we kind of combine in the ways that humans combine, it gets harder to do that. <chuckle>
And then also when you’ve got people migrating in, like you said, the Chickasaw and Choctaw, they knew who their kind of Black people weren’t, like “Oh, it looks so they can probably safely assume that, okay, all the Black people around here are part of us.” But now you’ve got these other ones that are coming in. And now we don’t know who’s us anymore.
Alaina: Right. The story of allotment and fraud, I feel like is usually so white. Like, look at these white settlers coming in and committing fraud but it’s Black people too!
Kerry: I really want to touch this one. Because I thought it was interesting when you bring up the idea of allotment. How was that being reflected? Because whenever I think of it, I’m thinking of white folk coming in, acting the perpetrator role. But I if this migration was real there had to have been, you know … Black folk gonna reach, you know, what I mean? We’re gonna find our way into this. And I’m really curious to find out was there a prominence of us coming through in that way of Black folk, representing in that way of perpetrating that kind of fraud? Or were they just come in and squatting for lack of better word? Like, how would that have been represented?
Alaina: They were doing both. So you have stories from both Native Americans and Indian Freedmen saying, there’s a Black person squatting on my land, or there’s a Black man who signed a lease with me, the lease is over, he won’t get off. But you also have them going to the Dawes Commission and pretending to be a Freedmen, when they are, in fact, an African American born in the United States.
Most of those they’re able to weed out because they do have people on the Commission and people that they bring in to testify to the fact like, do you know this person? Do they live in your community? But you I feel like that should be part of the story. But it’s not because people don’t want to see Black people as, I don’t know, I wouldn’t call them villains, like, doing something negative in history. But that’s history.
Kerry: I was gonna say that they were, let’s say “opportunistic” definitely, you know, what I mean? Maybe taking advantage of a case scenario. And whether you look at it from whatever that purpose or cause was, I agree with you. You can’t take away from that space, that it wasn’t right. I think what comes up for me when we talk about this is this idea of how sometimes in history we draw these very Black and white lines, you know, I mean it has to be either this or that. And we like to think in that realm. But when we really think of how history comes about, it is in those shades of grey, it is this these individual stories that come together, that obfuscate a little bit. Not everybody’s a hero, and not everybody is the victim. And people take our … human people are human people, maybe that’s what I’m saying. Human nature can show up in ways that may not always show us in the best light. So I think it is important that we talk about these stories, to be able to put not just accountability into the space, but to recognize some of this is really about the human-ness of how when circumstance happens we’re gonna play up to that. And I think that’s very real.
Patty: I think colonialism gives us certain choices too, right? Like it lays out certain choices in front of us and then if we don’t think about it … Indigenous people don’t like to think about the fact that some of us were slave owners. Anishinaabe were not, we were way far north, too busy living in the bush. But it wasn’t any kind of inherent goodness on our part. The opportunity was just not there you know, it wasn’t put in front of us. They (Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole) were called the “Five Civilized Tribes”, because they were taking on the trappings … people just want to survive right? So they’re called the “Five Civilized Tribes” because they were doing what a lot of us do, which is try to try to work the system.
If this is the new, if this is then how it goes, then it’s gonna go but it never works for us. And yet, we keep trying anyway. I think that’s an important lesson that we can take from this, isn’t it? We keep doing this. Colonialism presents us with these choices. You know, like we tell our little like our kids, you can wear the pink sweater or the or the yellow sweater, but they’re gonna wear a sweater, right? So colonialism gives us these choices. And then we don’t stop to think that there’s a whole cupboard full of other things that we could be doing.
We make our choice, we make what we think are our only options and yet, what we should be doing is cooperating together, instead of pulling the rug out from under each other because we think that that’s the only thing available to us.
Kerry: I really love that you pointed that out, Patty. I think that’s kind of what my sense is in this. That when we get the opportunity to start to dissect these stories, we can see how these alignments or the choices that we make come up into this idea of how colonialism creeps in. You know what I mean? And it has. One of my thoughts about this is – how did it affect the relationships, as the incursion of people were coming forward and this allotment process was happening? Was it that the hostilities grew in the Indigenous communities?
I know, there might have been fear but was there more of a kind of a “Let’s join together and see if we can fight off this encouragement or this incursion”? Or was it more like “It’s us against them”? What was happening there? Did the Black populations and the Indigenous populations still work it through?
Alaina: It was definitely the opposite. The native people turned against their own former slaves. Native people turned against people in their own tribe. So the Dawes process, the allotment process, exacerbated any factions that were already in all the tribes. Even going back to removal – people who were on one side of removal for or against, those same splinters turned up at with the allotment process.
A lot of those people on one side didn’t want to go to the Dawes Commission and get an allotment. Some of those people actually ended up getting nothing because they were so opposed to this process that they saw as basically giving in to the US government. Whereas some other native people, they’re like “Hey, this is gonna happen with or without us, let’s just work the system.”
But going back to what you were saying Kerry and Patty, the argument of my book is really that Indian Territory in Oklahoma gives us kind of a slice of North America in that we have waves of different people coming in, starting from the Five Tribes, to Freedmen, to Black people, to white settlers, who are all trying to kind of play a role in this what I call the “settler colonial process” to get what they want. And so they kind of abide by the white man’s ideas of civilization, ideas of race. And in the end they don’t get anywhere because the system is built only to benefit white people. They kind of screw themselves over in different ways in order to try and obtain this dream.
Kerry: And it’s that dream that’s never been built for them anyway. And in fact, you become the pawns in the game that we play. What I find so interesting as we’re talking about this story, I see how it’s playing out, it plays out again, even now.
When you think about when we have massive incursions, whether it’s from war or whatever, where people come into a community and we welcome them, but you know, it’s an inundation sometimes where you’ve got racial differences and racial beliefs, understandings, cultures… It comes in very suddenly, and you can start to see how dissonance flows in communities. We see that as something that shows up in our communities all over the place and you know it can be played.
I think what we see with this example of the system and the Dawes Commission, and all of those fun things in the Dawes Commission story, is that there’s almost a patterning to how the colonial system plays upon this idea of the American dream, or I call it the North American dream because it’s really not different here (in Canada), either. This idea that we can go to the hypothetical west and claim our space in our land and put down our roots like we did when we went to the moon even. There’s always this consistent idea …
Patty: Put down that flag and make it ours.
Kerry: Right, right! I forgot Mars is next, right?
Patty: It’s ours now. So what’s it like there (Oklahoma) now in terms of what you’re hoping for and what they’re doing now? Because everybody’s still there, right, like the Choctaw, they’re still there. The Freedmen are still there. I think there was an important court case. Was it just the Cherokee or was it all of them in 2017?
Alaina: Just the Cherokee in 2017
Patty: Okay, yeah.
Alaina: So Cherokees, Cherokee Freedmen, were in lawsuits for years and in 2017 the US District Court ruled for them (the Cherokee Freedmen) that the Cherokees could not disenfranchise them due to the Treaty of 1866.
Now the Creek Freedmen are in a similar battle — which is just like why would they not be applied to all of them but they all have to take up their individual battles. The Seminole Freedmen are kind of trying to raise awareness to their particular circumstances, which is that they are allowed to vote but they are not given other tribal citizen kind of privileges. They’re not able to get kind of things from the food pantry, they’re not able to get housing, job help that other citizens get so really. It’s kind of, I’ve seen it called another Jim Crow, to US citizens.
Alaina: My people, the Chickasaw and Choctaw Freedmen are kind of the worst of them. I don’t see them really ever changing. But I have really appreciated the Cherokee Chief Chuck Hoskins and his stances because he talked this summer about George Floyd and how he saw how racism was really detrimental and not to the US, but also to the Cherokee Nation, and how they had made mistakes, and they should not have had to be forced by the US to do what was right.
He (Cherokee Chief Chuck Hoskin) is changing. He’s created a commission to go look at all their cultural centers and museums and to include their Freeman and that history. He’s, I think, showing amazing leadership and I wish that they would all follow suit. But I, I don’t know. I’m not holding my breath because there are so many other things like money, like resources that they just, they don’t want to share.
Kerry: The so what I’m hearing is that there was a total fractioning. There really where these lines set up in place to make sure that certain claims could not be made. And was it a complete erasure of the Freedmen. Is that what I’m reading?
Patty: How did that happen?
Kerry: Yeah, like how did that exactly move through the timing to get to that point.
Alaina: So as I said, all but the Chickasaws do initially adopt their Freedmen after the war, due to the United States kind of force. And through the 50s I’d say these people are incorporated pretty equally, the same as any Native Tribal citizen, but after what we call the Termination Period (the period in which native governments are not really able to function fully) and the 60s 70s 80s, they are really trying to rebuild themselves as nations. So kind of exercising economic power, recreating their tribal governments in a way they had not been able to, they all basically decide to create their nations in a way that excludes Black people.
So yes, they rewrite their histories. Almost all of them, if you go into their museums, cultural centers, you’re not going to find any mention of slavery. It’s not anywhere. The Chickasaws have one mention of it, and it’s “The US forces us to do this.” Not like we profited on this and we took this on because we wanted to.
It was definitely part of them also kind of beginning to engage in capitalistic enterprises like creating casinos that became very profitable. Creating companies. The Chickasaws have a chocolate factory, which I find it to be funny. And so yeah, they’ve created native identities that don’t include Black people so a lot of their people don’t know that history and so when they see people that look like me claiming our native identities, they are immediately antagonistic because they don’t know that history. They don’t know our people were working with their people for over 100 years.
Patty: Mm hmm. Civil War happens. Emancipation Proclamation happens. And the Five Civilized Tribes who own slaves have to free their slaves and then they kind of adopt them in as citizens. Except the Chickasaw don’t?
Alaina: Well, they’re not included in the Emancipation Proclamation or the 13th Amendment, because they’re not considered the United States. So at 1866, the US trade treaties with them called the Treaties of 1866.
Patty: Oh, okay, gotcha.
Alaina: Where they outline those things.
Patty: Okay. And then in the 50s, they disenrolled these because I know all that disenrollment happens too. But like, how do they go from being adopted in 1866 as citizens, and then in by the 1950s, and 60s, they’re no longer citizens?
Kerry: Yeah, they’ve been written out of the books. Yeah. What? Yeah. What’s the transition there? That’s a good question.
Alaina: So through the Dawes Commission, they’re put on separate rolls, right, which leave out plenty of people who are actually mixed race and should be on a “blood roll”. But they already have these rolls that kind of differentiate them. It’s just that they’re usually not treated differently.
Going into the 70s and 80s all of these nations through different ways, like I think the Creeks or the Seminoles through a tribal council, they rule that Freedmen are disenrolled. The Cherokees have a nationwide vote on it and the majority vote to get them out. But you have the tribal leaders who are saying that people are interlopers, these people are not native who are really fomenting anger against the Freedmen. I mean even people like Wilma Mankiller. I know people love her but she was very much against the Freedmen.
Patty: Yeah, I was one of those people who thought she was great until the more I looked into her. I was like, oh, okay, all right. She’s great like certain US presidents are great. She’s great like Reagan was great. She’s great like Thatcher. Okay, I got it now. Yes. Because that gets into ideas of blood quantum. Which I just went off on … I’ve got some Twitter fan who periodically says silly things and gives me a chance to pop off a good thread, so I can’t block him. But …
Kerry: … education
Patty: I know, but he’s been saying something about how I always I always go after white people for having too much white blood. And I don’t even know what that means.
This idea of blood quantum, which is a white supremacist thing, which was invented — ideas of noble blood gets transformed into ideas about racial blood.
For Indigenous people it’s used to erase us out of existence.
For Black people it’s to keep them perpetually Black.
It’s what like, up to one eighth, you’re still you’re visible. People forget that these things are legal terms. You got legally white, you were legally Black. You were I mean, you’re still legally Indian. Indian is still a legal term. But people actually went to court to prove that they were white you know. We forget it wasn’t that long ago. Like I think this is within certain people’s lifetimes, that this stuff was still going on that they were going to court to prove that they were white in order to access the legal rights for white people.
Patty: So that’s where I think, you know, when I’m hearing when I’m remembering that the disenrollment came in was the idea that they’re not really us because they’re Black. Not because they lived with us, not because we shared community together, not because our world senses evolved together and we became a community but because this white supremacist idea of blood quantum, which was never the way that WE thought about community.
We adopted people. Sometimes with the Haudenosaunee, we go to war and if they killed too many of us we adopt some of their people to kind of pick up the slack. And those people were now Anishinaabe or the other way around. You know, if they kidnapped us we were now Mohawk. It didn’t matter who our parents were, we were now adopted.
You can still do that, you know, be formally adopted into the Haudenosaunee. There’s rules and responsibilities around it but it’s got nothing to do with your blood quantum. It’s who your community is. Is that where that comes from? Is that rooted in blood quantum, that disenrollment?
Alaina: I would say that’s definitely a big part. That’s what they will point to “Well, they’re not in the blood rolls” even though they know that plenty of Dawes’ Commissioners and people around the process would say, go to the Freedmen tent. Even when they would say “Well, no, I, my mother was Cherokee, or my dad was Chickasaw” and there were legal fights for years over this. Whether or not someone’s ancestry, if they were Black, actually matters, essentially
Kerry: I really find, what I am finding, I don’t know if it’s fascinating. I’m almost sitting here going “Wow, this is not ancient.” It’s not like 100 year history you’re talking about. We’re talking about this amping up in the 50s in the 60s, 70s even. And what would have brought that into effect?
Patty: What shifted.
Kerry: Yeah. Yeah, like, I feel like we’re missing a gap there. Like what shifted so that they really were like “Nah, man, they gotta come completely off the rolls.” What happened in that space?
Alaina: I think that’s still the question. I think there is so much work to be done that I’m not sure can be done, because you would have to go into tribal records? Are they going to provide minutes in which they talk about how can we get rid of these people?
Patty: They might. I’m surprised by what people documented?
Alaina: That’s true.
Patty: Because they didn’t think there was anything wrong with it, right? Like, when you don’t know, when you don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, you write that stuff down. Because you think you’re justified. Right?
Kerry: True, actually, isn’t that so real, though our worldview changes on things. So what I’m hearing you say is that this is a, it’s really almost a novel unraveling that’s happening here. Like it’s, you’re only in the beginnings of truly understanding what has created this space now. So as the Freedmen are trying to reclaim … what is it like now? What is it? Resistance? Or is there kind of a softening happening, where Indigenous folk are willing to take a look?
Alaina: At least on Twitter, which I know is not necessarily representative of what’s going on the ground, I have seen a lot more kind of acknowledgement of Freedmen history and that like these people have history with us, they should be considered Indian, we need to fight this in our own tribes.
I think people like Marilyn Vann, who is a Cherokee Freedmen and who led the court battle in the United States, are amazing because they really are doing a lot of work to change opinions on the ground and working with people.
But I think a lot of the older generation may never change. And I mean just what people say about race and racism in the US that a lot of younger people have more kind of inclusive ideas. And some of the older people don’t but I don’t know, it’s kind of hard to gauge.
Kerry: Mm hmm. You know I always believe that’s why procreation is such a thing. We have to be able to bring in the new because sometimes while the wisdom is real, while we can garner from what we have in our past, some of those ideas really need to be let go. I think that’s what you’re alluding to in this space and as we go through it.
I really would love to kind of maybe let’s back up a little tiny bit and go back into how this would have fit into what happened in Tulsa. When we think about the story as it begins with the young man who was accused sitting in that jail cell and the group of men, Black men, that showed up to kind of defend him. What would have been what was really happening there who was on the ground there? Let’s talk I would love to know what pieces of that story I’m missing.
Alaina: Well, one of the best and only full first person testimonies that we have of the total massacre is by a man named Buck Colbert Franklin, BC Franklin. His testimony is what was used to recreate Watchmen. (It’s available online if you Google HBO Watchmen.) He is why we know that they were bombing from the sky is because he saw like buildings catching on fire from the top. He was a Chickasaw Freedman. Most times that identity is just kind of like flattened into “Oh, he was Black.” But he was one of many Freedmen who had really used their allotments or used their financial assets to become part of Black Wall Street, to create businesses, to become part of these communities.
So they were really a kind of an important part of not just the beginning of this community but also the end and then rebuilding it afterward. He was one of the lawyers who helped take the case to the local court to try to get essentially reparations, to get insurance, to stop different regulations that were being created to try to stop the rebuilding. So I think in terms of Black Wall Street, it’s important to look at them as not just part of the population that creates it but also as part of the population that rebuilds it.
Patty: Yeah, cuz the community of Greenwood was built largely on Freedmen land wasn’t it.
Patty: And then that gave them the base, because that’s how America works is you have land. But that’s how any community building works. You have a land base and you build out from that. And that’s why colonialism works so hard to separate people from their land base.
You know Dr. Sarah Tabor often talks about how the early prairie colonists were used basically to break up the land and make it suitable for farming, so that the big businesses could come in and the hard work had already been done. They had no intention of letting those farmers keep the land, they knew they were gonna fail. You know, it was just, it was another way of getting some cheap labor.
Patty: So what do you hope for people? What do you what do you want people to do? We’ve already told them to pre order your book (Pre-order Dr. Roberts book through her website https://Dr Robertseroberts.com/books/ ). What can people do with this information? What can people do with it?
Alaina: I guess my most important takeaway would be to kind of reconsider our celebratory Black narratives and realize that there is pretty much always a native story underneath that. Wherever Black people went, especially in the West, there were native people there.
And what did it mean when they settled in those places? What happened to those native people? Often it was not good. It was land dispossession, it was broken treaties. So these stories that we hold so dear, I think that’s certainly important to recognize Black accomplishment, but when we include the native perspective, it’s far more accurate, but it’s also far more difficult, far more complicated.
Kerry: And I think that’s the space that we can lend to some healing work. I really, I love this, that pointing that out, bringing the fact up that this stuff is real opens up the room for us to have those discussions that we need to have as peoples in general, and together, because this colonial space affected us all. The tenets of what makes this capitalist wheel turn was the very thing that fractionalized us in all ways.
And Patty, when you were talking and mentioning how Sarah (Dr. Sarah Taber, @SarahTaber_bww) brought up that whole bit about the land being tilled in the beginning and then taken afterwards by big business that’s kind of my sense or feeling and how accurate was it. Is there is a sense that when Tulsa happened, it was really about them deciding they were going to take back the land anyway? Is that a sense that you have with this idea?
Alaina: Definitely. The Tulsa Massacre was about disrupting what Black people had built, African American or Indian Freedpeople. But just the project of including Freedmen and land allotment, I think was also about getting rid of Native land, because they weren’t willing to do that in the United States. They weren’t willing to give white people’s land to Black people after the Civil War. So why were they willing to give Native peoples land to Black people?
Kerry: Right? I love that you point that out because that’s what I was alluding to. This idea of it almost coming, it’s not a full circle, but this complicated circle that started it was the sense that we were lumped in together in a, what’s the word I’m looking for, we were all lumped in together in this entanglement of never being good enough. Still not sitting at the level of what white people might have been and kind of fight it out amongst your own and do the conquer and divide.
We talk often on this platform about how “Yes, our stories are different. Yes, we have had the experiences of what colonialism has done as Black people and Indigenous people. That experience has shown up in different ways.” But I once again bring it back, for me anyways, this story is another illumination of how much of it is still similar. And not only has it been similar, we’ve been intermingled in these spaces of what the experience has been. And it always comes up where we end up doing this at each other. But so much of it is still the same. And if you didn’t know what I’m doing on the podcast, if you’re listening to us, in hearing, I’m pointing fingers at each side, meaning that that divide keeps happening. It’s interesting.
Patty: Now we have to think about the ways in which we’re … I like the way Kim put it when we were talking about whether or not Black and Indigenous people can be racist because you know, owning slaves, you know, the racist institution, I’m not gonna lie, that’s kind of shitty thing to do.
But I really liked the way Kim puts it as she doesn’t want to talk, she’s not gonna talk, about whether or not Black and Indigenous people can be racist.
Rather is what are we doing upholding the settler colonial project? Because that’s where the power lies, right? Because as soon as you start talking about whether or not somebody is racist or their behaviors racist you’re getting into power dynamics. And power always, always lies with the colonial state.
Patty: So are we upholding the project and whatever resources the Choctaw and the Chickasaw I think they’re holding on to by denying the existence of the Freedmen and the rights and presence of and citizenship of the Freedmen, they are upholding the settler colonial project and by doing that, that’s only going to hurt them in the long run, that will never that will never help them.
And so as Indigenous people, me as Anishinaabe that’s my community, when we participate in anti Blackness, however we do it, that’s upholding settler colonialism. And that’s gonna hurt us because colonialism always screws us over.
You know, he (Justin Trudeau) bought a pipeline can’t get us clean water. You know, what’s a Pallister in Manitoba, that the premier of Manitoba is upset that the vaccine is going to go to Indigenous communities because that sidelines “Manitobans”, people from Manitoba, and it’s like, “But wait, so are you saying that the Indigenous people in those northern communities aren’t from Manitoba?” Wait a minute, are you drawing a line?
Patty: Yeah. So what are we doing? We can’t be upholding the settler, we can’t be upholding. We got to find better ways of being relative to each other and understanding. I think the fact that people on Twitter (and I know Twitter isn’t a really good microcosm of what’s going on on the ground but it kind of is) I think it’s where we practice these conversations, where we get used to these ideas so then when we’re in our drum groups, or in our other groups, these ideas start coming out of our mouths because we’ve been practicing them so much.
Alaina: I want what I saw this summer with the Black Lives Matter movement coming together with native activists, pulling down Columbus statues, getting the name of the Washington NFL team changed. I want that to continue.
I want Black and Native people to come together on our causes, which are both individual and one and the same at times.
This has been Medicine for the Resistance on Facebook and http://www.med4R.com
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Our theme is Fearless and this podcast was transcribed by Liz Barclay.
** Guest Information **
** Dr Alaina E Roberts, Ph.D. **
Assistant Professor, Department of History, University of Pittsburg