The constitution of the United States reads; ?We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.?
In the 1830?s, there existed a deep division among the nation?s white population reguarding Native Americans. In their dealings with Native Americans, the first white settlers adopted policies that were shaped by their own European worldview and experience. When the United States became a nation, the new government built on this European foundation, but over time adapted its Native American policy to changing perspectives and needs- mainly the desire for more land and wealth. Eventually the Native Americans were regarded as an anachronism irreclaimable savage by those west of the Appalachians and redeemable savages by eastern philanthropists and humanitarians.
To the whites settlers in the trans-Appalachian frontier that ran from the mid-west to the southern states, Indians were considered a threat that had to be exterminated.
With the arrival of twenty “Negroes” aboard a Dutch man-of-war in Virginia in 1619, the face of American slavery began to change from the “tawny” Indian to the “blackamoor” African; a period of transition lasting from between 1650 to 1750. Though the issue is complex, the unsuitability of the Native American for the labor-intensive agricultural practices, their susceptibility to European diseases, the proximity of avenues of escape for Native Americans, and the lucrative nature of the African slave trade led to a transition to an African-based institution of slavery. In spite of a later tendency in the Southern United States to differentiate the African slave from the Indian, African slavery was in actuality imposed on top of a pre-existing system of Indian slavery. In North America, the two never diverged as distinctive institutions.
Indian slaves were considered to be “sullen, insubordinate, and short lived,” A.B. Hart quoted in Sanford Wilson, “Indian Slavery in the South Carolina Region,” Journal of Negro History 22 (1935): 440. The article further describes Native American slaves as “not of such robust and strong bodies, as to lift great burdens, and endure labor and slavish work.” Native Americans were not without some commercial value. They were often seized throughout the South and taken to the slave markets and traded at an exchange rate of two for one for African Americans. An interesting spin on the story comes from Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois who, even in agreement with the positions stated above, stated that “The Indian refused to submit to bondage and to learn the white man’s ways. The result is that the greater portion of the American Indians has disappeared, the greater portions of those who remain are not civilized. The Negro, wiser and more enduring than the Indian, patiently endured slavery; and contact with the white man has given him a civilization vastly superior to that of the Indian.” (Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois, The Negro in the South: His Economic Progress in Relation to His Moral and Religious Development (Philadelphia, George W. Jacobs and Company, 1907), 14.) Washington reiterates this point by quoting Dr. John Spencer, who in discussing the collapse of indentured servitude and Indian slavery, stated “In each case
it was survival of the fittest. Both Indian slavery and white servitude were to go down before the black man’s superior endurance, docility, and labor capacity.” (Dr. John Spencer quoted in Booker T. Washington, The Story of the Negro: The Rise of the Race from Slavery.
RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN NATIVE AND AFRICAN AMERICANS:
During this transitional period, Africans and Native Americans shared the common experience of enslavement. In addition to working together in the fields, they lived together in communal living quarters, began to produce collective recipes for food and herbal remedies, shared myths and legends, and ultimately intermarried. The intermarriage of Africans and Native Americans was facilitated by the disproportionate numbers of African male slaves to females (3 to 1) and the decimation of Native American males by disease, enslavement, and prolonged war against the colonists.
As Native American societies in the Southeast were primarily matrilineal, African men who married Native American women often became members of the wife’s clan and citizens of the respective nation. As relationships grew, the lines of racial distinction began to blur, and the evolution of red-black people began to pursue its own course. Many of the people known as slaves, free people of color, Africans, or Indians were most often the products of an integrating culture. Many aspects of African American culture, including handicrafts, music, and folklore, may be Native American rather than African in origin. The cultures of Africans and Natives intertwined in complex ways in the early Southeast, and material culture, like social organization, often reflected the blending of these two cultures.
The Cherokee accepted African Americans from the very earliest points of contact; the European colonial powers feared an alliance between the mountain Indians and runaway blacks, as had been done in Jamaica and Haiti. On the eve of the Revolutionary War, Cherokee traditional leader Attakullakulla spoke metaphorically (and almost biblically) of how, within the “old way,” there was a house of cultural accommodation in which blacks had a room of their own. Among the people of the Chickamagua region of the Cherokee Nation and those who spoke the Kituwhan dialect, there was a particular “ethnic openness,” and the people were “more receptive to racial diversity within their towns than the mainstream Cherokees.”
As white Georgians’ disgust of Indians rose, they pressured the government to remove all Indians from the state. In 1817, Senator Andrew Jackson forced Cherokee leaders into a treaty, which traded a third of Cherokee territory for land in the Arkansas Territory. Although not forced, nearly six thousand emigrated.
What Africans went through:
During this same period, Africans in the South were pushed into continued forced labor. With Eli Whitney?s cotton gin, the cotton industry became the core of the southern economy in the United States. More slave labor was used on the plantations in the South.
At the same time, the abolitionists in the North began to gain strength. Their antislavery movement divided the United States. This movement was part of the fuel that ignited the Civil War in 1861. From this era in history, African American leaders became vocal and organized. Many of these leaders influenced the African American community. Among them was Frederick Douglass. Frederick Douglass was a former slave who spoke eloquently and was able to give a picture of slavery through his speeches and his autobiography Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. With the emancipation of the slaves by the 13th Amendment, he along with others believed that African Americans would be treated as citizens. Yet, the African Americans faced continued oppression. In a speech to whites in 1895, he said, ?The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence, bequeathed by your fathers is shared by you, not me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. The Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must moum.?
Indian Removal Act:
After the passing of the Indian Removal Act, which mandated the relocation of eastern tribes to the west, thousands of Indians began their trek across the country. Not all tribes went easily. Posing the most difficulty was the Cherokee nation. Feeling cheated, the Cherokee nation took their case to the Supreme Court on two occasions. The first case, Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, ruled that the court did not have jurisdiction. The second case, Worcestor v. Georgia, brought hope to the Cherokee. The judge ruled that the state of Georgia had no power over the Cherokee; only the federal government could pass laws dealing with the Indians. Andrew Jackson ignored the ruling and proceeded to have a lottery of Cherokee land.
The Cherokee nation was split into two: those that favored removal and those that opposed it. When the pro-removal division sold all of the nation’s land for five million dollars, the anti-removal side was furious. They refused to leave the land until 1838 when they were “escorted” by the American army. The long journey became known as the Trail of Tears.
The Trail of Tears was filled with emotional hardships and physical exhaustion. Of the eighteen thousand Cherokees who started the journey, four thousand of them had died either on the trail or in stockades.