History 14M.01: “Black Indians”: History, Identity, Theory





Tiya Miles 
Wednesdays 12-2:45pm 

 In 1920, Carter G. Woodson (the “father of Black history”) argued the following in the Journal of Negro History: “One of the longest unwritten chapters of the history of the United States is that treating of the relations of the Negroes and the Indians.” Historians have endeavored to write that chapter, particularly over the last five decades. Their efforts have paralleled the formation of an identity category informed by, reflective of, and at times defiant of this complex history. This seminar will explore intersections in African American and Native American histories with an emphasis on places, moments, and interactions that have been pivotal to the shaping of a modern identity often referred to as “Black Indian.” Popularized in the 1980s by a book of the same title, the term “Black Indians” is often used to identify and describe people of mixed-race African American and Native American ancestry. It is also applied to people with historical bi-cultural connections who may or may not have Black and Native “blood” ties. Together, students in this seminar will explore and analyze: 1.) historical contexts and contingencies leading to thick interactions between people of African descent and indigenous Americans in the place now called the United States; and  2.) personal experiential testimony and memoir by people asserting mixed race and/or bi-cultural Afro-Native identities. Major themes, concepts, and questions that will emerge in our discussions include: indigeneity, settler colonialism, land loss, slavery, racialization and racial hierarchy, mixed-race family making, migration, tribal sovereignty, social identity, community belonging, and racial and cultural authenticity. During our time together, students will discover not only the impact that Black and Native peoples have had on one another, but also the impact they (and ideas about them) have had on the development and sustainment of an American national identity.